The Daily Edit – Chad Unger: Fire Barked at Eternity

 

  

Chad Unger

Chad Unger (b. 1993) is a Deaf-Gay artist originally from Maryland, currently based in Los Angeles. Growing up with a deaf family, actively involved with the deaf community, and primarily communicating through American Sign Language, Chad’s experiences shaped him into an observer with a deep appreciation of stories with strong visual elements. Chad started his career by merging his passion for capturing stories and snowboarding in Utah. His low-key athleticism matches his photographic style, curious, and intentional. We connected for a ride in Ojai, and within minutes he disappeared up the road, floating on the pedals. Once I caught up to him he was taking in both the moment and the vista.

You moved from New York to LA, how has that influenced your creative process? You mentioned NY having a different pace, how are you finding the pace in LA?
Moving from New York to Los Angeles has significantly influenced my creative process. Living in New York, where I primarily worked as a photo assistant or production assistant, I felt a lack of community and struggled with the fast-paced environment. However, since relocating to Los Angeles and discovering the deaf gay community, my personal growth and creative process have flourished. The pace in LA is undoubtedly much slower, which has been a positive change. This slower pace allows me to sit with my thoughts, fostering a more effortless creative environment.

The ambient energy of NYC keeps one moving quickly, your analog work feels more intimate, and has softer tones, was that hard to balance?
Yes, the energy of NYC, with its rapid pace and limited access to the outdoors, did make it challenging to balance. The quick pace of the city affected my ability to connect with nature, which I later realized was crucial for me. After moving to LA, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the creativity of my work. The change in environment allowed me to strike a better balance and bring a new, more relaxed energy to my creative process.
 
How has your love of nature, snowboarding, and now your new love of gravel cycling informed your work?
My love for nature, snowboarding, and now bike riding has influenced my work. Being active in the outdoors allows me to process ideas and thoughts seamlessly. The experiences gained through snowboarding and bike riding contribute to my creative process. Moreover, as someone who manages a good amount of anxiety, immersing myself in nature, whether through snowboarding or bike riding, serves as a therapeutic outlet, impacting my overall well-being and, consequently, enhancing the quality of my work.
How have you refined your photographic practices for taking portraits?
I make an effort to browse through the work of other photographers, drawing inspiration from different styles and techniques. This helps me have diverse approaches to portrait photography. Also, I spend time doing many test shoots where I try different lighting, poses, and compositions. This helps me improve my skills and figure out what works best for me.

Tell me about 20,310 feet: why was this trip important to you and your sister?
The 20,310 trip, climbing Denali with my sister was really important for us. It wasn’t just about reaching a high place; it showed how determined and close we are as siblings. Climbing at high altitudes was tough, needing both physical strength and mental toughness due to unpredictable weather conditions, complex terrain, and the slow, deliberate pace. This experience taught me the value of patience, not just in climbing but also in life. It also helped my sister start her career as a mountaineer. The climb inspired her to follow her passion, and I am a proud brother.


What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a project with Deaf LGBT+ elders who lived through the AIDS crisis. I have been listening to and capturing their stories. I aim to inspire both the Deaf and Queer communities, encouraging them not only to appreciate the wisdom of these elders but also the communities that they forged to sustain hope for future generations.

The need for “slow art” and embracing patience comes alive in your use of film and your latest zine, Fire Barked at Eternity. What was the creative intent? You weave in and out of urban and abstract quiet respites in nature.
I had no specific goal or intention behind ‘Fire Barked at Eternity.’ It was simply a reflection of what I observed during my travels in Morocco. As you can see, it’s evident how I move back and forth between outdoor and city settings even in my travels.

 

The Daily Edit – ESPN: Hugh Kretschmer



ESPN

Photographer: Hugh Kretschmer
Photo Editors: Kaitlin A. Marron and Robert H. Booth

Heidi: How did this moving portrait series idea come about?
Hugh: The idea for the portrait series originated while I was capturing moments of a longtime friend and her daughter as a special gift. Although we explored various concepts that day, the “layering” concept held the utmost significance for me. Initially, I had planned to craft a unique artwork by creating a combined portrait through a practical collage. My original idea involved producing large prints of their individual portraits, cutting them into strips, and intricately weaving them together.

However, a pivotal moment shifted my approach away from collage. While shooting tethered and utilizing the overlay feature in Capture One, I was captivated by the results when aligning two captures and adjusting the opacity of the overlaid image to 50%. By reducing the opacity of the overlaid image by 50%, a hybrid of both subjects emerged – a Third Person – becoming the namesake of the entire project.

Has generational transmission of knowledge, passing down stories, and cultural identity helped inform this idea?
No, I comprehend the direction of your question. This project is solely a visual exploration of genetics. I lack a deep familiarity with most of my subjects, preventing me from incorporating elements that authentically convey their stories. The nuances of their gestures, expressions, or body language may serve as the only components beyond facial features that could contribute to a more intricate narrative.

Nevertheless, the initial commission took a different approach, delving into the family’s history and Frank Senior’s remarkable NFL career before progressing to Junior, who is following in his father’s footsteps. I empathize with Junior and the potential challenges he might encounter in living up to his father’s success. 

It resonates with my own experience when I chose to pursue a career in photography, following in my father’s footsteps and facing the pressure to meet a set of expectations, largely my own.

Is this series a response to the layered narratives available in both double exposure and moving images?
Absolutely! I’m incorporating more motion into my work because I find it enjoyable and stimulating. It’s a fun challenge that allows me to expand my problem-solving skills, and this project is a continuation of that exploration. While motion is always a consideration during a shoot, I typically don’t start with a storyboard. Instead, I keep an eye open for opportunities as they arise during the session and proceed from there.

I strive to align the chosen technique with the narrative and vice versa. For instance, the double exposure effect in this series aligns perfectly with the theme of genetics, which is why I used it to depict a family’s heritage through these “double” portraits.

The ideal moment for incorporating motion occurred while photographing Frank Senior, first in his graduation gown and then in his everyday attire. I was struck by how consistently Frank Senior maintained his expression throughout. Remarkably, I found one frame in each set that matched so precisely that there was no discernible change in his expression or head position when I merged the images.

Your parents were fluent but polar opposite creatives; looking back, how has that influenced your work?
My father served as a photo-instrumentation engineer for NASA, imparting to me both photography skills and the art of problem-solving. On the other hand, my mother, who had an artistic influence on the family, acquainted me with 20th-century art movements.

Even after their passing, they remain significant influences on my early work, albeit indirectly. I can still hear my father saying that every problem has a solution, no matter how complex or insurmountable. Under pressure, he would often share a favorite piece of advice: “Getting a man on the moon was just an idea at first.” (It occurred to me much later in life that he might not have known the answer to my question and offered those “words of wisdom” to avoid any embarrassment.)

In contrast, my mother took a gentler approach to my countless questions, sitting with me and delving into every detail of a subject I inquired about. She would retrieve museum catalogs or art history books from her library, opening them up to explain the composition, color choices, and techniques employed by artists to bring elements together uniquely. Thanks to her, my work consistently reflects the art movements she introduced me to, an influence that persists to this day.

ESPN retired its print issue. How has this digital-only context opened up ideas for you creatively?
Certainly, they retired their print issue, and honestly, that’s a disappointment for me. I have an affinity for the printed page and miss the tactile qualities of a finely printed magazine. However, the transition to digital has brought about both opportunities and a few challenges.

Given that ESPN is predominantly viewed on phones now, the magazine requested versions of specific images to be cropped in different aspect ratios, particularly extreme horizontal formats. This information before the shoot allowed us to plan and capture backplates in vertical and horizontal orientations to meet their requirements. 

One notable advantage of digital magazines is the ability to incorporate motion. While not specifically requested for this assignment, I volunteered it as an option. (I’m not sure if they used the motion in the issue, but it provided an opportunity for me to showcase the possibilities to the photo editors.)

Tell us about the creative process for the portrait of  NFL Running back Frank Gore and his oldest son, Frank Gore JR. (is there any crossover with you, living up to a parent’s identity?
Your question is indeed intriguing and resonates with me, as Junior and I share a similar experience. Like Junior, I chose to walk in my father’s footsteps by pursuing photography. However, the stakes seem higher for Frank Junior, considering his father’s immense success and stature. Additionally, his journey mirrors his father’s even more closely, given that he’s playing the same position.

My path diverged somewhat from my father’s. While he was involved in scientific photography at NASA, I ventured into the commercial side of photography. Nevertheless, I, too, grappled with the challenge of meeting his expectations. That’s where our paths differ. Frank Gore Jr. might be striving to uphold his father’s legacy, whereas I was, in a way, seeking my father’s approval.

What were the obstacles of the project, if any, and how did you problem-solve?
The primary challenge we encountered was the exceptionally low ceiling in the hotel conference room where our photo shoot took place. This limitation meant we couldn’t capture the Gores in a standing position, leaving us with no option but to photograph them while seated. To address this, we improvised by using a makeup chair we found in an adjacent room. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The chair served as a stable anchor, simplifying the alignment of my subjects and facilitating the registration of their facial features during post-production.

Despite this initial hurdle, the remainder of the shoot proceeded seamlessly. We successfully captured all the necessary elements for the nine deliverables within the allocated two-hour time frame.

The Daily Edit – Where is the Cool: Laurent Laporte




Where is the Cool

“Good question. Let this pretentious magazine give you the answer.
This biannual printed magazine is available here (yes, they ship internationally)

Creator: Laurent Laporte

Heidi: You founded this project 10 years ago, looking back, what would you tell your younger self?
Laurent: You were absolutely right not to listen to people who try to demotivate you.

How has the content evolved as you’ve gone from a blog to Instagram, and finally print?
In a completely organic and instinctive way and by making mistakes that make you learn and understand how things work, more or less.

What notes need to be hit to be featured in Where is the Cool?
It is also very instinctive. It’s very contextual, each issue starts as a puzzle, and sometimes you know which pieces are a miss, sometimes you just find it without really looking after it.

How did your background in advertising inform your decision to make this magazine and not include ads?
99% of the time advertising is aesthetically disgraceful or not in line with the aesthetic of the magazine. I wanted to make something pure where nothing comes to break the attention of the reader. Also, we only talk about cool things and there are not so many cool brands today.

