As I mentioned in a previous episode of this mini-series (here), a good way to create a buzz is to include other photographers. That is: to plan a mini popup foto festival. Each photographer invites their people, more people attend, more contact is made.
Below, you’ll find some of the nuts and bolts aspects of how I plan a mini popup foto festival. But before I get to that I have to mention that a festival should be more than a merely commercial (Let’s Sell Books!) concern.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a festival for the sake of hype, and hype only, will limit its reach and importance.
If your festival is entwined with some other, deeper need, beyond just showing your work or selling your book, you’ll create something that will mean more to you, something that will have a point other than simple commerce. Let’s call it: a mission.
So what, you might ask, is the mission of the festival I’m organizing?
Briefly: I’m at odds with the prevailing ethos of the local (serious) photo-scene. The work that is held up, noticed, and promoted here is, like the city itself, mostly cautious, conventional and conservative.
The Mini Popup Foto Festival is about supporting, and bringing forward, photographers whose work embraces risk, discovery and complexity. Photographers who venture out into the world to bring back images that reflect their relationship to (or with) what they find there. Photographers who then weave that raw material into long-form photo- sequences where the narrative arc adds up to more than the sum of the parts.
Complex, difficult work may not be fashionable in some local photo-scenes, but is important and deserves to be seen.
There, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the (my) nuts and bolts of putting together a mini popup foto festival.
First, the festival should be high-speed/low-drag, hyper-local, street-level, and completely independent. That’s my jam.
I figured on including myself and three other photographers. I know two who make work I can get behind, and who had recently produced books. I spent, on and off, a week looking around until I found a fourth photographer who met the criteria. (Ava Margueritte, Phil Rose, Souki Belghiti, me).
Next step, find venues to exhibit the work. I wanted places where the photographs would face out toward the street. That way passers-by can (and will) just happen across them, and the work is visible 24/7.
I’m lucky that my neighbourhood, approached the right way, is kind of like a village. I know my neighbours and local shopkeepers. It took me less than a day to find three spots that suited the purpose.
The locations are all on one block of Somerset Street, right around the corner from where I live. We’ve got the big window of a shuttered restaurant (which will show the work of two photographers), the barbershop window, and the railing around a coffee shop.
(The previous mini festival I organized used two big windows of vacant stores. It took five or six minutes to walk from one to the other, and that’s too far. I learned that for something like this to “work”, keeping it compact is key.)
We’re going to mount the photographs on nicely finished boards that will be hung in the windows (Except for the coffee shop, where the photos will be displayed outside).
Here are the boards we’ll use in the restaurant window, and the swell plywood that’ll fit nicely in the barbershop.
For publicity, we’ve created a Facebook event page and have planned other social media campaigns. We’ve also printed posters, and an 8 page booklet. The booklet will be free to the first 60 people who come to the opening.
If this all sounds straightforward, simple, well . . . that’s because it is. Anyone can do it. There’s no need to gussy things up, to be precious, to shroud the process in mystery. Just make sure you bring a high level of professionalism to the endeavour. And make sure the photos are well presented.
The Mini Popup Foto Festival opens Sunday June 4th.
In order to make it an actual festival (as opposed to just hanging our photos) we’ve arranged a couple of events.
The Sunday after the opening we’ll be hosting, on site, artist talks. The following Sunday we’ll close out the festival with a Zoom meeting with Souki Belghiti, who lives in Morocco. That Zoom meeting will be available to anyone, anywhere, who cares to log in.
Let me tell you, there’s no action like direct action.
I had the pleasure of joining a portfolio review session for International Center of Photography’s (ICP) Portfolio Day last week and met with a handful of students. That day about 60 graduating students shared work with a variety of industry professionals, it’s a wonderful moment for the photo community to come together and see the future of photography, that’s how I met Charlotte. Her ICP project, “A Place to Land” skillfully documented her connection to both the gravity and nuances of sport. The work included vulnerable portraits, intimate moments and the full spectrum of those who are performative. We’re used to seeing the monumental moments, not the in-between of what it means to be involved in sport, striving for excellence.
Heidi: How did your career as former Olympic athlete in the sport of Trampoline (2020) inform this body of work?
Charlotte: This project wouldn’t exist without my past career in sport. I felt particularly drawn to tell this story because of the complex relationship I have with my career and experience in gymnastics. When I first started going to the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation I didn’t know what kind of photos I was going to create or what kind of story this would be.
At the beginning of shooting, I was almost desperate to find proof that the gym could be a good place for kids to grow up. I knew that at one point, when I was very young, I loved the sport with all my heart but through my years on the National Team I lost sight of that. When I tried to remember what it felt like to have fun with gymnastics, it felt so far away. As if some other little girl had experienced that joy. It showed in my photos too. In the beginning, I only wanted to focus on the moments of celebration or playfulness, desperate to see the “good”. As time went on and I reflected on what I was observing, I realized the magic of sports are the in-between moments. The subtler expressions of hope, friendship, focus and even disappointment and frustration started to draw me in more than before. I watched, and photographed, as the gym invited all of these experiences in and the athletes not only got to explore the full physical landscape of being a kid but the emotional one too. It was important for me to see that.
What sparked your interest in photography? What was the photo that became the turning point for you? I must’ve been 11 when my parents got a Canon Rebel for the family. It quickly became “Charlotte’s Camera” and whenever it went “missing” my parents and siblings knew where to find it (on my bedside table). My bedroom was on the second floor and looked out over the bird feeder. I loved pulling the screen off and dangling my legs out the window, waiting for the birds to come by and snapping their photos. I’d wake up early and go shoot the morning light in the park by my house or I’d bring it to the gym and shoot my teammates during practice. When I got older, I brought it with me on my unreasonably long solo road trips and the camera became my buddy during weeks alone on the road. Ever since I was a kid the camera had a natural magnetism that I didn’t think twice about. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized not everyone felt that way and that perhaps I had found my new calling.
Why did you choose The Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation Harlem, NYC for this project? I went to a few gyms before finding the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation but they just weren’t it. They weren’t bad gyms but I could sense unspoken tension between the athletes and coaches and the values of the program weren’t what I was searching for (even if I didn’t know exactly what that was yet). I think at the end of the day, there’s an ease to this program. Wendy has done an amazing job of lowering all barriers to entry to gymnastics. She offers tons of scholarships, organizes outreach and has the kids doing so much more than Trampoline and Tumbling (including community performances and fundraisers). The emphasis here is on doing gymnastics, not grinding out champions at all costs. It was refreshing and exactly what I was hoping for.
Was part of this project self reflection or “self portrait” discovery? I would say this project is heavily self reflective. When I retired after the Tokyo Games in 2021, I had a lot to process and work through. My career wasn’t easy on me and it didn’t end well. By the time I retired, I lost my faith in sports as a whole and my new goal was to put as much distance between me and gymnastics as possible (hence the cross-country move from California to New York City). But part of what encouraged me to start exploring gyms in the city was that a piece of me was desperate to challenge that narrative. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life hating something I had dedicated over two decades to. As I watched the kids here play, challenge themselves and banter with each other, I started to remember the happy days I had growing up, memories I didn’t even know were stored away. I also remembered how much fun it is to just bounce on a trampoline which is a pretty big deal for me.
How did it feel to be behind the camera and not on the floor, but still striving for excellence? Mixed. There are days when I’m so glad to be the one photographing because I genuinely just love to make pictures. Then there are days that I get filled with this deep ache and I dearly miss being the one out on the competition floor. For all the hard moments I had in my career there were some spectacular ones too and I miss those. It helps me to remember that there is a season for everything, and my season of competing in Trampoline is behind me. Photographing gives me the chance to make my subjects feel just as special as I did when I had my picture taken. It’s also an amazing way for me to invite my past into this new future I’m building. It’s nice that even though I’m retired those skills I honed over the years as an athlete are still serving me.
What would you share with any pro athlete that is turning to the arts post a successful career in sport? Remember what you do is not who you are. The obstacles in your way, become your way. And have fun, you’re allowed.
Alex and I connected a few weeks ago after many of our circles began to overlap. We shared friends in the art, commercial and conservation spaces and I reviewed some of his images from a recent Patagonia journal project. Our conversation left me with so many questions about his interdisciplinary research and artwork. Along with making this impressive body of work, Alex’s love of the outdoors and intriguing perspective of how we see and surveil the world leaves me curious and excited for what’s next. Here’s what he had to say about his project, Blind River.
Heidi: How long have you been in the conservation field and has photography always been a part of this work for you?