People say print is dead (I disagree) what are your thoughts on advertising being dead?
It depends on who is talking. I know that many people interested in fashion, love to buy fashion magazines and also to see the ads. It gives them today’s tone, and keeps them aware of what’s happening. On my side, I don’t even know how I can explain how much I found this lame.

The variety of subjects in each issue is very diverse. Is there a personal thread tying everything together, or a subtle theme for the viewers to enjoy finding for themselves?
It’s a personal project at the end, so I speak most of the time about very subjective opinions trying to make them in a very objective way.

So refreshing! A magazine with more photography than writing but still something to say and engage in cover to cover in 1 hour. Why 21 topics? (I read you cover 21 items an issue)
It was a model that worked well when I needed a reassuring structure of the puzzle. Now it’s more free.

What are the hardest parts of producing such a magazine that most people wouldn’t even think of?
Nothing is hard here, if you believe in it, it happens. Constraints make things happen. Will it work? You will know that later, as with every project. But in the end you made something and the that’s most important part.

How do people pitch in ideas?
I receive a lot of pitches every day from a lot of people who never bought the mag, so they don’t understand the editorial line behind it. It’s me pitching photographers with ideas most of the time.

I enjoyed your piece on Relax Watch, can you share how that piece came about?
I stumbled upon that interesting project about Rolex parody watches and I find it super interesting. It looks like another signal in my head about the saturation of luxury things. In a world that needs to step back, it’s very strange that people still want to stay in a world of ostentatious things that do not fit with the new ideals we should look for today.

The Art of the Personal Project: Al J. Thompson

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Al J. Thompson

NPR: The Picture Show

At the same time, gentrification can be both pervasive and personal.

Photographer Al J Thompson entwines these two ideas in his debut bookRemnants of an Exodus.

A pool of light on asphalt, the dangling Jordan’s of a boy on a tree limb, a police officer from the shoulders down, his right hand resting on his holstered gun. Thompson’s photos pose a truncated perspective of Spring Valley, N.Y., the New York City suburb where he came of age. The frames shy from literal views of change — Thompson intends to leave the big picture incomplete.

“This could be anywhere,” he says. The causes and effects of gentrification in cities across the country have spawned fierce debate in recent years about how to keep rising housing prices from driving out longtime residents.

Thompson considers gentrification to be “a term that relates to the undermining of a community by building new empires.”

It’s this visual tension — between the specifics of this neighborhood and the ubiquitous issue of displacement — that carries the viewer through Thompson’s work.

When Thompson migrated from Jamaica to the U.S. in 1996, he joined his mother in Spring Valley. The two were part of a largely Black community of Caribbean immigrants. The town park served as the meeting place for everything familiar. Jerk chicken sizzled during cookouts in July. Men played cricket on long weekends. And during many nights when floodlights illuminated the grass, Thompson and his friends ran through the park fields playing soccer.

Today, a development called Park View Condominiums overlooks that same space. The three-story housing complex is just one of the many long-litigated results of the area’s urban renewal push. Since 1990, Spring Valley’s Hispanic population has seen a sixfold increase and its number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish families has soared, shifting the demographics of what a community looks like. The proportion of Black residents has declined by 10% over the same time.

With this perspective, Remnants of an Exodus is as much a meditation on memory as it is an examination of place.

“By shooting this project, I’m also experiencing nostalgia,” Thompson says. “The sense of community, at least within the African diaspora, that’s been gone.”

Thompson also invites viewers to revisit their own recollections through his selective visual compositions. A quick pace of vague images allows the reader to project — a folded sign affixed to a chain link fence, the point where a willow’s limbs meet the ground, graceful fingers around an umbrella handle. Interspersed, direct portraiture brings pause. We spend time with the determined eye contact of a young girl with beaded braids and the knit brows of a woman set back in foliage.

“It’s very rhythmic,” Thompson says. “It’s almost like a musical.”

Just one explicit depiction of change interrupts this rhythm. In his only wide landscape, Thompson shows the viewer those new condos rising just beyond the fence that surrounds the park. In at least this frame, the past and present appear in harmony.

Maura Friedman is a visual journalist based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Instagram @maurafriedman.

 

 

To see more of this project, click here.

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 @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

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.

The Daily Edit – Hard Pack Magazine: Zach Seely

Hark Pack Magazine

Editor and Founder: Zach Seely

Creative Direction and Design: SOON Services, Brendan Dunne, Ken Tokunaga

Fashion Director: Benoit Martinengo
Designer: Christian Sant

Heidi: What compelled you to start a niche print publication based around skiing?
Zach: There’s a simple reason for starting Hard Pack. I have a passion for skiing, images and words. In that sense, it sounded like a lot of fun.A more complex reason is because I was tired of the images and media around skiing. To me, how the media had represented the sport felt stuck and ossified in a particular mode. For all the variety of the sport, why had the image of skiing felt so undifferentiated? The majority of media around skiing falls into two camps. The first camp comes from the perspective of an elite hobbyist. It focuses on apres ski, expensive gear, resort reviews, and pricey hotels. The second camp comes from the perspective of a ski bum. It focuses on lots of powder, steep lines and probably some Grateful Dead vibes.
I have nothing against these two images, but they are not my experience of the sport. There was an opportunity to subvert those traditional images of skiing. The new image would be multi-dimensional, philosophical, and weird. It would embrace stories on architecture, fashion, design, poetry, fiction and criticism.I started Hard Pack to publish new voices whom you would not find in other ski and outdoor publications.

What makes this magazine different from endemic titles that have (may have) disappeared or gone exclusively digital?
Our title Hard Pack is both an homage to Powder which I grew up with but also a provocation. Hard pack snow, of course, refers to the type of snow no one celebrates but the majority of us ski on. We take that provocation as our editorial mandate to do things other titles wouldn’t do. So, of course, we will never publish resort reviews or rankings or a gear review. But we go beyond that. We want to develop a new lexicon for the sport. To do this, we prioritize photographers and writers outside of the ski industry. And by working with these types of creators we end up with stories not typically seen in a ski magazine. We also have a fashion component. Benoit Martinengo is our fashion director. And he leads the fashion editorials for each issue. By engaging with the sport through the lens of fashion, we are able to have a perspective on the rise of outdoor technical clothes in the fashion industry. Finally, we are a print-only publication. We invest a great amount of our resources in the print object. The creative directors, Ken Tokunaga and Brendan Dunne of SOON Services, design the magazine. Each layout is custom. We don’t have a set flatplan. We let the stories inform the design and vice versa. Each issue has multiple paper stocks and unique print inks. We want to create an object you want to hold onto.

How old were you when you first started sliding on snow?
Apparently my dad told my mom that if I can walk then I can ski. He put me on skis at the age of three and took me to Alta in Utah. Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons became my playground essentially. I was able to see the tram at Snowbird from my bedroom window.

In a few words, tell us what skiing is for you and how it has shaped you personally, and creatively…
I’m not super interested in over-romanticising the sport. Obviously, I’m obsessed with it, but it’s only one aspect of my life. Skiing is my favorite outdoor sport among many others like surfing and road cycling. Skiing is also an intellectual pursuit of mine. I’m always reading about it, seeking out poetry that mentions it, and finding cinema that references it. It’s a generous sport to think with. But it’s also an expensive hobby that is part of an industry that is complex and not always good to every stakeholder. That means I have some complicated feelings about the sport, as well.

How did launching Sandwich magazine inform this work, both creatively and through the nuts and bolts of business?
Sandwich magazine was a surprise. I was running a marketing team at a small food CPG company. We needed something to bring a bit of energy to a very crowded and challenging category. We had grown tired of producing food content for the algorithms. We were looking for content that was more in-depth and that mirrored our own passion. We had been big fans of Lucky Peach, the independent food magazine. We thought we could publish something similar. We ended up partnering with TCO out of London to bring it to life. We called it Sandwich. Its mandate is to publish overlooked aspects of food and culture. Each issue takes inspiration from the ingredients of a sandwich to talk about new stories. It blew up on social media. It did well at newsstands. Sold surprisingly well online. It became a viable independent magazine. From that I learned a lot about the magazine publishing world. It gave me great contacts with printers, distributors and retailers. Also, it gave me my first peek into the life of an editor.

How are you trying to make the objects of skiing photographically arresting? Silent Snowfall by Lara Giliberto is gorgeous.
Well, one thing we are trying to do is bring in new voices to the sport. Lara’s work in issue two is one such example. Lara does incredible still life work working often with M Le magazine du Monde out of Paris. She collaborated with set designer Camille Lichtenstern for this work. What they achieved with “Silent Snowfall” is particularly gorgeous. They took ski objects like avalanche shovels, ski wax, and boots and paired them with high-fashion objects. That type of lens meant we’d be able to see a ski boot like never before. The idea of shooting a ski boot upside down is very simple but never done and that’s what they did. It’s quite the statement but hard to pull off. It takes an outside eye to achieve that. In main ways, this story is our response to the season-preview gear reviews that typical magazines publish. We happen to prefer to showcase these objects not as functional objects but as objects of high design.


Matthew Hensen and his legacy were celebrated in the launch issue with the story “That Went Downhill Fast”. The project is beautifully photographed by Samuel Bradley and exquisitely styled by Benoit Martinengo. Tell me about the evolution of this project.

Well, Benoit is our fashion director and he knows Samuel Bradley. Samuel is one of the best fashion and editorial photographers around. Benoit approached Samuel about contributing, and Samuel was immediately interested. We had discussions about different stories. We ended up landing on something that Samuel could shoot in London. The inspiration came from Matthew Hensen, who was the first man to reach the North Pole. The historical photos of this explorer are stunning. It became a cool collaboration for Samuel and Benoit. Benoit had the challenge of recreating those looks with contemporary brands. They still had to feel modern though. What he achieved feels very timeless. That’s thanks to many of the brands like Roa Hiking and Lemaire. Samuel is able to fill the entire story with a sense of humor. That humor is a necessary component to this story. The skier, our model, has veered off course finding himself in the streets of London. Samuel has a great eye for capturing humor while creating stunning images. In the end, the story is one of my favorites we’ve ever created. It is a fun commentary on the entire streetwear meets gorpcore movement. It’s able to make a nice comment while remaining thoughtful, sophisticated and beautiful.

What are your hopes for this printed project?
I generally hope that we get to keep making them. I hope that enough people want to read and own them that it becomes a sustainable business. Very simple stuff, to be honest. It’s rare to put a print object out in the world in our era. It’s meaningful to connect with others who share a similar passion for the sport and for print. On the creative front I hope we continue to work with exciting photographers like Samuel and Lara. Doing editorial work is a labor of love, and it’s so meaningful to have photographers who want to work with you. And, finally, I hope we are making a meaningful change to the ski industry and the way it portrays itself. Even if the impact is small, we hope we are widening the scope of the sport. We hope to make it accessible to people who have never picked up a ski magazine before.

What surprised you the most, now that you’re well into your 3rd issue?
Honestly, what surprised me the most is that we got so many inbound requests from photographers and writers asking to contribute after only our first issue. It’s a small thing but the response from the photo community has been special.

Any advice for anyone who is launching a print magazine?
Reach out to the editors of your favorite magazines and take them out for coffee. I find that the community is all about support. I’ve received so much help from countless industry veterans to newcomers.

How can photographers get involved in the magazine?
Send us a note at info@hardpackmagazine.com

The Daily Edit – Bikepacking: Nathan Khalsa


Bikepacking

Photographer: Nathan Khalsa

Heidi: How did this project come about, were you published by Bikepacking before?
Nathan: The project was born out of how most of my work is born. I want to go do a thing, and I bring a camera along. Lucky for me, I was accompanied by two other photographers so the body of work was much more substantial. This was my first time contributing to Bikepacking. An editor that follows me on Instagram had reached out to me to ask if I’d like to do a little write-up to be featured. I thought it was an awesome opportunity because I love that publication, I didn’t even realize it would be paid until after I turned it in. I was just stoked for the opportunity. I haven’t had a consistent writing practice since college, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging, but I’m eager to keep looking for more opportunities to develop that side of my storytelling.

Did you keep a journal to remember all the details of the trip?
I do find great value in a journal, but I don’t typically find that it fits into my process, especially when I’m trying to shoot and be present. For this particular narrative, I feel the photos did a good job of being the journal. They go a long way to bring back feelings and memories. On my next bikepacking escapade, I would like to make an effort to keep a journal, because it is a great way to document the little details you may forget.

How difficult was the photo edit and how many rolls did you shoot?
Between the 3 of us over a 4-day trip, I think we shot 10 rolls. I shot 3 and a half. The editing was extremely difficult, but I always have a hard time editing down. Especially with 2 other photographers, it was difficult getting it down to the number Bikepacking specified, telling the story, and making sure we all had good representation. I feel like a lot of interesting moments were captured, some that unfortunately didn’t make it into the final article. I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast. 

I know you can ride a lot and manage work from the hearty numbers you posted for the Patagonia Global strava challenge and your 2020 bike tour. When you’re bikepacking, there’s always something to prep or clean up, how did you find time to create the images?
Good question. There is also the dichotomy of living the experience and being outside of it to photograph it. I think I have been doing it for a long time, so at this point, I am always looking for those interesting moments. I’ll drop anything I am doing if the light is hitting just right, or a composition jumps out at me. It also helped to have 2 friends who are also very familiar with the photographic process, so they are easy subjects.  An ill-advised but handy trick is to ride with one or no hands and shoot from the bike, which allows for some really cool and dynamic shots. That is something I got lots of practice with on my 2020 bike tour. Being relatively comfortable with the activity is also important. I am comfortable living off of a bike, and have a system down that works, so I don’t have the stress of “Where the hell am I going to put tonight’s dinner in one of these bags?” or “I thought I packed my pump…” Being prepared goes a long way so you can focus on not only shooting, but enjoying.


It’s not bikebacking until your pushing, a friend once said. Tell us about this photo.
This photo didn’t make it in the final edit, but is a pretty good visual on how hard we were working climbing up Mt. Constitution. The trails were at inclines that were not bikeable, so it turned into a 2 mile slog pushing heavy bikes up the mountain. Paddy and I were both worried about Hank as he was having some health issues feeling faint, especially at high output. Not having many options besides keep going up, we were hoping to find the top sooner or later. Hank has one of the best attitudes though. Always down for an adventure, and hardly said no to anything, he pushed through and was ok. When we got to the top, the road coming up had closed, so the ride down was a smooth, fast, car free descent at sunset back to camp. Worth every ounce of hard work.
Where does your love of film and photography come from?
Photography is such a strong form of communication for me. It’s a form of creative expression I clicked with at a young age, and what drives me to keep shooting is to capture emotions, memories, and the intangibles of experiences and places.
While I don’t solely shoot film, 2 things draw me to it, but I’ll skip the cliche part everybody already knows about it having a timelessness and nostalgia that is very appealing. For me, it’s mostly the simplicity. Not staring into the back of your camera over-analyzing every shot, not having 10,000 photos to sort at the end, not having the plethora of settings to concern yourself with, not missing the shot because your nose made the focus go to the bottom left of the frame because your nose touched the touch screen. As a tactile learner, I have a big appeal to analog. Modern digital cameras are incredible tools, but film is invaluable for finding each shot a little more precious, and spending less time with the camera and more time in the experience.
Who are your photo inspirations, if any….
Chris Burkard has been a big inspiration to me over the years. Not only his images, but his whole life ethos is noteworthy. And he does some epic bike rides. Another would be Jeff Johnson. I have looked up to him and his adventurous spirit for over a decade, and I love his collection of work from 180º South. One more recent would be Joe Greer. He has an incredible eye for light, composition, and timing. His genre isn’t something I find myself shooting often, but his style I find very appealing that I’d love to draw from.

Are you working on any personal projects?
No personal projects at the moment, but I am looking to make some lifestyle changes to make some more time for photography pursuits soon.

The Daily Edit – Summit Journal: Michael Levy



Summit Journal
Editor: Michael Levy
Creative Director: Randall Levensaler

Heidi: As a senior editor for many titles in the outdoor industry, you’ve seen dramatic change, why resurrect a magazine, and why summit journal?
Michael: There are a few reasons, I guess. Some of it had to do with other examples I’d seen of that. Duane Raleigh, my former boss at Rock and Ice magazine, bought the rights to Ascent magazine in the 2000s at some point. Ascent had been an annual climbing publication put out by the Sierra Club, and it did some incredible stuff, but it was well past its heyday by the time Duane acquired it. He breathed new life into it and created a wonderful new version of Ascent that – until a couple of years ago when it ceased publication – was the best climbing pub around, for my money. 

And so that model, of resurrecting a former title, really intrigued me. It allows you to leverage an older publication’s wonderful history and legacy, but also do something new. To have kind of the best of both worlds. Summit had been on my radar for a number of years. In the back of my mind, I’d always thought it seemed ripe to be resurrected. It was the first monthly climbing magazine in America, founded in 1955 by two women, Jean Crenshaw and Helen Kilness. They were visionaries, way ahead of their time in terms of climbing journalism. And so for a long time, Summit was the climbing magazine. Jean and Helen published it until 1989, and then they sold the rights. The title had a second life from 1990-1996 as a glossy quarterly that also did some great stuff. And since then it’s been dormant. 

So what I loved about the idea of resurrecting Summit was being able to draw a straight line from Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Doug Robinson – all legends from the Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing who were involved with or wrote for the magazine – to today. Also, the magazine just had such a bold aesthetic: the retro covers are just too cool. Very stylish. I’m hoping to channel some of that into the new Summit Journal.

Will there be any digital content or only print?
It’s print only. My thinking on that is, basically, with the glut of content online, there’s something to be said for a highly curated, physical product. There’s so much out there on the Internet that a lot of stuff, much of it quite good, just gets lost in the noise. But something tactile that you can feel between your fingers and read over a cup of coffee or a beer, that prioritizes long-form. It might not reach as many people, but the people it does reach will be that much more invested. Print feels a bit like vinyl to me; what’s old is new again. Just like vinyl isn’t going to replace Spotify, print isn’t going to replace digital, but there is a very real audience out there (and I’m in it) that likes analog media, and appreciates reading things that aren’t on a screen. 

And building off that, print also felt like a more achievable business model, in a strange way. Though print has a higher bar to entry–the hard costs to get it off the ground are greater, and without attracting enough subscribers you’re dead in the water–once cleared, the way forward feels much clearer. You can only fill a magazine with so many articles, after all. 

Tell us about your first conversation with Paula Crenshaw, Jean’s niece, about bringing the Summit back.
So I actually first emailed with Paula several years ago, after Jean died. I wrote a short obituary. When I got back in touch with her early this year I shared what at that point was just my very vague idea of resurrecting Summit – and she was really supportive of it from the get-go. (That’s been one of the most gratifying things about this project: everyone has such fond memories of the original that they get really enthusiastic about the magazine coming back for a new era and a new audience.)

Paula herself was a climber back in the day. These days her real passion is marksmanship – she’s a competitive shooter! But professionally, she’s a doctor. Resurrecting Summit was never something that she wanted to do herself at any point. But she thought it would be a lovely thing for me to revive it – if I could figure out how, which was still a big if at that point. Until chatting with Paula, the idea was still just that, if only because as I told her in that call, I wouldn’t have pursued it any further without her blessing. The legacy of Summit, and what Jean and Helen built, didn’t feel like something that I had the right to mess with without getting explicit permission from their family. That was really important to me.

Who else is still involved from the magazine’s genesis and what has been their greatest insight?
So beyond Paula, another great supporter has been David Swanson, the guy who bought Summit from Jean and Helen in 1989 and then published it from 1990 to 1996 as Summit: The Mountain Journal. David’s publishing from that time is obviously worlds away from what the landscape is like today, but storytelling and good imagery never changes – he’s been a valuable resource and sounding board as I got my feet under me helming Summit Journal. He also has some great historical knowledge and connections. I’m in touch a little bit with John Harlin III, who edited the magazine in the 1990s and really did an incredible job. I’m hoping to have him write something for the new Summit at some point.