Alex: I’ve always been interested in the environmental sciences and conservation, but only recently worked in a professional capacity within either of the fields. I’m currently working at an environmental nonprofit focused on forest restoration in Los Angeles, and was recently a citizen scientist with wildlife biologists at the University of Arizona. In both cases, I used these relationships to inspire my artistic practice. The collaborative work I did with wildlife biologists resulted in my most recent photographic project called Blind River, and my current role in forest restoration is informing my current body of work.
How did this idea for Blind River come about, was this the first installation of this work at Marshall Gallery?
While I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona, I was amazed to learn that jaguars occasionally migrated across the US/Mexico border. I reached out to the research team that was tracking their movements, and began to envision a photographic project related to that research. The team uses motion-triggered infrared cameras to monitor them, and then runs that footage through a customized A.I.-based facial recognition software to identify different species of animals. It became apparent to me very quickly that, based on the locations of these cameras, the team inevitably records and identifies a lot of activity outside the parameters of their research. Considering that the US government uses these same technologies in the same environments, I realized that this was a unique way to examine the surveillance tactics deployed along the border through the lens of an organization with completely different motives. I had a show of my work at the University of Arizona Museum of Art as part of my thesis, as well as a solo show in New York and various other group shows, including one recently at Marshall, and another show there this summer. LACMA recently acquired one of the pieces for their permanent collection, and it will be on display in the 2024 Pacific Standard Time exhibition. On July 15th I’ll be in a 3 person show at the Marshall Gallery, the working title is called Rendered Realities.
How long has A.I. been on your mind and what concerns do you have?
A.I. has been on my mind for a long time, and the current iterations of it are already so much more advanced and sophisticated than anything that I was working with even 3-4 years ago. But the concerns that I hoped to address with Blind River are not dissimilar from the concerns of A.I. today, namely: what happens when A.I. is wrong? And how do we operate in a world where we are more and more detached from each other, or any lived experiences for that matter?
How long are the remote sensing and recognition applications deployed?
I was monitoring dozens of cameras in several mountain ranges on the US/Mexico Border in Arizona for the better part of 3 years. Each one required me to go out and change batteries and SD cards every couple weeks, especially if they were in ‘active’ areas. Some cameras would go weeks without capturing any activity, and some were constantly capturing deer, bears, foxes, humans, mountain lions and everything in between. Many of these cameras were in very remote areas with no trails, requiring hours of bushwhacking through difficult desert mountain terrain. Often, the same environmental features that attracted wildlife also attracted human movement, including the paths of least resistance and access to water. Because each SD card could have thousands of photos, the research team collaborated with engineers to develop an A.I. software that could help identify species in each picture, potentially saving the researchers countless hours of cataloguing data. While I’m no longer a citizen scientist with the team, their research is ongoing and will continue for many years.
What data sets are you combining in order to raise questions and what surprised you about the cross overs?
All of the data I collected was in collaboration with the wildlife biology team. The infrared footage I use in my artwork is part of their research and data, as well as the A.I. recognition results. When a picture of a human is categorized as a ‘human’ by the software, it is categorized in their database as such. While the footage and data is most likely very similar to the footage and data collected by Border Patrol, we are in no way working in partnership with them, nor are we sharing data or information. I have footage of the cartel moving across the border, and Border Patrol likely has footage of jaguars moving across the border. We simply have different motivations and intentions. For me, that difference is key to the project: it allows you as the viewer to see the different ways these technologies can be used, and weigh the positive and negative outcomes and draw your own conclusions.
The fused imagery illustrates several paradoxes: human/dehumanized/intimate/loose/natural landscape and the observation of. How did this idea emerge and why was it important to you to push photographic boundaries?
One of the more jarring moments in the making of Blind River was looking at the infrared photos on a computer screen for the first time. Having just visited these places, I was surprised at how foreign and alien they felt in the photos. Part of it was the way space and subject is depicted with infrared technology, but also how little information is actually available in the photos. The sensors are very small, so the resulting images are very pixelated and blurry. The gulf between the technology and real life experience I had was stark, and I wanted to highlight that disparity. I made very high resolution panoramas of the landscapes from the same perspective as the motion sensor camera, then overlaid the subjects from the infrared cameras into these immersive landscapes. The figures are vague and not well defined in contrast to their detailed surroundings. I’m interested in showing both the possibilities and limitations of these photographic technologies. Undoubtedly these technologies will only get better, but they will never substitute reality…there will always be a level of detachment between us and the subject being depicted or captured. Photography’s tenuous relationship with truth and reality has always been interesting to me, but today it feels particularly prescient in the face of surveillance and A.I.
Did the questions iterate over time?
I wasn’t entirely sure what questions this project would pose when I first began working on it, but I found myself wondering ‘what is my role in all of this?’ quite often. As the surveillant, I have the ability to curate data and footage for the viewer, regardless of my understanding of this space or my authority or expertise. There is a lot of public rhetoric surrounding the border today, but how much can we truly claim to know about this space by looking at it through our screens, or reading about it, or studying and surveilling it from afar? I think it’s a pressing question for all of us, but particularly for those who wield considerable influence over the region.
Now that you are based in Los Angeles, what photography projects are you working on, and what do you hope to do?
Working with a forestry restoration organization in California, my current focus is on trees. But my new project is about trees the same way that Blind River was about jaguars, meaning there’s a lot more happening in the work. My tree project incorporates thermal technology, which has many different real world applications, much like infrared. I’m fascinated by the variety of imaging technologies available today, and I love repurposing those technologies for artistic projects. Troubleshooting is a huge part of the process, as I’m often trying to use these tools for something very different than their intended applications. That being said, I’m excited to put work out into the world, hopefully soon.
The Artist Management Association (AMA) is a trade organization acting on behalf of companies representing creative talent working in the commercial photography and fine art industries. The AMA provides educational programming, supportive resources, community action, and legislative advocacy for our industry and the artists we represent. The programming aspect includes a webinar series, where leaders in our industry are invited to speak on topics of interest to the membership.
On April 4th, the Artist Management Association (AMA) hosted a webinar with ImageRights founders Joe Naylor and Ted VanCleave, who shared the value their services are having on their photography and agency clients.
Joe Naylor is the President and CEO of ImageRights and has a career spanning over 30 years in design development, operations, sales, and marketing of communication and internet-based businesses. Ted VanCleave is a business development specialist and photographer. He teamed up with Joe to launch ImageRights in 2009, which has become the largest and longest established service of its kind, representing more than 25 million client images and recovering over $30 million in lost licensing fees on behalf of clients.
ImageRights was launched in 2009 before Google Image Search had even launched, and since then, they have been able to register over one and a quarter million images with the US Copyright Office.
Their three-pronged approach to copyright infringement includes: discovery, recovery, and copyright registration. The three legs of the stool work together to help their clients effectively.
ImageRights has deployed an infrastructure with over 1800 servers crawling nonstop, processing more than 3 billion images online per year, analyzing them and the sites they are on, to identify potential uses or infringements.
Every single day, they are finding almost 300,000 uses of copyrighted images.
How the platform works:
Artists can upload their images, and ImageRights will take care of the rest.
Artists review their sightings and submit claims. ImageRights then either attempts to resolve the claim directly or upon your approval passes it to one of its legal partners for resolution.
If the case goes to court, ImageRights will front any upfront costs and retains a percentage of the settlement amount. This way, artists do not have to worry about any costs associated with pursuing a claim.
ImageRights is committed to protecting artists’ intellectual property rights. They have made it their priority to approach alleged infringers professionally and to check for licenses before pursuing any claims. By using their platform, artists can protect their images and receive compensation for their work.
We are thankful to Joe and Ted for leading the discussion and shedding light on such a critical topic in our industry.
Visit ImageRights website to learn more about this work and to get paid for your work.
Each month the AMA puts on webinars, town halls, roundtables and in-person events. While everyone runs their companies differently, there are common issues faced by artist managers across the industry. . The AMAis a platform to collaborate, and share insights and advice to better our community as a whole.
The Artist Management Association has started an industry Job Board where our community can post and search for jobs. Jobs will be posted weekly on Fridays by the end of the day. The job board is open to everyone.
Photographer: Stan Evans Agency:The Hatch Client: Cisco Creative Director: Rick Vargas Producer: Connie Conway Stylist: Kaityln Lusk, Eliza Karpel Makeup: Valerie Harvey, Valerie Kan Photo Assistants: Ethan Sharkey, Marcus Soto, Guillermo Ulysses Digital Tech: Tom Mishima Video: Marrice “Mo” Hill Video Editor: Jeff Moustache Casting – Eastside Studios Location Scout: Isaac Levy Photo Retoucher: Natalie Schwarz Social / Digital Strategy: Austin Holt
Heidi: What made this project diverse and equitable? Those are two different pillars for a way forward. Stan: The first part is about working with intention. We had a mix of cast and crew from different physical abilities, to gender and age, and ethnicity, and that was by design. Equitable is about paying anyone in or on the production what the job is worth rather than paying based on appearance.