How are you sourcing photography?
So for this first issue I mainly turned to photographers whose work I was already familiar with from working in the industry, and then a few others who I stumbled across on Instagram and whose work I just really admired. Very little for this first issue was on commission – most of it, with a couple tiny exceptions, was already shot. 

But I’m hoping to shift toward more commissioned work going forward to get more of a balance between the two: I’d love to be able to fill the pages with photography that hasn’t already been plastered far and wide across social media, and that is in direct conversation with the written pieces in the magazine.

Another thing I’m trying to do is find ways to incorporate non-climbing photography into the magazine. Climbing photos are obviously at the magazine’s core, but I don’t want it to just all be dramatic mountain vistas and action shots. So in our first issue, for example, I commissioned an essay accompanied by some breathtaking macrophotography. Basically, even though Summit is a climbing magazine, I don’t think that limits us. If something is climbing-adjacent and allows us to broaden our mandate, that to me is really exciting.

Because this was founded by two women and there was controversy and pen names in its heyday, how are you planning to honor the two female founders and be inclusive?
This is something I’m very cognizant of. In short, though I don’t have any formula or anything, I’m trying to always have an eye on the overall make-up of the magazine. In the first issue, our contributors are roughly half women, and half men. At the end of the day, the final criterion for whether something makes it into the mag is whether it’s either good writing or good photography, but there’s fantastic and powerful storytelling and imagery coming out of every corner of the climbing world these days. The main problem is that I can’t fit it all!

And I’m happy to take pitches for photo essays. We have pretty few opportunities for one-off shots in the mag, but photo essays will figure heavily in each issue. Pitch me at mlevy@summitjournal.com. Our first issue is due early 2024.

Photographers, Can We Talk About Working For Nonprofits?

I am a 43yo photographer working on the west coast for nearly two decades. I often receive requests from nonprofits to photograph for a discount or to “volunteer my time,” aka shooting for free. I have yet to take a gig without pay, and I still stay very busy.

Look into the company. Ask them what other vendors are volunteering their time or offering what discounts? Chances are they are paying for a venue, food, bar, mc, a/v, etc. There is a *big difference* between supporting a local non-profit or start-up that you believe in or benefits your community directly with a discounted rate, or, say, a free hour of your time after booking x amount of hours, as opposed to offering that same deal for a national company that pays their CEOs huge or doesn’t have the best track record. Personally, when I am passionate about a nonprofit, I offer to volunteer or help in other non-photo related ways. It keeps me grounded and I like the separation from photography work.

True story: another photographer called me the day before his nonprofit event asking if I could shoot for him because he was injured. He casually said the rate was $250 for a couple of hours documenting some kids for a nonprofit. I countered with a higher offer, wanting to help him in a tight situation, but still making it worth my time. Turned out it was the client’s yearly fundraiser event, $$$-per plate luncheon, formal attire, raffle tickets costing more than what they were paying me, and the org raised loads of money in 45 minutes. They treated me poorly, I wasn’t paid on time, and when I was, the check bounced, which is a career first for me. Pure madness…

This brings me to my second point: please be transparent with other photographers/creatives when you ask for their assistance. What I thought would be me covering children in our community event turned out to be so much more in scope, and I had to compartmentalize my anger the entire time I was there. In the end, it was my fault for not clarifying what was actually transpiring at the shoot because I was busy when he contacted me. Have I learned a lesson here? Definitely.

You can be friendly and still require fairness in business. Pick up the phone and ask questions. Above all, know that it is okay to say no to shooting (true scenario) a 3-hr cocktail, black-tie affair for a national nonprofit you’ve definitely heard of at my city’s most-expensive venue for FREE and instead, take the night off or work for a different client. Your mental health will thank you.

Marketing methods from photographers in my salary survey

Here’s a selection of marketing methods from photographers I’ve surveyed. Head over to instagram for more discussion: https://www.instagram.com/p/C0PNiUiu18K

I am strictly word of mouth.

My philosophy in general has been “throw enough shit at the wall and some of it is bound to stick.

At the end of the day, I’ve found the most success with in-person events (trade shows, speaking panels, etc) where I can get face time with the right people.

I have better luck with Instagram and LinkedIn.

I mainly market on Instagram, LinkedIn and my website.

Putting time and effort into a strong and visually appealing website has done more for my business than anything else.

My biggest effort goes into SEO where I rank number one in google for several key terms in my target markets.

I find most of my work comes through referrals from past/present clients.

Word of mouth and Cold emails.

I’m a huge fan of trying to meet as many people as you can in person.

word of mouth.

I think that creating coherent bodies of personal work, then submitting them for features in prominent online magazines is pretty much the best marketing you can do.

Instagram is of course the necessary evil and undoubtedly the most important marketing tool for a photographer

Instagram, Google, Facebook and word of mouth are my highest returning markets.

I would prefer to invest energy into LinkedIn being a B2B business this gets the right eyeballs on my work.

I rely on social, website and word of mouth

I really built my brand heavily thru instagram. Everything else has been word of mouth

I have an Instagram, which is meh, and I go out and approach people, or cold call people, which is better.

Word of mouth is my best marketing. I make sure that I do my best to please any client, but or small as they might tell someone else about me. I also do a lot of emails to photographers, agents and producers.

Just posting candidly on Instagram. Haven’t sent personal marketing out besides what my agency shares.

I’ve started sending out a newsletter, which has been fun. I’ll take meetings when I’m in different cities. I keep up with clients on Instagram.

My agent does most of the marketing. They send out newsletters all the time, and they take meetings constantly.

to be completely honest, I’m not sure what’s effective anymore.

I invested a lot in my network in the beginning, reconnecting with old contacts, posting a lot on social media, and cold emailing/newsletters.

Other then maintaining a current website and posting on Instagram, we have not marketed in the traditional sense for years.

Typically word of mouth and when people who hire us change jobs is how we pick up new clients.

Most effective out of that is Linkedin

Only marketing is keeping up with Instagram posts.

Email is my gold for marketing all of my business buckets

Wonderful Machine – every once in a while someone reaches out who finds me there.

I’ve been on Found, BLVD, Wonderful Machine, Luupe, and PhotoPolitic. The only one that has gotten me any interaction was Wonderful Machine where I at least got to put in two bids for large projects.

doing in-person meetings in all major cities 4 times a year.

Since I was never chasing giant commercial clients, most of my marketing focused on building personal relationships with people within my market.

I’ve had great success by shooting and sharing ambitious personal projects that were picked up by local and national press.

SEO is ever

The Daily Edit – Trails Magazine

 
Trails Magazine
Editor-in-Chief: Ryan Wichelns

Cover Photographer: Sarah Attar

Heidi: Now that you’re 4 issues in and poised for 8, what has been your biggest creative challenge as a team?
Ryan: We’re definitely continuously trying to innovate. I feel like a lot of corporate magazines can get a little bit stagnant. It’s more difficult for them to switch things up. I like the fact that we can take advantage of our size and nimbleness to try new things and deliver new things to our readers. So I’m definitely trying to encourage new ideas from our contributors. 

Your team is fully remote across four time zones, with a distributed workforce what are some of the benefits and challenges?
Yeah, it’s easily the most geographically diverse team I’ve ever worked on. Our photo editor is on Alaska time, I’m on Pacific time, our managing editor is on Mountain time, our designer on Central, and our marketing director on the East. Scheduling obviously has its challenges but I like that we all get out to experience different places and different mountain ranges. We all have a little bit of geographic “expertise” I think. I grew up back East and used to think the big magazines had a little bit of a Rocky Mountain bias. Having our team spread out makes it harder to focus too hard on one spot.

You were funded via Kickstarter initially, what are your plans to keep the presses humming? (I enjoyed your ASMR of the printing press)
Our Kickstarter definitely got the ball moving and funded Issue 1, but every issue since then has been funded by our subscribers. Advertising is a very small part of our business, so we really rely on our subscribers and readers to keep the ship afloat.

How would define the editorial and photo direction of the magazine?
That’s an interesting question. I try not to pigeonhole our content too much, but I do think we try to put an emphasis on bigger, more research-intensive, more immersive, and frankly more important stories. Longform stuff. So much of journalism these days is quick-hit: Listicles, short reads, etc. We’re trying to fill the magazine with the kind of journalism that takes real work.  

You’ve spent your career as an outdoor journalist, so why start your own magazine?
I loved Backpacker. It was the first magazine I ever read as a kid—It was really important to me. Before Backpacker shut down, starting a magazine frankly wasn’t on my radar at all. But once they shut it down, it felt obvious. The backpacking community really didn’t have anything else and it felt like an important hole to fill. After a long time behind the scenes, I felt pretty confident that there was a way to do it better, so here we are.

What words of advice do you have for others considering independent journalism?
Trust your readers. If you make a product for them and make it something that’s easy to like (good content, quality, etc.) they will read it. Print isn’t dead, it’s only that cheap, mass-produced brands of print not thriving. Readers are willing to support good print.

Can you share the backstory for this cover image?
We made our way up and over McGee Pass in early September, on day two of our five-day backpacking trip through California’s High Sierra. On our way up to 11,895 feet, the lingering late-summer snowfields and still-thawing lakes were evidence of the record-breaking winter prior. I appreciated the rhythm and pace of moving among the mountains, allowing for quiet and continuous observation of the landscape, of the lines and the light and the colors, a moving meditation with each step.
 How did you get connected with Trails Magazine?
Sarah: I came across Trails Mag when it first emerged and was immediately intrigued and keen to submit work. I’ve always loved independent, photo-focused, magazines and was excited to see another pop onto the scene. Seeing my work printed is incredibly special, especially amongst some lovely storytelling and other incredible work. I try to engage with it in that way as much as I can, whether that’s through print sales, publications, or my own personal photo cards, it’s so special to bring the digital world into a tangible space. It’s also been a really fun way to build community in the outdoor photo industry. I started submitting some favorite images to Trails Mag and had one featured as a “Vantage Point” in the issue prior, and was incredibly excited and grateful to hear that this photo landed the Issue 4 cover.