You mentioned equal pay, why would one pay one person more than another? Doesn’t that continue the divide? I just mentioned equal pay because usually diverse creators and actors/models are paid less. You see it with Social Media Creators and in the mainstream entertainment business. In advertising I’ve seen more disparity in the length of payment terms and the way they’re handled. Agencies and clients are drawing out payment terms. Smaller shops and creatives have to fund or string out production costs on their own credit and this makes it more difficult to build wealth and build a business. Drawn out contract demands hurt minority shops, limit talent and disrespect agencies as well as creatives. Less experience, less opportunity, and lack of legal representation often drives desperation to accept terms even though they may be unbalanced.
Who does that help, and who does that harm? I don’t think large corporations have had to think about it as much because they have long lines of credit and financing. Long payment terms stretch vendors and creatives who aren’t operating with large amounts of capital. Unfortunately if the goal is to empower diverse creatives and showcase different narratives that can’t be done if they are hindered financially by production costs. Someone could be perfectly capable creatively but if they don’t have the funds to front production costs they’re out of the running.
How did your experience inform this project? I’m part of a community that has dealt with bias and discrimination; that perspective along with empathy gives me the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes to figure out how to share their stories. I’m goal oriented so my efforts tend to focus on how to fix the situation – I do that with photos and videos. Always try to figure out how you can expand your creativity with a client and over deliver.
Heidi: How did this project come about? Stan: Cisco reached out about creating a collection of images that would represent their brand worldwide for their Social Justice Campaign.
The BTS video VO closed with this was more than money could buy, in the end, aren’t we all simply looking for dignity and to be seen? How did this dignify those you photographed? Money can buy alignment for a time but to create something that will stand the test of time it takes an ideal. Something people in front of the lens, people behind the lens, and people in the audience can join in and be a part of. For this project I think we listened and used the photography to hold a mirror to our subjects and reflect who they are. The crew orchestrated images that they could see themselves in and it illuminated self worth. We made everyone part of the process. That adds value to everyone and brands across the board.
The casting naturally turned some people away, what was the criteria for casting? I disagree that anyone was turned away. We actually showcased many who normally don’t get adequate representation. Native Americans, people with disabilities, and the queer community. It was actually a pretty full spectrum given time, budget, and locations. It could have easily gone kitsch and been a remake of the United Colors of Benetton but the shoot stayed grounded in realism. And to be clear, props to Benetton for being one of the first brands to promote diversity, that just wasn’t the art direction we were going for here.
Perhaps my question was unclear, did you include everyone that showed up at the casting?
Cisco had a broad overview of communities they were hoping to include. Much of this is determined by the different regions Worldwide where their services are used. (India, Asia, Africa etc so the imagery would be used in those markets). The initial casting was digital and pretty straight forward with headshots and measurements. I had a few extra asks as I am very intentional with diverse casting. l requested their IG handles and we asked for audition tapes (which is rare for stills) because I wanted to learn a bit about them, They included small details about themselves because instead of casting for a part we were actually asking people to come as who they are for this shoot. There weren’t any wrong answers, it was just about giving different people a spotlight to share their uniqueness.
We had a fitting day so I met most of the models before the shoot and generally had a good idea of who they were and what they were about by the time they got to set. The learning, understanding and the back and forth flow of communication between the people in the images and the crew is what made the shoot more inclusive rather than just casting people to fit X, Y, or Z imagery.
How are you mentoring the next generation? I started the Social Studies Show in 2019 before George Floyd and the pandemic as a way to introduce diverse creatives to learn about the advertising world – giving insights and advice from experts they might be unable to connect with. At the time people didn’t really understand what I was doing and dismissed it but as the importance for advertisers and creatives to look deeper into different perspectives and how to build within diverse communities, viewers began to understand its importance. It’s a guide to anyone who wants to watch and learn about marketing and activism. There’s no gatekeeping and it’s free. Working with my team we are attempting to scale mentorship broader than 1 to 1 learning. Through diverse media we are compounding our efforts towards equity, equality and business sustainability. Here’s a recent podcast with Toby Kaufmann of Facebook and previously Refinery 29 that focuses on empowering diverse creatives. It was a powerful episode and applicable to our conversation.
What is great resource for emerging photographers?
The best resource I’ve seen for real answers is one my Mentor Monte Isom created with Fstopppers it’s honestly the best $299 a photographer could spend because Monte really breaks it down. Photo Consultants and Amy V. Cooper as a great asset. So much of the photo industry is business oriented and artists need to focus on that end, probably more so. I have a podcast with Amy that will be dropping in a few weeks and she will be offering a discount on her Master Class on the Social Studies show.
I connected climber and documentarian Drew Smith about his latest project in the Andes. Jirishanca clocks in at 19,993 ft and is well known for being difficult with very few successful ascents. While Drew didn’t summit with the team, the skill needed to both photograph and keep pace with the athletes never ceases to impress me.
Heidi: You went to hell and back with your health on this one, how did that inform your images, if at all? Drew: Yeah I was sick on and off the entire 6 weeks I was in Peru. HAPE, Pneumonia, and a couple of episodes of food poisoning really did a number on me. It was really terrible and stressful at times knowing I had a job to do. But then in a strange way it shifted my eyes and mind into just being present and taking it one day at a time. Everything slowed down and I looked at things more closely and as a result, captured the little moments that documented a more intimate story.
I know you trained for this, what tools did you employ to keep your head in the game? At some point, we surrender control and let things unfold.
I was already in Peru and I knew that I would still have an experience even if it wasn’t the one I expected. In general, I tend to hold expectations lightly because things are always changing. I knew that I got lucky and it could have been much worse so there was a sense of gratitude that carried me through.
Considering this was another go at a first ascent, what pressure comes with this invitation? This mountain was big and beautiful, something you would imagine in a dream or draw when you think of a mountain. I remember the first photo I saw of this mountain was in a book I was reading about Nick Bullock’s attempt. His account with Jirishanca was full on, cold, scary, difficult and something I was strangely looking forward to. Knowing I’d be with Josh and Vince, two people I’d heard of since I first started climbing, I was honored to be invited on a trip as part of the team.How did you get awarded the invite?
I had hung out with Josh Wharton at crags on and off over the years and we were always trying to make a bigger mission happen. I always appreciated his motivation and humble demeanor. One day I got a text saying he wanted to go back to Jirishanca and invited me along. I was stoked and we actually bought tickets in the summer of 2021 but had to cancel because of Covid issues in Peru. But made it happen in 2022.
How has your commitment to climbing served you over the years? It’s brought me to some beautiful places and introduced me to some of the most amazing people in my life, including my wife.
You’re both creative and an athlete, did one take precedence over the other during this trip or how do you balance that dualism? Usually both sides feed off of each other. A lot of my creative inspiration comes from long days in the mountains. I love attempting to tell these powerful stories through my eyes. In Peru, I was held back physically so I had to depend on my creative side to carry me through.
What humbled you about this mountain?
The mountains in general are humbling every time I’m in them. The route Josh and Vince climbed on Jirishanca is complex needing a wide range of skill. From free climbing 5.13 to hard mixed and steep snow climbing. I got a glimpse of the challenges Josh and Vince had on Jirishanca through my lens and that in itself was humbling.
What emotions were you trying to capture between Josh and Vince? I just try to capture what’s real. Being a fly on the wall and waiting for those genuine moments to happen. Piecing together the story as it unfolds in real time.
Heidi: How has your skills as a pilot transferred to the drone?
Cameron: It has helped immensely. Understanding airspace and being able to pre-visualize a location is helpful. Knowing how the light falls from an elevated perspective has been useful. The biggest part that I enjoy about drones is the ability to loiter over a subject. To wait until a moment happens or more importantly, to get low and slow and still be safe. I enjoy being able to shoot from 30 feet as much as from 400 feet -121.92 meters (legal limit in USA and Canada). Often times the best shot or angle is less than 200 feet – which is in deadman’s curve, for helicopters. (a risky, often non-recoverable altitude if something goes amiss in a helicopter)
How did this project come about?
Emily Adar, the Senior Visual Editor for Cosmopolitan wrote me in early December to see if I was interested in shooting this project. I was referred to her by Scott Lacey, the Deputy Visual Director for Hearst Visuals. Scott and I had worked together previously on another aerial shoot.
Were you directed to photograph this as black and white?
No, it was kinda of up in the air. We discussed shooting it as black and white and also as color. When I sent Emily my initial set of selects she asked me to process in black and white and also in color so that the design team could make the final decision. I have a set of black and white styles that I use in Capture One that are punchy and a bit gritty. I thought that this look was perfect for the story.
Was it your idea to include the duotone to suggest fire in the drone footage?
No, I wish it was. That came as a complete surprise and I felt that it was very successful presentation style.
You have a significant body of aerial work, did you pitch footage for the online version?
Emily suggested it for the online version. I was keen on doing it. I thought it would help tell the story of these immense buildings full of chickens and prison laborers.
How did you get access to the farm if they weren’t compliant during the interview?
The interior shots are not mine – they’re pick-ups. I never accessed the farm on the ground – except from the air. The first location I went to is quite a bit south of Phoenix. It is guarded by roving security in vehicles. I drove past the site and started scouting for a place to launch my drones and not bring attention to myself. I ended up driving to a spot along the highway where I could park, keep visual contact with the drone and most importantly, not be seen. I started the overflight up fairly high, shot video first and then lowered the drone down to about 150 feet. After finishing the shoot, I flew away from my location in case I was spotted and then flew back to the launch site from a different angle. It was a bit nerve racking, given the publicity surrounding the farm and the prison labor issue. The main location, I did the same thing, parked far enough away as to not draw attention to myself and parked on the far side of a tree line. Normally, when shooting drone aerials, my preference is to use my Inspire 2 with a bigger chip, however, for this project, I wanted to shoot with smaller drones that were quieter and less easy to spot from the ground.
What tools did you use to earn trust for the silhouette portrait?
That is interesting. In my contract, they were specific requests to be understanding of the situation and to protect the identity of the subject.
We got along great. I showed her tests I had done before and what I wanted to do to give a sense of a person but also not identify who she was. I had built a set of screens with fabric to photograph her on the other side of. We did that, but I felt that the silhouette was the way to go – first off, it was very much in my style of shooting graphic images and I I knew I could control the contrast to keep her in the dark. When I processed the files, I crushed the blacks so there was no detail whatsoever in her face.
I showed the subject a frame from every set-up and she approved them. I wanted her to be an active participant in the shoot, plus it is her story that is a critical part of the essay.
You’ve been in the field for decades, what are your thoughts on instagram as a tool for photographers?
IG is an interesting quandary. It is to some degree, a requirement to be seen by clients. In other ways, it feels like feeding the beast without any payback. Recently, I’ve had several images licensed from my feed and two potential clients have approached me – via the IG feed – in the last two weeks. I think at this point, it is important to be fairly active on IG. I am concentrating on a small group of potential clients and marketing direct to them – plus keeping up on other platforms including my blog.
What are you working on now?
I am continuing to work on a project that is aerial in perspective but shot lower (ie, drone) than helicopter. Much more fine art oriented than commercial and it is a continuation of my Chesapeake Bay watershed projects along with my Ghost Forest project I started shooting from the air and am now shooting from the ground/elevated tripods. Basically, Ghost Forest are forest being killed by rising salt water – intrusion of rising salt water due climate change – it is particularly bad on the East Coast of the US. So, I am documenting Ghost Forest in the Chesapeake watershed and eventually, up and down the Eastern Seaboard from New Brunswick to Northern Florida.
How long have you been working with Smithsonian? I have a long history at Smithsonian, over thirty assignments. My last shoot for them (before this one) was in 2007 and I photographed a Archeabotanist, Dr. Linda Perry, who became my wife. After that shoot – nothing until last summer.
Were they familiar with this personal work?
Yes, Donny (and the rest of Smithsonian photo team) knew about my long-term projects photographing the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
This assignment was interesting, because, way back in the nineties, I photographed the same research project for another story. One of the people I photographed I shot for that story was also shot for this one.
How did your range in photographic style help you in this case?
Donny felt that this was a natural for me, the ability to shoot aerials plus portraits and a subject that I am fairly well-versed in and interested in climate change and rising sea waters and the impact of that change.
Heidi: The ocean is a dynamic canvas, what made you what to create a stillness?
Ray: I want to freeze the moments that we may miss in real time. Sometimes the anticipation of a rising swell of what ‘might’ happen is more important than the finale of the crashing wave. It’s often the moment before the moment which becomes the moment. Anticipation makes you question what happens next, it provokes a response from the viewer, and that’s what art should do. In a few sentences describe what the ocean means to you? The one single constant in my life has been the ocean. It has given me everything I have, and the greatest lessons of my life have been learned from interacting with it. It has taught me: patience, courage, respect, going with the flow. I’ve made such a diverse pack of lifelong friends…our only common thread being saltwater. It has instilled a firsthand appreciation for nature. It’s shown me its power, beauty and purity—often all at once. It keeps no record of history; it obeys no law. It is the one ever-changing constant. I have traveled the world in pursuit of documenting it. Whenever I am near it, wherever I am, I am home.
How does being color blind inform your photography?
My theory is that because of the deficiency of color blindness it has potentially enhanced other parts of my vision (maybe composition and textures) and that could be something that helps make my photography unique? That’s my working assumption anyway. Photography and the ocean came into your life as a form of healing from a coal mining accident where your knee was severely damaged, the camera came first, why? and what were you photographing? I just needed an outlet. My routine of an active life in my 20’s had come to a stand still and I had a lot of time on my hands. Learning photography and how a camera works was something I never had time for before. So I just read and re read the manual and took photos of my dog actually. Trying to understand the relationship between Shutter, Aperture and ISO and moving her (Chantic) near different windows at different times of day, she was such a loyal dog. An old soul. I have her name on my foot.
After a few weeks of knee rehabilitation my physio said I could introduce some light swimming into my routine. So I bought a waterhousing for my camera and started shooting photos of my friends surfing. Within a few weeks I had my first published image, within a few months I had my first international cover. When did you understand this is what you were meant to do? There were so many gentle course corrections and life affirming milestones that kept me on course and reinforced to me that I was on the right path
In the Patagonia film, Fish People, you mentioned planning a single shot for 6 weeks. In that planning are you returning to same spot to study the light movement? Sometimes! Fortunately I’ve found some good sun tracking apps that help with light source positioning. Another important detail is the tide, sometimes I need an absolute high tide (studying the moon phase helps) otherwise the reef might be sticking out of the water at a lower tide and the wave won’t have a clean curve. Then of course, the right swell direction and period – keeping my eyes on how distant storms are tracking. Oh, and wind. Come to think of it, sometimes many variables need to line up all at once. Pushing the shutter button down is towards the end of the creative cycle.
Not all images have that level of planning though. Sometimes just waking up with no plan but meeting the sun as it rises over the horizon is all it takes too.
What would you tell your younger, creative self now?
The best advice I got early in my career was shoot what you want to see, not what you think others want to see. It’s kept me on my own path and I would retell my younger self the same thing. I’d love to tell young Ray ‘you’re enough’ and you will have all of the desires of your heart. How has your eye changed over the years? I try and do as much as possible in camera, it makes everything easier down the track with editing. I’m always aware of divine proportions while composing and cropping and I always try and highlight points of interest within the image for people to discover as they peruse each piece. How are you staying buoyant in the water to get those waves, flippers and swimming like hell? Most of the time I’m swimming and a lot of the time it’s at sunrise or sunset. The golden hour. That means swimming out in the dark and waiting for it to rise most mornings. A lot of the waves I document aren’t your typical user friendly beaches, often I have to scale down cliffs or swim way out in the middle of nowhere to find these weird and angry lumps of water breaking. What I search for are shallow reefs that are surrounded by deepwater, that way the wave traveling stands up suddenly in reaction to the shallow reef and that’s where I try to position myself. It’s the line between order and chaos.
Imagine swimming in a washing machine with a bag of concrete and lifting that bag up to your face so you can focus, compose the shot, getting all of your shutter settings, aperture iso right, getting no water droplets on the front element while the ocean is pushing, pulling, gurgling and crashing all around you. It can be physically exhausting at times. Your ‘studio’ can kill you, but it offers up some of the most precious moments of life in between.
I fail more than I succeed in overcoming it, but it makes the successes even sweeter. It’s always risk versus reward.
What drew you to being a professional lifeguard?
There were a few things actually. After running my photography business for the past decade it became apparent that I had no real structure in my life. Kind of always dependent on nature. There would be patterns of swell chasing, constant travel, shooting and being go-go-go for weeks or months on end… Then the pendulum would swing to the extreme other end and i’d have too much time to fill (in my mind anyway) and it’s easy to spiral when you have idle hands.