How has nature and being human-powered shaped your photography?
Sarah: Photography and movement in nature have evolved symbiotically together in my life. They feel totally interwoven and inform each other constantly. It was over 10 years ago that I ran my first marathon and brought a disposable camera along with me to document it, one exposure for every mile. It was when I was training full-time and living in Mammoth Lakes, CA that I really started to develop my photographic style. I would spend miles running, observing the light, the mountains, the colors, the trails, and then return to these places to photograph them. This felt like a very intimate study and experience of the land. These two very natural and effortless ways of engaging continually inform and inspire the other. A lot of my initial work during this time was very landscape-focused, and that’s still one of my favorite areas to work in. Since diving into photography full-time, it has naturally evolved into documenting people moving through these landscapes. I love photographing people in their element, finding their flow, working hard, and going after their goals in these big beautiful spaces; capturing human-powered movement in the places that move us, while physically exploring the earth and our connection to it. Photography and movement in nature are the ways that I find most presence. They both turn my attention to the world around me. And I’d say a majority of my favorite images have involved some form of time and movement getting out into the mountains.

How can photographers get involved?
Anyone interested in contributing can find out more at trailsmag.net/contribute.
Subscribers can just go to trailsmag.net
Images for the blog post:  Lauren Danilek

 

The Daily Edit – Patagonia Fall 23 Journal Cover: Brian Kelley



Brain Kelley
Gathering Growth

Heidi: The weather was both perfect and unforgettable for snowshoeing up nearly 5,000 vertical feet during a storm with a 4×5 camera and gear (45 lbs) on your back. What was going through your mind during the ascent?  
Brian: When I’m on a mission like the one going up the White Mountains with a specific goal in mind I sort of go into tunnel vision.  I just keep pushing even when I feel tired.  I’m used to hiking great distances with the heavy pack on but adding snow shoes, freezing temps and 3 feet of snow definitely pushed my limits.

Photos by Alex Turner.

Describe the setting and conditions that night.
We camped at 11,000 ft in -4 degree weather.
Getting to the summit in the dark during the storm was a really strange feeling… pushed to my physical limits I just wanted to crawl into a sleeping bag and crash but we had to set up camp and try to get some food into my system.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get my extra down layers on fast enough and the cold started to get to me and my body was shutting down.  But in those situations, you can’t just give up or think you’re going to wake up in a warm cozy bed.  Luckily Forrest has so much experience in these situations and got the tent set up quickly and started melting snow to fill Nalgenes with hot water to stick inside my bag, I was grateful that as a Patagonia ambassador and pro snowboarder, these conditions were familiar to him.  I felt so sick that night that I couldn’t even put food down. I went to bed that night not sure if I’d have the strength or desire to wake up at dawn to get the shot.  Luckily the -20 bag did the trick and I was able to get enough rest and core temp back to start feeling strong enough to go back out.  I definitely questioned whether any photograph is worth putting myself at that type of risk, especially since I have a family.
Forrest Shearer and the cover tree, a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Loading film in those conditions must have been a challenge, how many images did you manage to get of the majestic, twisted bristlecone?
Going into missions like this with film, I usually pre-load film in the car.  I had five film holders so ten shots total, not a lot but I felt confident. The big worry is condensation and snow getting to the film. I remember the night before shooting the tree just leaving my bag out in the elements… 20k worth of gear just chilled in a -4 snow storm shout out to Shimoda bags!  But while shooting the tree I was fumbling around on snowshoes trying to figure out angles and felt like snow was just going everywhere. Also, the storm kept going in and out during the shot.  Honestly, when I sent the film out to get developed I just thought to myself I hope at least one comes out.

What have trees taught you over the years and what other projects have grown out of your work for Gathering Growth?
 When I first started to photograph trees I was just chasing “Champion Trees” nominated as the largest of their species.  When I would go to these trees I tried to not treat them as a tourist destination or some sort of mark on a checklist.  Trees have taught me a lot about patience and respect.  In order to pay them respect and make a great image that represents the hundreds or even thousands of years they have been alive you have to spend time with them and see how the light interacts throughout the day.  After two years of photographing champion trees I started the Gathering Growth Foundation as a way to expand upon the archive and document more trees and old-growth forests, and to try to educate people about the important role trees play in our everyday lives.  I’m currently working towards Gathering Growths’ first book. The oldest and largest trees of NY state.

Photo assignments often offer new experiences, what did this present to you? 
This assignment with Patagonia put me into a world that was so foreign to me.  I had never been snowboarding or split boarding before but I knew I wanted to see these trees in the dead of winter, a time that most would never venture to see them or roads are closed down. Overall the assignment pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me a stronger more confident human.

What draws you to conservation work? 
My biggest motivation to work in the conservation world is to allow the future to know what we used to have.  I think we can save a lot and plant new trees but there’s something so depressing about knowing that wildland fires, invasive insects, and intense storms are wiping out some of our oldest and largest trees.  Some 2000-year-old trees might be irreplaceable or might not be seen in the future.

The Daily Edit – Justin Bastien

  

Justin Bastien Photographer and Director

Heidi: You seem to balance work and your outdoor adventure life well. What was the biggest
surprises within that balance?
Justin: Balancing work and everything else you love in life is always a challenge, especially if you are
a curious person who likes to learn, explore, and try new things. Luckily, I really enjoy my
work, and it often takes me to incredible places around the world, meeting the most
interesting people from all walks of life. I have always tried to live a passion-based life,
following my interests and trying to align those interests with my work. The great thing about
photography and filmmaking is that it’s really endless in terms of where you can go with it.
What started out as a happy accident working with Patagonia years ago with my little 35mm
Yashica T4 point-and-shoot camera has really turned into an adventure of a lifetime. I never
would have imagined that I would get to go to every continent on Earth, explore remote
places where humans have never set foot, and take in all that beauty. The best part is actually
sharing the experiences through photography and films with others, hopefully inspiring people
and maybe making a small difference in the world in the process.
The biggest surprise to me has been that you actually can live a passion-based life. It’s
certainly not an easy path. It might look glamorous on Instagram, but trust me, it is not. It’s a
ton of work, filled with complete uncertainty at every turn and a huge learning curve with
endless ups and downs, but it’s so worth it. I couldn’t live any other way.

How did you get your start, or what was your biggest break?
I would say my start in photography was my biggest break. I was climbing almost full-time and
doing a wide variety of part-time jobs—geology, construction, web design, guiding, etc.—to
fund the next climbing trip. It was all about getting back out there to climb and see new
places. Work was just a means to an end. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to meet the
Photo Editor at Patagonia, Jane Sievert. She asked me to shoot photos on my climbing and
surfing trips. It was super low-key with no expectations. I would shoot these pretty bad
photos, and she would kindly review them, give me some encouraging feedback, and tell me
to keep shooting and working on certain things. Over time, she found a few photographs that
met her needs. It was a wonderful process, and I had no idea how lucky I was at the time and
how it would change my life. I am so grateful to her and Patagonia for leading me down this
incredible path.
From there, it was a long, slow road. I wasn’t a professional photographer yet and had to work
really hard to figure out how to shoot better images and also learn about the business side of
things—all of which is a never-ending process. One thing led to another, and I started getting
some interesting jobs outside of the work with Patagonia: commercial and editorial photo
shoots, and working as a specialty operator on TV commercials, TV shows, and films. The work
was really wide in scope, with a lot of travel, which was a lot of fun. I generally got hired for
strange jobs that required special skills, such as climbing, diving, shooting in remote locations, or where they needed someone who could take on a lot of different roles, such as directing, DPing, shooting still photographs, and VR.

During your career, how many hats have you worn to get to your level? 
I feel like I have worn every hat along the way, in one form or another, and continue to do so
to this day. I like to be involved in every aspect of the production and understand how it all
works. From technical capture and workflow to the business side of things, and most
importantly, the creative process. The more you know about each aspect of the process, the
better informed your decisions will be. I started out working by myself out of a backpack in
remote locations, so I had to know how to do everything. It’s still like that on small jobs, but as
they scale up in size, I step back—way back.
On the big shoots, we have so many talented people who are really good at their specific
roles. Every person on set really elevates the quality of the work to the next level. At that
point, it’s better to focus on the big picture and bring the vision to life. That usually means I am
just focusing on directing and shooting.

Do you shoot a range of big and small jobs?
Yes, I work on a variety of projects, from solo shoots to large-scale commercial productions with extensive crews, elaborate sets, and all kinds of equipment. I enjoy the opportunity to work across this broad spectrum of production scales. On smaller projects, where it is just me and the subject, the experience is rewarding because it allows me to form a genuine bond with the subject, discover their true selves, and capture those raw, authentic moments. On the other end of the scale, large projects are exhilarating because I’m surrounded by a ton of exceptional resources and talented individuals who collectively enhance the final product. It’s incredibly satisfying to dream up concepts in the pre-production phase of the project and then see them magically come to life. Stepping onto a set and seeing a large, skilled crew in action, all dedicated to realizing the initial vision is always an awe-inspiring moment.

I value both working styles for the distinct benefits they offer. Each approach enriches my skills and informs my practice in the other context. Sometimes, going light and fast while with minimal gear, relying on my instincts, and capturing a fleeting moment is the right call. Yet, even when I have access to an array of equipment, such as lighting trucks, multiple camera units, and cranes, the true essence of my job is to capture the perfect shot. In contrast, working solo allows me to slow down, delve deeper into the craft, and prepare to capture that perfect moment.

This past spring was a prime example. I was out filming some climbing and snowboarding in the backcountry for a few days. We were camping in the snow, lugging around heavy camera equipment, trying to keep batteries warm, all while trying to find a great angle on this rock wall 3,000 feet across the snow-covered valley. It was filmmaking stripped down to the bare essentials. Immediately following that, I headed into directing a big commercial shoot for Chevy that was going to launch the Major League Baseball season. Suddenly, I found myself on a set buzzing with 125 crew members, complete with stunts, performance drivers, and two camera units with incredible DPs leading each unit—a stark contrast to the huge packs we carried in the backcountry shoot a few days ago.

For location shoots, how are you tracking weather, and do you have two treatments you prep? 
Absolutely, our primary challenge was attempting to shoot a spring/summer-themed commercial amidst an ‘atmospheric river,’ a massive rainstorm that became one of the most intense to hit California in decades. This is when our adaptability and problem-solving skills truly came into play. Thankfully, I was part of a team where everyone was not only good at what they did but also collaborated well under pressure.