Working for yourself and by yourself can be a pretty selfish ride in a lot of ways and I needed to pursue a noble cause. Lifeguarding is truly a dream job. You’re being of service to your local community, being paid to stay in peak physical fitness and you get to work with an incredible team of likeminded folks. You get to help educate the public on the dangers of the ocean while being a caretaker and custodian of your local area.
What can you tell us about the making of Convergence and Mowhawk, two images in Patagonia’s journal and 50th Campaign? I’m so proud to have amazing clients such as Patagonia. They’re the benchmark of everything that every other company should strive for!
Journal cover – Convergence: I’ve always appreciated the birds’ eye view of the ocean, it feels like a forbidden vantage, one that humans were’t meant to see. Drones are pretty cool, but nothing beats hovering over the top of a large and powerful swell and isolating the ‘roof’ of the wave from above. It offers a whole new world of compositions to work with. It is not cheap however so you have to choose your days and make them count.
Billboard – Mowhawk: This reef is a 7hr drive from my house. to get into the water you have to scale down a huge cliff and swim around the back of the wave. It is on a corner of the coastline that sticks out and makes the migrating whales come close to shore to turn the corner. It’s a wild, wild place. I had driven down on two previous attempts to shoot it and driven home on the same day, a 14hr round trip empty-handed. The third time was a charm!
I am fortunate to describe my friendship with Walter Smith as timeless. We worked together at Philadelphia Magazine, my first job, decades ago. I remember Walter coming into the office, a camera slung around his shoulder, with a box full of contact sheets for us to loupe. He was hustling on “front-of-the-book” assignments, perfect for his photojournalistic eye. Years pass, conversations get deeper and image making evolves. We connected in 2015 about his self published promo, recently we caught up about his experiments with AI.
Heidi: How long have you been making images via AI? Walter: I really only started playing around with the technology and ChatGPT about a month ago. It’s a rabbit hole and you can most definitely make some great things from it.
How many hours and prompts went into the older fella portrait? Those portraits were made, kid you not, in about 15 minutes. For me, it’s about the prompts you use and how the technology interprets them. I wanted to make something that looked like something I would actually take. I did not add in my photographs to build them, all were created from the prompts in Midjourney.
Did you draw from your own archive of portraits for this? All my ideas around AI come from my past and what my thinking is in the present. I never created “fantasy” images. I was never that person. There always has to be some type of connection for me. I love what some folks are doing around the otherworldly images they’re creating. It’s just not where my head is.
What type of camera look and feel were you trying to create with this portrait? I took a portrait of a woman named Jennifer over 20 years ago on polaroid 665. It’s beautiful and lives in the files somewhere. When I created that image I thought of some of her features and characteristics and used them as prompts along with camera type…lens…etc. The produced image was great but too clean so into photoshop I went to add grain and lens corrections. Again that was a 15 minute endeavor. I was getting messages on Linkedin from folks asking about the photograph. Is it a photograph? Where did I meet her…agency name…etc. The photograph of the old man, a friend asked if the one on the left was an old photograph of mine. There is the conflict for me. I like capturing stories, real stories from real people. Things that make you feel a little something. I did not set out to fool anyone and it brings me to the question of honesty and authenticity. We live so close to dishonesty on a daily basis with social media, not all but a great deal is curated to show us the best of something.
Are you selling cameras in the hopes of focusing on this genre? I’m never selling my film cameras. That was more of a joke between a few of us. I dropped film off yesterday…me and all the hipsters from Brooklyn.
How would you bill for one of these and have you done any commissioned work? Very good question and I do not have an answer yet. I spoke with a couple clients that are already over AI.
What is the current language around crediting AI work, to call it a photograph would be a disservice. I would think it’s in the photo illustration realm.
Fashion treatment 1
Fashion treatment 2
All I had to do was remove a 6th finger for this AI image
Where do you see AI generated images having a place in the industry?
In a treatment or a brief, sure, it would work perfectly to show clients what I want something to look like. It went into photoshop for a little image correction to get it close to something.
Photographic self portrait, my true self and original smile
AI self portrait 1
AI self portrait 2
Have you done a self portrait? I did a mash-up of a portrait of myself and a portrait of Salvador Dali from Irving Penn. It looked very little like a Penn portrait but I see part of my face in the results.
In making these test images how would you describe the moments of making that AI image vs moments making a photograph developed in a human exchange? Doing an AI portrait takes up a different type of brain space. So much of my work is about human interactions: the conversations in the room, how you feel being with another person, their energy, and honesty. AI does not hold any of that for me. Of course, it’s creative and the stuff people are doing is beautiful and special but what does their breathing sound like? How do they carry themselves in a room? These AI figures, they’re fun to create and I certainly see their value but I can’t touch them, I can’t trust them. I know it sounds crazy but the more I see of it the more I just want to keep having conversations with real people about real things.
Are you drifting back to a human experience of an interaction, and those are creating the prompts? I try to keep the descriptions in the prompts to very real-life things. Specific camera and lenses, tone and color, feelings, ethnicity and expression. It’s wild that these images come back to me with some of those elements included. Do I get more connected to the “subjects.” Nope. I think I can see these AI figures in treatments to sell an idea. Suppose there was a project in Ethiopia that I was pitching to a client and they needed visuals to get the idea across. I can spend a couple of hours creating visuals ….people…landscapes…feelings and then, hopefully, get them to send me there to create the actual work. I can also see a client with a very tight budget who just needs the AI work over actual photography. It’s a slippery slope.
Photographer Rep Heather Elder has a post up on AI in photography from a reps point of view:
“Yes, AI is terrifying. Yes, it is ok to be afraid. And yes, it is changing our industry. But it is here; so you should not ignore it and hope it goes away. Now is the time to educate yourself. Whether you choose to sell against it or advocate for it (or both), you will need to understand it because the person bidding alongside you and the creative you want to work with most certainly will. ”
“Craft will see a resurgence. Just like any artistic endeavor you need to be talented. The best work will always rise to the top and this is because the best photographers understand all that is required to create a truly compelling photograph.
Photography Director: Andy Greenarce
Photographer: Kari Medig
Kari Medig has a deep appreciation of landscapes and film: moving through them and being still within them. Snow and photography are familiar friends to the British Columbia local. He grew up in the boreal forest of northern BC where his dad converted a bathroom into a darkroom. This slow practice informs his current body of work and love of film. He sees the quiet impact skiing has on people and culture around the world finding joy and quirkiness in the simplicity of sliding down snow or otherwise. I caught up with Telegraph’s Photography Director Andy Greenacre and Kari about his long term personal project, 1000 Words for Snow.
Heidi: Did you know about Kari’s ski work prior to this pitch?
Andy: Kari Medig first came to my attention back in 2014. I don’t remember if he approached the magazine first or us him, but we ran a portfolio of his quirky ski pictures in the magazine in January 2015.
How did this project come about?
We’ve stayed in touch over the years (I’m a keen skier too) and then he pitched this story to me last October. He was going to be in the UK for a short period of time, and would the magazine be interested in a photo essay on dry slope skiing in the UK? The way in for the piece was off the back of British slalom skier Dave Ryding who won at Kitzbuhlin January 2022. Quite an achievement for a skier who started out on brutal dry slopes, in a country with no actual downhill skiing at all (not counting Scotland!)
Despite having snow parks for Brits, what about the work connected for you?
This immediately resonated with me, as someone who endured the ‘delights’ of dry slope skiing in my youth. Bleak, soulless places, guaranteed to leave your body feeling like it’s been dragged over a bed of nails, I knew Kari could produce a memorable set of photographs that wouldbring a wry smile to our readers’ faces. I pitched his proposal at our weekly features meeting and the magazine editor was thankfully straight on board. I provided Kari with consent forms and away he went to shoot at various different slopes. I couldn’t have been happier with the edit he subsequently sent me, a selection of which ran as per the 3 spreads.
Yes we have indoor snow parks now that mimic snow in a way that dry slopes could never do. But for generations of Brits who first learnt to ski on carpet and bristle, and those still enduring them now, Kari’s photographs are evocative of this strange and wonderful facet of British sporting life.
1000 Words for Snow
Heidi: How has he pandemic impacted your project as a creative or how did staying close to home inform your eye?
Kari: The pandemic was definitely rough for this project. Almost immediately, several important trips were cancelled. My usual approach was to work with writers on a ski/travel assignment and then add a few days to make images for the project. Almost all of the images were made that way. But during the pandemic’s early days I had to stay closer to home.
I spent a lot of time in the parking lot at my local ski hill (Whitewater Resort here in Nelson) where people were having picnics and BBQs on their tailgates. This was a fun way to keep progressing on the project. (SKI magazine did a story about this). In the summer of 2021 I managed to make it to southern Africa for Outside Magazine to cover the ski culture of Lesotho. It wasn’t easy with the pandemic still impacting lives, but I was able to do it in a way that kept everyone safe. Since then things have opened up and I am back on the road.
You’ve been doing this project since 2007, 15 years later, did you ever think this would become a commentary on climate change? Great question. I’ve been working on it indirectly since my first ski assignment in Kashmir in 2007. It was only about seven years ago that I realized it was actually a cohesive body of work – this motivated me to be more purposeful with my shooting, specifically for this project.
Many of the places I’m drawn to have a tenuous relationship with snow. They’re often smaller, low elevation, or lesser known ski locations where I know I’m more likely to encounter something interesting or bizarre. For example, in Lesotho the ski hill is almost entirely made from artificial snow produced during the sub-zero temperatures at night. It’s a very unlikely place for a ski hill, one that is created largely by human intervention. One picture I was after was of the stark strip of snow against an arid rocky landscape. There was something symbolic and cautionary here considering our current climate trajectory.
I know your hope is to make this into a book, will you self publish? Yes, I ultimately see this project landing in book format. I like the idea of people taking time with the photos, flipping through pages in a backcountry lodge or wherever the book finds a home. I think the images and subject straddle both the art and trade spaces, and I currently have an interested publisher. I’m working through a few final locations and hope it will be available within a few years.
How will you structure the edit? Will you structure the sequence to an Inuit poem, a time frame, location? Such an important question, and one that I am not clear on just yet. I am currently still in the image-making process and am working with a very rough edit. I have turned all of the images into 4×4 prints and move them around on the blank wall of my office. I’m actually just back from a book sequencing workshop in Venice with photographer Sabiha Çimen. I deeply admire her work, especially her recently published book Hafiz which received much acclaim. It was incredibly helpful to have her go through my images and make an edit, especially since she has no connection to the ski world. Such a reassuring process. It affirmed I was on the right track and will help inform my image-making process going forward.
Heidi: I know you’re a trained illustrator, when did you switch from agency Art Director back to your roots as an artist? Justin: My early agency days were spent mostly as an artist but as I became more established I started to contribute ideas for pitches and over time my role evolved into more of an art director’s one. As a digital artist specializing in CG I found it freed-up me creatively – anything was possible, both logistically and budgetary. Later I was part of a staff cull at the agency and had to consider my next move which in the end turned out to be an easy decision as all of the advice was to become a freelance artist.
What specific learnings did your agency work transfer to your current work? Wit and originality. The culture there was incredibly focused on finding new ways of approaching a brief, there was a lot of friendly competition which led to ever more interesting ideas. Working in an agency requires you to think differently and once learned it stays with you forever – it feeds into everything I do now. Editorial work is slightly different in that it needs a faster response – not just to the brief (I often get just a single day for concept and artwork) but from the consumer as it will be fighting to be heard above all the other covers on the newsstand.
What inspires you from the real world? Everything and nothing, it seems that for me inspiration strikes only when the conditions are right which is often removing myself from the process altogether. There are some things which will often jump start things – browsing through an art book for instance, and reading around the subject can often reveal a phrase which sparks an idea. That first idea, however poor it might be, is the most important one as it usually unlocks the mind.
Where do you look for inspiration since most of your work is conceptual? I think I subconsciously draw from past experiences and observations, I’m always studying how things look, how they behave and their effect on the environment, and how people respond to it. I think the real world is the best source of inspiration for conceptual work.
Do you have a journal or have any analog processes to sketch ideas? Yes, I sketch out all ideas very roughly on a pad but I have them all in my head too. Good ideas are hard won and stick around forever up there.
Where do you get your source images from? The usual stock libraries. If I need to use them the image will be built around them as it’s the only part I can’t fully control and if something isn’t working I’ll build it in CG which means I get to do whatever I want with it.
How do you know when you’ve solved the creative problem, or when the piece is done? I try to provide at least five ideas on the brief and with one or two I’m usually confident I have something that will work well, more often than not though my preferred concept is not the one that makes it to final. I don’t consider anything I’ve done to be finished, just cut short to meet the deadline.
How do you unwind your mind, or try and relax it in order for new ideas to flow in? Yes, it’s hard not to be on duty all of the time but I’m lucky – I have a great family which is very successful at diverting my attention. They’re funny and entertaining we spend time away from my work as often as we can.
Did you research Tesla crash images for this cover story and what direction did the magazine share?
I’ve worked with the New York Times Magazine a few times before and they’re a great team to work with so I knew it would be an interesting project. They knew they wanted me to smash up a few different models in different colors. The white one was intended for the cover and for me it was mostly a question of the extent of damage and making the images bold and impactful whilst ensuring they are as accurate as possible – I had to specifically research Tesla crash images as they’re very different ‘under the hood’. I wanted the images to look as if the crash has actually happened in the studio so the undamaged parts should look like a beauty shot.
Who printed it?
The cards are printed by https://www.4by6.com. I’ve been using them for several years and they print both my Promo Cards and my Business Cards. I really love them because they allow small orders so you can make multiple cards and not have to rely on just one design that you have to have a large number printed. Also their Satin finish is really nice.
The Promo Book was printed by https://www.blurb.com. It’s their Trade Book size. I just wanted to create something similar to a “zine”. And I see it as it can be updated or changed around as I create new work. As with the Promo Cards I like that Blurb will allow limited runs so I tend to order as needed.
Who designed it?
The cards and the Promo Book where designed by my Graphic Designer friend, Lisa Kay based on a rough design I had. Lisa is based here in New York and her resume and client base is extensive and impressive. I feel she certainly elevates my work. Also I think it helps to have another set of eyes, (especially someone who might not be so personally attached to the work) look at what works together and what might not.
Essentially I like to do new physical cards whenever there is new work that I am really excited about or I feel will be a nice addition to the set.
When I first started working with this particular design it was only my work of cultural icons but about 10 months ago I decided to start incorporating some of my Beauty work into it with the thought that it complimented the portraits rather well.
How Many Times a Year Do You Send Out Promos?
This is a trickier question to answer. I primarily use promos as leave behinds when I have in person meetings or portfolio reviews. I find that with a lot of people now working hybrid it’s more effective to just send a digital PDF of new work via an e-mail. I also believe in personalizing or catering the e-mail to the specific and hopefully potential client who is on the other end of the e-mail. So I’m not really using an e-mail blast service.
I’m basically writing each person individually. I think this is effective especially if you are reaching out to a team of people who work together. At least this way it’s not just the same e-mail going to each of them. I do try to find a way to personalize the body of the e-mail to each team member even if the PDF that they are receiving is the same one that their colleagues are receiving as well.
Because my work is more portrait driven and not lifestyle advertising I think this approach has been beneficial. So the round about answer is for the past year whenever I’ve done new work, whether it be client work or just a personal Beauty shoot I will make a PDF of the new work and send it out to Editors and Clients I’ve worked with in the past and to new potential clients.
When there is a positive response from someone I have not met with in person before depending on the response I may ask if I can send them the physical package. But before doing that I like to ask if they are in the office these days first. Because if they aren’t, I feel asking for someone’s home address might be a bit of an overreach.
I got a chance to connect with Mark about his passion for street photography and the zines that grew out of that. He was in the front row during the recent boom of photozines and has created an impressive collection of over 25 self-published photozines, a process he calls an “intuitive, spontaneous exercise.” You can see the collection of all his photozine covers images here. By day he’s the photography director of Mother Jones and has been for the past 15 years.
Heidi: Are you printing out images to sequence for your digital projects or do they stay in Lightroom? Mark: For digital only projects, usually all the work stays in Lightroom. Sometimes for bigger projects I’ll make prints, but it’s rare. For zines though, I first compile a batch of images in Lightroom, then will often print out small rough prints and hang them on a wall. But when I do the layouts, it’s usually a process of dumping photos in a layout, moving things around to see how they fit, so the wall sequence is more of a rough guide than a final edit.
How has your eye or your thoughts around self publishing changed from your first zine to your most recent? It’s changed significantly. I published my first zine in 1992, a really random zine that kind of focused more on skateboarding. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a cut and paste mess. Over the years I learned by doing, by making mistakes, by seeing other zines. That zine, Sty Zine, started including more photography as my interest in taking pictures (of skateboarding and punk bands) grew. Eventually the photos from Sty Zine branched out into its own zine, ACTION! Photozine. In the 30 years I’ve been doing zines I’ve come to really love certain aspects (the publishing side: designing, printing, physically putting the zines together) and not care for other aspects (marketing and selling them). There are fundamentals that have remained: it has always been something of an intuitive, spontaneous exercise for me, it needs to be fun otherwise; I like playing around with different formats and sizes; I like to keep them cheap if I can. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at making zines, but there’s always room to do better I’ve considered getting more serious about publishing but think it would sap what I love out of it.