We encountered a significant setback when mudslides rendered one of our key locations inaccessible. The spot was set in a picturesque valley encircled by mountains—a pivotal scene for the commercial that we had to get. During our lunch break, I had a stunt driver take me in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to survey the damage. The roads were covered in deep mud, and it was immediately obvious that we weren’t going to make it up there. However, we’re in the business of making the impossible possible. We found a ranch hand with a tractor who helped us clear a path so that a pared-down crew could make it up the road. We skipped lunch and pushed our way up the hill. In the meantime, we dispatched the second unit and assistant director to find an alternative location and worked tirelessly to clear the mud. We trimmed the crew down from 125 to only the most essential personnel, who, along with a single Art Director from the agency, barely squeezed into two 4×4 trucks. Time was tight, and we had a lot to accomplish, I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the epic lighting conditions I knew we were going to get around dusk. Luck was on our side that day, and we managed to capture some fantastic footage.

However, our luck didn’t hold the next day. The forecast warned of relentless rain throughout the day. Our location scout was on it, providing hourly weather updates, yet we had to brace ourselves for the possibility of filming in heavy rain.

That’s exactly the scenario we faced on our last day, where the boards called for a sunny homecoming scene with a BBQ, and instead, we had a river falling from the sky. We put the cast under the front porch of the house to keep them dry, lit the scene to make it look like a sunny, summer day, and constructed a 60-foot plastic tunnel for the truck to drive through to the set. We planned to use VFX to replace the background plates and simulate reflections on the body of the truck.

We adapted, hustled, and made the most of the challenging conditions. The dedication of every crew member, going the extra mile during the five-day shoot, was crucial to our success. Viewing the final broadcast spot you wouldn’t be able to tell that it was shot in a big downpour. And that is the magic of filmmaking!
https://vimeo.com/845713502

Who were your inspirations and mentors then and now?
I would say I am most inspired by the natural world and storytelling. I love how every place
and every person has such an interesting, unique story to be told. You can truly find art and
magic everywhere you look in the world. I think it’s a matter of finding that inspiration all
around you.
My biggest mentor has been my mom, who was a Special Education Teacher for 35 years
and a multidisciplinary artist. She was always working on different projects from painting and
Ikebana to quilting and interior design. She really encouraged me to be creative, brave, and
free. As I mentioned earlier, Jane Sievert at Patagonia set me on this wonderful path. My
good friend Ken Merfeld, a photography instructor from the Art Center College of Design, is a
passionate artist with a wicked eye that constantly pushes me to challenge myself as an artist
and take my work to the next level. I am so grateful for all these people and many more who
have been such an important part of this never-ending journey.

We should talk about the barrier to entry for neurodivergent photographers

I received the following note:

I think it’s essential to talk about this amongst all the illustrious “35 year old male, net $500k/year”.

I am both autistic and very talented, and the former has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to keep my head above water. I am currently scraping by at the poverty line and am on Medicaid. I am so poor that I get free internet and subsidized electricity bills. I am incredibly good at what I do, and when I have a client, they are always thrilled with my work. But my brain just doesn’t grasp professional-speak, networking, corporate patterns of communication, or entrepreneurship. I feel as if I am working as hard as I can while watching people less skilled than I am make a killing.

I should clarify that I am not inappropriate with my clients, nor do I make anyone uncomfortable – if you met me, you’d have no idea I’m on the spectrum at first. But my brain is markedly different and provides very unique impediments, and the industry is simply not set up to accommodate people like me.

The industry as a whole is incredibly confusing, complex, and cutthroat, and highly ableist.

I have reached a tipping point in my career of realizing I cannot go another day accepting things the way they are, but I also recognize that, if people can’t identify with what I would reveal, it probably doesn’t make sense to torch the last gasping remnants of my fucked career and publicize this struggle for a bunch of people who would be like “…um, what?”. So, I’m going the anonymous route for now. I’m curious what people might say.

I also want to clarify that I think my situation in particular goes beyond a ‘dislike’ of the business part (although that’s a component as well). It’s more just that there are very specific unwritten rules of pitching and interaction that are prohibitively incomprehensible to someone on the spectrum. And it’s awful, because, as I mentioned, I have *never* had a dissatisfied client. People love my work. But presenting as an autistic person who doesn’t “look autistic” is incredibly off-putting for most people. They think they know what they’re working with, and then they get to know me a little more. I never intend to fuck anything up, but this is inevitably what happens, simply because I’m neurologically unable to follow certain (nonsensical???) structures of interaction and interlocution. It’s frustrating as hell.

I should also mention that this is also what caused me to lose a major camera sponsorship. I say the wrong thing, have no idea, and six months of complete radio silence later, I find out I’ve been blacklisted. I learned this from a friendly acquaintance on their PR team who had just gotten laid off, so he had no more secrets to keep. I mean, the industry is wild. Like, I have no idea what I did, I didn’t mean to offend, can we just talk about it first? Lol. People only like the flavors of disabled that make you meek and small and pitiable, not the ones that make you alienating (read: a confident autistic woman who occasionally makes gaffes and misreads social cues). So – I would very much love to talk more about the intersection of photography and disability. There’s a lot that needs to be said here, especially because many of the voices that should be amplified are instead squelched under the weight of industrywide ableism.

The Daily Edit – Emocean

Emocean


Founder + Creative Director: Thembi Hanify
Co-Founder+ Editor-in-Chief: Mariah Ernst

Heidi: You and your business partner launched Emocean in 2021, what makes this different from other surf print media?
Thembi Hanify: Emocean is different from other printed surf media because it’s one of the few that is owned and published by women: myself (creative director) and Mariah (editor in chief). It’s also one of the few surf mags that features a truly diverse range of people. There are a lot of male-dominated mags out there, and then there are a lot of women-only mags out there, so we felt the need to address this underserviced area where surfers of all different genders, backgrounds, and identities could be seen side by side. We also tend to approach the magazine through more of a human-focused or arts-tinged lens, as opposed to a super shreddy, core surf lens. I drew a lot of inspiration from fashion and culture magazines like i-D, The Gentlewoman, and Apartamento in thinking this up.

Will this themed quarterly magazine always centered around emotion? (Issue 01 Joy, 02 Rage 03 Connection 04 and 05 Fear?
The mag is published twice a year, and yes we will continue to have each issue center around an emotional theme. Spoiler alert: the theme of Issue 06 is ‘love.’

You both have full-time jobs that intersect fashion, culture, and surf.
Why this labor of love for a print project? (which is not dead BTW)

I have always loved print since I was very very young. Big beautiful coffee table books, monthly mag subscriptions, you name it. In today’s environment, we’re bombarded with so many fragments of digital information online that I find it incredibly hard to really absorb any of it. Reading things online generally makes me feel scattered and on-edge. I find that reading a physical, printed object cultivates presence and allows me to slow down and truly pay attention. You really can’t beat that feeling. Also I love the smell of print hahaha. In terms of values, Emocean encompasses the core values that are most important to me—diverse perspectives, relatability, empowerment, and creativity. It feels like these values are much needed in pushing mainstream surf culture forward, so I’m very passionate about what the magazine has to offer.

The Fear cover features a soulful tight portrait of Mario, the co-founder of @un.mar.de.colores. The cover breaks a historical tenant of portraiture: it lacks reciprocal eye contact but rather celebrates a co-existence. Was that a specific photo direction or did it unfold naturally?
Gala Slater (creative director of the shoot): Well it was really a combination of both things, a carefully planned portrait that I had envisioned using natural debris from the beach that we would find on the day, but the idea was always to have him looking direct camera. I felt drawn to each object we placed over his face, and as he lay there with his eyes closed while we were carefully arranging them, I felt a moment of calm and peace that led us to choose that moment to capture, eyes closed.

Thembi Hanify: As soon as I saw the image I knew it would be an amazing cover. We hadn’t pre-planned that, but it was such a captivating image. The sense of ease and harmony the image gives off represents the flip-side of the coin so to speak of fear. I think with surfing, the goal sometimes is to harness the fear you feel into a harmonious kind of focus that allows you to be very present and zen-like.

I loved the intention behind the styling Un Mar De Colores, which translates to an ocean of colors. The styling team created pieces from found beach waste, thrifted items, and leftover materials from previous projects. What was the premise of the feature on Mario?
Gala Slater: The goal of the feature on Mario was not only to share the story of a person who is doing such incredible work within the surf community and to share his warm soul with the audience but to also visually represent him in a way that he hadn’t been seen before. Mario had done shoots before for some of the bigger outdoors brands and I felt like I wanted to do something less expected, something more artful that married his beautiful exterior to the earth. It felt off to dress him in traditional ‘fashion’ and so I challenged Heather and Logan (both stylists & makers) to see what they could accomplish by using found/discarded materials to make custom pieces for Mario. These materials included metals, rubber, shells, plastic, fabrics, yarn, and more. The results were beautiful and combined with the beach as a backdrop the photos turned out better than I could have imagined.  

How do photographers and writers get in touch with you?
We are always open for submissions! People can email us at info@emocean.surf to submit their work for consideration in upcoming issues.

Where can we pick up a copy?
You can order a copy of the mag and our special edition merch range on our website. We also have a bunch of stockists across America, and a few international ones in Europe, Indonesia, and Australia.

Now that you’re almost 3 years old, what surprised you the most about this project and your creative growth?
I suppose it’s not a huge surprise per se, but the thing we’ve relished the most is the incredible network of people we’ve become connected with through publishing Emocean. I really see this magazine as a vessel for telling other people’s stories, and were truly honored to be able to do that. Community is everything, and the community we’ve encountered and become a part of throughout this journey of independent publishing has been the most wonderful and invaluable thing of all.
– – – – – – 

FEATURING Mario Ordoñez-Calderón REPRESENTED BY OTHER PEOPLES CHILDREN
CREATIVE DIRECTION AND CASTING BY GALA SLATER
PHOTOS by JULIEN SAGE
STYLING BY HEATHER MELODY REST AND LOGAN NEITZEL
GROOMING by TERRI WALKER

 

Photographers, Limit Your Clients AI Rights By Adding This To Your T&C

I reached out to the Artists Management Association and this is the language they have shared with members (short and long).