Of course, the tsunami of digital photography influences (some would say erodes) how we consume rather than look at photography. How have these social platforms influenced you both good and bad? One way Instagram has negatively impacted me and my work is that I’m less inclined to share images that don’t “work” on Instagram. They’re either too subtle or they might be a wider shot (or even panoramic) that reads small on the platform. I’m making fewer zines. Before social media to easily share and consume photography, there was more of a necessity to publish as a way to get work off contact sheets (or hard drives), to be seen. The positive side of course is that I’ve reached people beyond my usual cadre of photo friends. It’s a way to get your work seen and a way to publicize printed zines. For me, there’s no better way to enjoy or consume photography than in a book or zine form. The way the images work with or against each other on a page (or sit by themselves on a page), the way they interact with the photo that came before and comes after as you turn the pages. The physical design, the paper, the printing. If done right, it all plays into the body of work you’re presenting. That said, I spend far, far too much time idling away on Instagram. Blah. But I also have too many photobooks and zines! Haha. The more limited impact of what’s in a book or zine leaves more of an impression with me though than the endless stream of images on social media.
When looking back at your early work, are there clues that ground the viewer in a certain decade? (beside clothes and style) You were shooting pretty tight back then to give the feeling of being “pushed up against the stage” at the punk shows. Do these feel timeless when you revisit the set? I don’t think they feel timeless, though I was kind of going for something like that, especially with my music photography. There’s a definite shift in my work. I still like shooting right up front at shows, but one big difference is I used to use a direct flash and was very loose in my shooting. It was all film, almost all black and white. So, it has a pretty specific look. These days, especially with the high ISOs available on digital cameras, I rarely use a flash and am composing more carefully. When photographing shows, I still try to capture that feeling of being right up front, in the thick of it. But I’m also going to slightly different shows. Not quite as raucous, so the images feel different.
My street photography has a more continuous look and feel I think, though in the past few years I’ve been working with more color and with a slightly tighter lens (50mm). Also, I’ve noticed my street photography has fewer people lately. Part of that is just not being in downtown San Francisco five days a week. That’s had a big impact on my photography.
If you were to give advice to your younger self, what would it be? It would kind of be what I am still telling myself now: push yourself more; be more focused in what you’re photographing; take more risks; do more. Don’t be afraid to think of yourself as an artist.
I know books are expensive, why zines? They both have a tactile quality but what about the zines suits your style of image making? Good question. A while ago I started editing my street photography for a book. I got as far as making a dummy. It was more or less ready to go – but it just didn’t feel right. I was having a hard time with a few aspects of it. The cost, sure, but more fundamental questions: Why am I making a book? Who cares? What am I trying to say? It felt more like making a book for the sake of making a book and there are already too many books. Also, a book felt like a period, an end to a body of work on which I was still photographing. So, I took a step back, broke down the pile of images I was working from and decided to make a series of zines. I thought of them as editing notebooks in a way. Editing different zines from more or less the same body of work, focused around a different theme. The series was called City Slang and each zine was titled after a song, which provided the theme of the zine. Some were more successful than others, but that’s one thing I liked – I could roll the dice a bit. They were cheaper to make and I could sell them cheap. I made them small (most about 5″ x 4″), which allowed me to always have one on me to give away or sell. The printing wasn’t perfection, but it fit the work, as did the small size and full-bleed spreads. All around, I think the zines fit that body of work better than a book. That said, I’m starting to come around to an idea of a book again for the City Slang work since it feels more finished. We’ll see.
The zines I’m doing now aren’t within that series; they have a different look and feel. Still street photography, but very different from the City Slang work. Flatlands and Flatlands II are color, digest sized, hardly any people in the photos at all. Burned Out is all photos of burnouts, donuts, skidmarks.
Are you part of any photo collective currently?
I am part of a photo group called San Francisco City Photography Club. It’s a loose group of street photographers. Before covid, we were meeting once a month for critiques and to hangout, talk, putting together group shows and group zines. Despite meeting regularly over Zoom during covid, things have gotten pretty quiet with the group.
As far as shows, I should be better about pushing to do shows around zines I put out. That’d make sense – get the work up on walls for people to interact with it in a different way, sell some zines, have fun. Doesn’t even have to be fancy. Just make something more of it. I’m bad about that. That said, I did have a great show in Altadena, California in May at the Alto Beta Gallery. Brad Eberhard who runs the gallery specifically wanted me to show work from my Flatlands zines – color work from West Oakland. It’s a basic thing, but putting together a show makes you think about the work in a much different way than throwing together a zine. It was great. And it was awesome getting to show work outside of the Bay Area. I’d love to do a show with work from my last zine, Burned Out. I just haven’t put the work into making that happen (this is where the advice to my younger self applies to my current self).
What are you most excited about for street photography as a genre? I have gotten pretty picky about street photography that gets me excited. I like work that is more subtle or ambiguous, more emotional, dark, gritty, makes you question what you’re seeing, lets you get lost in the image or that makes you feel something. That’s broad sounding, but within street photography I think that’s a relatively small niche. I feel like there was a pretty big swell of interest in street photography before covid and I have to admit, I would be happy if it has piqued and dies down a bit.
Heidi: How did this project come about? Diego: I’m a photographer involved in editorial production and advertising, but my passion is the mountains, climbing and mountaineering. For some time, I’ve been introducing this passion to my daily work and getting involved in different expeditions around the world as photographer and videographer. The combination of passion and work has taken me to the Himalayas and Antarctica.
For this project… I always wanted to go to the Dolomites just because it’s one of the best places for enjoying the beauty and nature of the Alps, so I made a plan and started to design my route. Once I was happy with the route, I connected with the editor-in-chief and the project evolved from there.
What was the editing process for selecting the cover image?
I always make a tight edit, not many images, just the ones that inspired me and the ones that fit their editorial vision. The team created this beautiful illustration from my work.
What can you tell us about the collaboration?
As a frequent collaborator in this mag (this is my 3rd cover) I always feel comfortable and happy to be part of this great family.
Heidi: Was this cover stitched then photographed? Angel: The cover is an illustration, it is not stitched. We decided to do it that way because we didn’t have much time but wanted it to be super realistic based on a photo by Diego Martínez. My art team and I spent a lot of hours and tests until we got it right.
What are you working on now? I was just in Nepal where I’ve been working in a project for a non profit organization called SOS Himalaya. filming and taking photos in the Makalu Valley.
Nearly everyone there was a trained, working artist, photojournalist, professor, editorial photographer, or perhaps a commercial photographer.
Easily, 90% or more were working pros.
There certainly might have been a few hobbyists, or lightly-trained, career-change photographers, but none that I recall.
That was 13.5 years ago.
I’ve since attended 30+ festivals, both as a photographer and as a reviewer.
The proof is in the pudding, as I’ve written scores of articles about these portfolio reviews over the years, all published here on APE.
Of all the festivals I attended, only the New York Times review was free, so it was the most diverse and international. By far! But it was also super-difficult to get accepted, so it’s not a viable option for most people.
Every other festival was run by non-profit, artist-founded, artist-run organizations. (Sorry, I did go to one by the Art Academy of SF, and they’re a for-profit school.)
In Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, and Portland, the trend was so slow that I never noticed it.
I missed the story of the slow disappearance of the professionals, replaced by hobbyists.
But in 2022, Post-Pandemic, it was impossible not to see the pattern.
This year, the vast majority of photographers I saw at the portfolio review table were coming from retirement, as a long-time hobby, or rekindling the passion after many years, hoping to change careers.
I’ve previously written that I had such a hard time remembering work from the PhotoAlliance review, I only featured two artists.
You still meet a few full-time professional artists, or busy freelance journalists, and their work is normally better, so it stands out quickly. There are plenty of professional educators still on the scene, as professors are under pressure to exhibit and publish, for tenure.
The educators also have stable jobs, and some schools provide professional development funds, so stipends are available for the professors.
And their work also tends to be of a MUCH higher caliber.
Post-pandemic, though, the majority were coming to the festivals now, (which are expensive, in a world with inflation, and concentrated resources,) ready to get in on the action, without realizing how little action was left.
One post-retirement-artist even told me they were ready to level up to a solo show now, because they had done the group-show thing, so now it was time.
(Like ticking boxes off a list.)
And I am not being ageist here.
Please allow me explain further.
The shift was gradual, but when I attended the festivals as an artist, (in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016,) I always made more money than I spent.