1. Deliverables not approved for AI use and/or AI training

2. Unless explicitly stated in an invoice, licensee may not use the assets in connection with an immutable digital asset intended for sale, including but not limited to non-fungible tokens. All rights not expressly granted to the licensee are reserved to company and the copyright holder. No machine learning, AI, or biometric technology use. Unless explicitly authorized in the invoice, licensee may not use the asset (s) including any caption information, keywords, or other metadata associated with content) for any machine learning and / or artificial intelligence purposes, or for any technologies designed or intended for the identification of natural persons.

visit https://artistmanagementassociation.org to learn more.

The Daily Edit – Nick St. Oegger : The Balkans

 



Nick St. Oegger

Heidi: What drew you to the Western Balkans to follow the grassroots movement protecting the land from Hydro development?
Nick: I was first drawn to the Balkans about ten years ago after seeing a travel article with beautiful photos of the Croatian coast. All I knew about the region was related to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the wars that followed throughout the 90s, so I was curious to see what things were like now. I became especially interested in Albania, which at the time was completely off the tourist map, though everyone I asked warned me against going because it was “dangerous” and there was “nothing to see”. After I arrived though, I saw how wrong people were. I was completely captivated by the mountains, rivers, and welcoming people who were so eager to share their culture and history with me. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

This feeling only continued as I traveled on through Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia. I couldn’t believe how beautiful nature was, it was so contrary to what I had expected to find based on my visual references from the region. It was only when I returned home and started doing some research that I discovered how much of this nature was under threat from hydropower development, deforestation, industry, and pollution. I also discovered there was a dedicated group of activists, scientists, and ordinary citizens from around Europe, who were coming together under the Save the Blue Heart campaign to try to protect the region’s waterways. I felt this was a really positive and different story that I could tell from the region.

That region has been largely defined by conflict, how are you using photography to change that narrative?
When I started showing people photos from my initial trip to the region, they also couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Their conception of places like Albania or Bosnia & Herzegovina was very dark, and I quickly realized how much of it was based on chaotic imagery of the conflicts from 20-25 years ago. Even people from the region were surprised and touched when I showed them my photos as if they were seeing the beauty of their countries for the first time through my outside perspective.

I think it’s a shame that certain countries or regions in the world become associated with conflict, and remain that way long after the fighting has stopped. Using photography to highlight more positive aspects like unique cultural practices, or the beauty of places like the Vjosa River, helps to change the visual reference points of a region. I’ve seen the positive impact this can have in places like Albania, which is finally experiencing a huge tourism boom because people are seeing such beautiful imagery of the country on Instagram or TikTok. I think this also helps local people reframe how they think about these places too when they see more and more foreigners coming to enjoy nature in their countries.

What can you tell us about this untamed river that runs from source to sea?
I remember seeing the Vjosa on my first trip to Albania and being simply awestruck by the bright blue colour, and the way the river curved through the landscape in a way that I had never seen. I didn’t know at the time that it was one of the last wild rivers in Europe, but I could tell right away that there was something unique about it, something very different from other rivers I had seen in Europe.

How long were you working on the Vjosa project?
It’s been about seven years now since I started following the story of the Vjosa. Initially, I made several trips along the course of the river during 2017, which became a project that I self-published as a photo book, Kuçedra. At the time it seemed inevitable that the river would be dammed, so I wanted to create a photographic record of the landscapes and people along the river before it would all be changed forever. That same year though, activists scored their first victory by blocking the construction of one of the large dam projects on the river, which was a huge positive turn in the story. I continued following events as they developed, joining scientists as they conducted research along the Vjosa, watching as more court rulings were in favor of local activists, and talk of declaring a national park moved closer to reality. I developed really close relationships with the people fighting for the river, and with the river itself, so it became a very personal story for me, one that I wanted to keep following up on.

Can you share a bit about what it meant to cover the moment when Albania’s 118-mile Vjosa river inched closer to being permanently protected?
It was a very emotional and important moment to cover the declaration of the Vjosa Wild River National Park. In this industry, you don’t always have the luxury of following a story for so long and don’t always get to see a positive outcome either. It was amazing to see the hard work that my friends and colleagues had put in for over a decade finally pay off, and also to feel that I had played a part in this fight by publishing and exhibiting my photographs of the Vjosa. It was a moment when you could really grasp the importance of collaboration and resilience amongst so many diverse people, who all played their part in trying to protect this really unique environment.




Congratulations on your British Journal Of Photography: Decade of Change Award, what drew you to climate change and social impact work?
Thank you! It was an honor to be recognized by the British Journal of Photography for my work around climate change, because I think it highlights just how important this topic is at the moment, and it has given me another platform to raise awareness about the unique nature in the Western Balkans, and the people fighting to protect it. This topic has always been something close to me, as I grew up spending a lot of time in nature with my grandfather, who was a climber and avid environmentalist. He taught me a lot about nature and instilled this great sense of awe and responsibility in caring for the environment. When I started my career in visual storytelling, I felt naturally drawn towards stories about the environment, and people’s complex relationship to it.

What projects are you working on now?
At the moment I’m working on a National Geographic Society-funded project about river conservation in Bosnia & Herzegovina. I’m specifically looking at how the grassroots movement to protect rivers is uniting communities around Bosnia that were previously in conflict. It’s a great opportunity to build on my previous work with the Vjosa and to share another positive story from the region. I’ll be finishing the project early next year, and am looking forward to sharing and exhibiting the work shortly after that.

Photographers, How Much Do You Make?

2019 – 100% assisting
2020 – 85% assisting 15% Editorial
2021 – 75% assisting 10% Commercial 15% Editorial
2022 – 60% assisting 20% Commercial 20% Editorial

I’ve been assisting for several years, trying to gain insight and experience in the industry. 2019 was my first full year assisting, I also had a full time job at the time that I was attempting to segue out of to pursue photography.

When Covid lockdowns started I decided to go all in on assisting and portfolio building; I took a decent loss upgrading / adding gear and trying to get my name out there. I worked with a few meal delivery services and local restaurants for trade that year.

Most of my clients are small, local businesses that only have budgets for me solo; those projects are all remote from my home studio or on location. For slightly bigger projects or when budget allows, I rent a studio and crew as needed: usually one stylist and one assistant.
I’ve been working mostly solo (including styling) since I started, but would love to outsource production, post processing, and marketing help as my business grows.

Currently I work with local small businesses in the food and beverage sector. Most of my client roster is liquor or wine brands, a few food brands, and occasionally food/bev product work will come in.

I also have one Bay Area specific web based editorial client. I had one national brand I worked with, but the experience was awful and pay wasn’t great either.

I’d estimate my overhead is about $3-5K per year: My current overhead is mainly business software subscriptions (Capture One, Adobe, Squarespace, Dubsado) equipment rentals, and consistently updating my prop collection. In 2019 it was $8K as I had to upgrade most of my gear from college, but haven’t needed to add too much since. I also try to buy refurbished as often as I can and only when necessary.

I do all of own my marketing through services I’m already paying for: email, newsletters, organic social media, etc. Due to the limited amount of work I’m getting, I really try to keep overhead to a bare minimum. I don’t have employees, I’m fortunate to be on my spouses work insurance, and only rent studio space when I can pass the fee on to the client.

I’m actively photographing about 10-12 days a year, with an average of 10-15 combined prep and post production days per shoot day. I now only assist a couple days a month, and the rest of the workweek is dedicated to marketing and client research. Prior to 2023, I’d average around 100 days assisting.

Assisting was very lucrative during 2020, I worked a lot and gained a ton of experience and knowledge in the industry. I was also able to supplement what I didn’t make in client work with assisting jobs in the two years following. But I have noticed a dramatic decline in income this year; I left one of my 2 main assisting roles to take on more of my own work, but haven’t had a ton of success booking consistent projects. I’ve also seen a considerable drop in budgets and increase in scope with the inquiries coming in. It seems to be the perfect storm of the market I currently attract, the overall economic instability, and the over saturation of food and beverage photographers contributing to the high demands and low budgets.

Pre-production typically takes about 1-2 weeks for commercial clients, studio days are standard 10 hours, I’ve only had a handful of multiple day shoots. Most of my clients are pretty small local businesses and don’t really need licensing beyond company website and organic social media use for a few years; I’ve spent a ton of time educating on licensing and found it’s easier for my current client base to digest if it’s included it in my Creative Fee. Paid advertising or print is additional in almost all cases. I think it’s important that clients understand they are still paying for usage even if the amount isn’t a separate line item, so I make that very clear when quoting my Creative Fee.

As I progress in the size of clients I take on, that will inevitably change. I raised my Creative Fee this year to $3000 per day (dependent on project scope) to reflect included usage and current inflation, take home averages $1900 after expenses and taxes. My editorial client pays $350 per restaurant, 2 hours max on location, pretty liberal online usage, and I’m usually assigned two restaurants a day. I’ve heard this falls within the standard range for editorial these days, but have minimal experience in this market.

My highest paid job thus far was a commercial shoot for the launch of a food brand, take home was $4500 after taxes / expenses for one 10 hour shoot, 10 images licensed for brand website, organic social media, and email promotion for 3 years. Pre-production, shoot, and post processing totaled 8-10 days.

The worst paid overall was for a product client I took on retainer a couple of years ago. I agreed to “test” at a lower rate for the first shoot, with promise to come up to my day rate after a couple of shoots together. I was to photograph 30-40 products for an online seller at their home, two days a month, 7-8 hours each shoot day. Rate was initially $800 for around 150 images with minimal post processing and use only on the shop site. After taxes and expenses, take home was about $650. I was never able to get them to pay anything close to my day rate as agreed, the working conditions were awful, and after about 4 shoots I had to terminate our work together.

I also had one editorial shoot that paid $150 for recipe testing, styling, and one hero image in print for a national publication.

I’ve just started experimenting with video and don’t currently offer it; but I will provide any bts unedited phone footage I take.

As mentioned, I do all of my own marketing. I utilize Squarespace for newsletters, and organic email and social media for direct outreach. I don’t use any paid advertising; most inquiries currently come from my social channels. I’ve noticed that even as my emails get more personalized and consistent for each client, I have better luck with Instagram and LinkedIn. I also know with the changing market and flux in social platforms this may not always be the case.

Best advice: ‘Be patient with your career trajectory; it’s a long game and it takes time to get established.’ I still don’t like hearing this, but it’s so true and I remind myself constantly.
Also ‘don’t forget to celebrate the the small wins.’ I tend to get especially down and critical of myself during slow times, it helps to reflect on how far I’ve come and how much those seemingly small moments contribute to where I am now.

Worst advice: ‘Never lower your price.’ I struggle with this, though. While I don’t want to devalue my work or the industry overall, I also need to work and a lot of budgets coming my way are low these days. I do have limits to how much I’m willing to depart from my current day rate, but I wouldn’t have any business if I didn’t fluctuate my rates.

I hope we’re moving toward more transparency regarding pricing with each other; it’s been difficult to gauge where my rates stand in the sea of other photographers in my area. Most tend to stay pretty guarded; and while I don’t intend to mirror anyone else’s business, I would find it enlightening to know where I fall on that spectrum especially as I’m in my first five years of business. I think we all benefit from more knowledge and are able to add more value to the industry as a whole if we’re able to make more informed decisions on pricing our work. I do see a bit of movement in the right direction, and I love seeing the openness with sharing rates on posts like this.

The Daily Edit – Sara Hylton: National Geographic

 

A local carries fishing nets, made of plastic materials, which are often used only a few times and then disposed of, on May 14, 2019.
The ghats of the Ganges in Patna, Bihar on November 15th, 2019.
Vinod Sahni along with his family members and helpers prepare for an evening of fishing out along the Ganges. They spent several hours this day repairing their plastic fishing net before departing from the village of Rasalpur, Dharnipatti, Bihar on Nov. 14, 2019.
Fish for sale at a local fish market in Ayeshabag on May 16, 2019.
Sita Ram Sahni’s grandchildren play at their home in a makeshift swing in the village of Rasalpur, Dharnipatti, Bihar on Nov. 17, 2019.
Sita Ram Sahni’s grandchildren attend school in the village of Rasalpur, Dharnipatti, Bihar on Nov. 16, 2019.
Young boys play near a pond close the Meghna River on May 14, 2019.
Babu Sahni, 30, and his son Himanshu Kumar Sahni, 8, fish along a bank scattered with waste on the Punpun river, a tributary of the Ganges in Fatuha, Bihar, on Nov. 19, 2019. T
A wholesale flower market in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh on Nov. 23, 2019. The majority of these flowers are sold for religious purposes and though many vendors use cloth bags, some flowers and garlands being sold contain plastic ornamentation.
Rajan Baba, a sadhu, poses for a portrait at Manikarnika ghat, his main location of meditation in Varanasi, India on Nov. 25, 2019. Rajan Baba believes that nowadays “people are spending less time exploring god and more time chasing after things…I’ve been born and brought up in Banaras, a lot has changed…[the Ganges] used to be much wider…as the waste has increased, the water has shrunk…what else would I want but that the water becomes clean again?” he said.
Municipal employees collect waste from Manikarnika ghat, the main cremation ghat in the holy city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh on Nov. 26, 2019. The cremation site runs 24 hours a day and hundreds of bodies are cremated. The ritual of cremation relies on textiles often made of synthetic fibers and religious offerings and garlands containing plastic. Though the municipal corporation collects some of the waste, much of it still ends up in the Ganges. President Modi has committed to cleaning up Varanasi, his constituency, but many believe that the clean-up is just surface level. However, according to municipal employees, some of the solid waste collected along the ghats is taken to the Karsada waste-to-energy plant, waste that is converted to electric power.
The ghats of the Ganges river in Haridwar, Uttarkhand, India on Dec. 7, 2020.
At Maitri Sadan ashram in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India.
Swami Shivanand bathes and prays at the Ganges.
Har Ki Pauri ghat in Haridwar, Uttarakhand at sunrise.

 

Photographer: Sara Hytlon
National Geographic: Visual Story Editors: Alice Gabriner and Dominique Hildebrand.

The team of scientists and researchers was led by two incredible women (and the team itself was mostly women). More information on the Ganges: Sea to Source expedition can be found here

Heidi: You were in India for 12 years, what brought you there?
Sara: I was in the middle of studying a Master’s degree when my father passed away suddenly. I knew he would have wanted me to finish my degree, so I pressed on without really having the time to grieve or process what had happened. When I completed my studies, my best friend and I decided to travel to India for a few weeks. We were both going through big transitions in our lives, and we wanted to travel somewhere that took us out of our element and gave us some space. Funny, India doesn’t have much space. The idea of going to India during a crisis is an absolute cliché and I knew that from the start, but the Western notion of India is partly true, it is a very magical and spiritual place, and I say that while also acknowledging its deep issues and biases. I had planned on spending three weeks.

Were you planning on staying that long; did you speak Hindi?
I had no idea that this initial visit would involve me meeting two loves of my life – a man and photography. I had no plan to live there or spend long in South Asia. But it was a place that understood life and death in a way that made a lot of sense to me. The way South Asians see the world is both incredibly practical and poetic all at once. I felt completely thrown into chaos, but also held. I was hooked. I slowly built my photography practice, and my network to a point where I felt I could really make it my home. I have taken intensive Hindi classes over the years and used my broken understanding of the language to delve deeper into the culture. It was always one of the things that bothered me the most though – that I could never get to a place with my Hindi where I could make jokes or get angry. Indians have such great, cinematic humor. 

What did you learn about reverence for the Ganges?
When the roots of a culture believe that everything is a manifestation of God, and even the Ganges is revered by Hindus as a Goddess, how do you begin to visualize something that is believed to be so sacred and yet practically environmentally vulnerable? And how does one reconcile their own conditioning and culture so they can really see it? 

I’ve learned that the concept of “progress” and time is completely different. In the West, we are always rushing to get to the finish point, to have something to show for our efforts so we can quickly move onto the next thing. We miss the whole process of getting there. I have felt that so often in India while working. That if I do this one thing, this other thing must happen as a result. It just does not work that way. Nothing is linear, people aren’t there when you think they’re going to be there, and everything is basically an unknown. People don’t have time for you and you are not that important. But once they start to trust you and maybe even like you, they would give you the shirts off their back. It’s honestly the most humbling place I’ve worked. You are constantly being challenged on a professional and granular level. Broken down until your ego is nothing. And that’s when you start to make the work that matters. It’s a beautiful thing. So I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you show your patience and your authenticity, the thing that you need will happen, but probably not when, or the way you expect it to. Also, never refuse a cup of chai or prasad, you’ve ruined it already. 

Your last project for National Geographic was three years in the making and so much terrain to cover. What were some of the adventurous moments/biggest obstacles that you encountered? India is so full of rich surprises especially with COVID and the political unrest.
Traveling across the Ganges through Bangladesh and India was one of the most memorable projects I’ve ever worked on. We went through some terribly rough waters in Bangladesh because of cyclones. At one point, the bottom of our boat started to flood with water and it was so rocky people were getting sea sick. Then there was the extreme heat waves where we could only work very early in the morning and late at night, it was actually quite dangerous if we tried to push it. Then there were the absolute moments of elation and joy where the team would dance to Punjabi music under the rain and laugh hysterically. As a freelance photographer I’m really used to working alone, but this was such a different type of project that started off with a group of female scientists that I was fairly integrated with. We traveled a lot of the time together and this made navigating the adventures and challenges a lot less daunting. My favorite moment on the trip was when I was in a small village outside of Patna, Bihar (about a four hour drive) and my film camera broke. I didn’t have a backup with me, but miraculously someone from Mumbai (where I was living at the time) was able to transport the backup to Patna, and exchange the broken camera to get fixed. I ended up with both cameras in a few days, but it was a terrifying moment.

Were there any circumstances/interactions that moved you the most while making the work? India has a way of exploding your heart.
There are way too many moments to count. That’s what I miss about India the most. When you’re feeling hardened, angry, assertive, something always happens that just blows your heart wide open and you are instantly reminded of your humanity. Oh, I remember a funny moment when I was bitten by a baby goat and everyone went out of their way to make sure I was okay and even found me a doctor to get rabies shots. Then there was the time where me and my collaborator were in a village and it became very late at night (and we had quite a drive ahead), a mere stranger who knew nothing about us offered us a bed to sleep on and gave us chai in the morning. The stories are endless. I was constantly astounded by the generosity of people and lack of pretension. India has my heart and always will.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of being a westerner in India. You certainly earned trust for your portraits, Demigods of India. How did that project develop/evolve?
I had been wanting to do something with the Hijrah community in India for many years but I think I didn’t have the courage or the understanding of the community to really do it with integrity. I had spent several months meeting with NGO’s and organizations that worked with the community across Mumbai. Two helpful friends and amazing photographers – Zishaan Latif and Anushree Fadnavis – helped me navigate the project, and it wasn’t until I had their help that I really felt it was possible to make photos with sensitivity. Anushree was particularly experienced and was so generous in her willingness to help with translating and gaining access with the first community I worked with. At first the community was fairly closed off and ambivalent about photography, so I showed up and visited often before I even began to make photos. I met one really special person, Radhika, who was the gateway to the rest of the community. Radhika trusted me, and so others trusted her. It was quite a long process, getting to the point of making portraits. But I think curiosity and showing up goes a long way.

Being a Westerner is helpful at times because folks become as curious about you as you are them. But that can only go so far. They must feel your integrity and your heart, and that can take a long time to build. The disadvantages are of course language and commonality. Being a woman is particularly tough, but in this instance, I think it helped because I could spend time just sitting in people’s homes without too many concerns.

What have you been working on recently?
I’m based in Brooklyn, New York now and continue to focus on environmental issues and vulnerable communities, especially related to water. I’m working on a multi-year project through an Explorer grant from National Geographic Society and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society on the sanctity and scarcity of water among First Nations communities in Canada. I’ll be traveling to Nepal in a couple of months to work on another grant about faith and conservation, and I’m also really excited to be working with some brands and outlets whose values really align with my own, including Patagonia and the New York Times.