The marketing budget worked, because whether I sold prints to collectors out of the box, on the spot, sometime later on, or ended up with shows that sold work, it always panned out.
There was a professional artist/journalist class, of trained experts who’d gone to school, and put in decades of time.
There were also enough opportunities and resources to support those artists, journalists, and editorial photographers.
Now, (as I’ve previously written,) the gallery/newspaper/magazine/ad buy infrastructure is a fraction of what it was, chopped year by year, so of course the opportunities will have lessened commensurately.
Simultaneously, over those 13.5 years, the products of the photo world, glossy art on pretty white walls, or sleek photos on the home pages of the NYT or the Washington Post, were very visible markers of success.
And making pictures is fun!
So of course, with the photo world incessantly promoting itself, and photography getting ever easier from better digital cameras and phones, it makes sense people who put their passion aside, due to life obligations, would want to come join the party.
And year by year, I treated each person at the review table the same, and tried to honor and help motivate folks who were new to giving their heart to their art.
No matter the age.
Many of my consulting clients have come from this cohort, and I’ve busted my butt, and had a great creative relationship, with each of them.
But now the portfolio review community is made up primarily of people who have financial means, and many are willing to pay $35,000-$50,000 to publish a photo book, OUT OF POCKET, because it’s a marker of status and success.
(Also, because it’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.)
As I wrote a month ago, photography is now everyone’s passion.
It’s a visual language that belongs to THE WORLD.
Nothing has been so democratized; not even music.
A medium once dependent on cryptic chemicals, and tricky, expensive, mechanical cameras, is now fully point-and-shoot brilliant.
From Leica monochromes to great iPhones, it’s not hard to make a “professional” looking photo.
So we can cheer that our love now belongs to everyone, and we can also mourn that so many professionals have left the field.
To be clear, I’m not saying festivals don’t belong anymore.
But at PhotoNOLA two weeks ago, of the 9 official reviews I did, only two photographers seemed to be full-time professionals: both educators there to promote their personal work.
2 out of 9.
So I asked my colleagues, and they agreed:
Perhaps the model needs to be tweaked a bit, to accommodate the new reality?
As I said, the NYT runs free reviews, because they can.
But Filter Photo, in Chicago, has active relationships with local art schools, so you can always count on 5 or 6 students coming to the review table. The schools buy reviews in blocks, (or perhaps trade for sponsorships,) so the up-and-coming, committed students attend for free.
(That’s also a great way to keep it diverse, but I’ve only seen it done at Filter.)
I believe it’s important to note the demographic shift, and ask if perhaps there are other ways we as a global photo community can support regular, working-stiff artists, teachers, and freelance journalists?
We need to make sure there is still a photo world for the next generation to enter.
Maybe festivals can increase their emphasis on low-cost education and exhibitions, and make the high-cost portfolio review elements a smaller part of the overall financial reality?
Or perhaps some of the non-profits can start adding more and more next-generation artists to their boards and advisory committees?
Because I hung out with a handful of 20-somethings this year, in San Diego, Chicago and New Orleans, and I can legitimately vouch for Gen Z.
They are coming to save the world, with their empathy, multi-talents, and their Internet-charged brains.
I’m here for it.
But outside of the handful of students at Filter, none of the younger generation I met were at the festivals to be reviewed, as “paying customers.”
We can welcome later-in-life artists, and career-change photographers, and support their exciting, creative journeys.
And I have.
But given what I saw on the road in 2022, if they’re now the majority of the festival community, (and the ones primarily paying-to-play,) I believe it needs to be acknowledged.
Saying “Beetlejuice” three times can be scary.
But I said it.
So let’s move on.
I’m in an awkward position, as I’ve already told you I quit, but Rob’s allowing me to wrap up the column here in an elegant way.
I’ve got to share the best work I saw at Filter, and PhotoNOLA, so that’s two more articles.
And I’m sitting on a sizable submission-book-stack.
At first, I thought I’d try to cram 20 mini-reviews into two articles.
Little pods of information.
But that doesn’t feel right.
It wouldn’t allow me to honor the photographers who trusted me with their books. (Their artistic babies.)
So I’m announcing today that I’ll start a personal blog, in the next two months, so I can properly review every book that was sent my way.
It’s only fair, and after all, I love to write.
I promise to provide full details before I wrap up here, (and on social media,) and I’ll do a quick book review today, too, as a show of good faith.
Because I’d like to state one thing very clearly: I love the global photography community, and it’s been an honor to have such a visible platform here for so long.
If just a few of you come over and read the book reviews, (or whatever else I write about,) that’s cool with me.
I guess it will be my hobby from now on, since I’ll be doing it for free.
For myself. As art.
Even though there are only 3 columns left here, (after today,) I always keep it real.
I went to the book stack, and looked for the oldest submission.
Of course it’s perfect for today, because that’s how the column-magic has always worked, over the years.
“American Protest: Photographs 2020-2021,” by Mel D. Cole, was published by Damiani, and arrived in Nov of 2021.
January 6th, which is featured in the book, was still fresh, and these days, we wonder if the endgame is coming?
But man, does this book pack a punch.
The intros tell us that Mel D. Cole is, and has always been an independent journalist, and the end notes say that funding was provided by the Black Photographers’ Fund. (Which he created.)
Damiani is an expensive publisher, so clearly a lot of people came together to enable this creative vision.
It’s pretty much the best case scenario for how the photo world can support working pros. (As I wrote above.)
But it’s also a great example of how I’ve tried to promote diversity of culture, vision and perspective here, over nearly 13 years.
This book is clearly the product of the combination of talent, grit, bravery, timing, community support, and the brilliance of the photographic medium.
History was preserved.
Art was made.
Perspective was offered.
I saw no designer credits, so I’m assuming Mel D. Cole did it himself, and it grabs you from the first second.
Black men in handcuffs, but rendered in such a way that you think… Shackles… Slavery.
(The reference is not to be missed.)
That the book ends with raised firsts and Black Lives Matter signs held high, tells you what you need to know about call backs, structure, and progression.
The pictures are amazing, and speak for themselves.
But just as I found myself about to skip ahead, (because there are a lot of pictures, and the structure was getting repetitive,) BAM!!!
He drops a color photo on us, the first, of a blood-stained Philly cop in his bright blue uniform.
Seriously, it jolted me back into the present moment.
And that use of occasional color popped up again, a few times, always to smart effect.
This is just a terrific book.
The critic in me will point out that I don’t love the font choice in the intro text, (including one by Jamie Lee Curtis,) and I particularly dug the honest, casual, loving, thank you page.
Today’s book is a great example of why I’d like to see the global photography community organize a bit, to make sure the life-long art voices, those countless creators who committed to the path, and continue to stick it out…
We need to maintain a system that supports these photographers.
The Kurt Markus Family and Santa Fe Workshops are pleased to continue Kurt’s legacy as a teacher and role model for young photographers by awarding an annual scholarship in his name.
The Kurt Markus Photography Scholarship recognizes artistic promise coupled with a desire to live a photographic life by awarding a full scholarship to a one-week workshop in Santa Fe each summer to a young imagemaker.
Kurt Markus was a visual poet of the American West, creating authentic portraits, classic landscapes, and beautifully seductive fashion images. His photographs touched all strata of humanity and left a lasting imprint that will endure for many generations.
Equally important to Kurt was his role as a mentor. Starting in 2008, he made time each year to teach at Santa Fe Workshops. Instructing solo, co-teaching with Norman Mauskopf, or joining Jimmy Chin and Robert Maxwell for a Santa Fe Workshops/Outside Magazine Master Class, Kurt was dedicated to passing on his knowledge and passion for photography to the new generation of photographers.
The Kurt Markus Photography Scholarship Fund offers the financial support for a young photographer to attend the workshop of their choice to include travel expenses to Santa Fe and return, workshop tuition and fees, car rental, meals, accommodations, and $500 for photographic supplies and miscellaneous expenses. In addition to the workshop in Santa Fe, the recipient will forever be linked to the spirit and accomplishments of Kurt as they traverse their own path forward in photography.
Photographers under 30 years old are encouraged to apply (contact Reid Callanan for more information). Applications for this scholarship will be available on December 1 and due by January 15. There is no fee to apply for this scholarship. Jurors to award this annual scholarship are Laurie Kratochvil, Andy Anderson, and Reid Callanan.
Donations to this fund to honor Kurt and his legacy as a teacher and a mentor are now being accepted. Tax-deductible donations should be made to CENTER, a 501(c3) not-for-profit organization based in Santa Fe. CENTER, founded in 1994, honors, supports, and provides opportunities to gifted and committed photographers.
A generous lead donation of $25,000 has been made to inaugurate this fund.