Working as a Photo Editor at a National Magazine the monthly low point usually occurs when the editor reviews the layout illustrated with the shittiest photos I have ever seen that were the direct result of hours upon hours of stock searches for a subject that’s thinly covered and being told that, rather then kill the story or run an illustration, I need to look a little further and find something good this time.
“Did it it ever occur to you that the subject you have chosen for extensive coverage in the magazine might possibly be shit and that’s why the photos are shit? No, I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I haven’t uncovered the one decent photographer who happened to take a picture that makes this subject look good. Maybe I’ll try Flickr or Google.”
And, so I would hunker down in my office with my Stock Photo List (here) and try endless combinations of keywords and search obscure stock sites and try single word searches on Corbis and Getty that would turn up 10,000 images to sift through or sometimes I’d troll the crap stock sites praying for a diamond among the turds and I’d do this until I felt like I’d looked under every rock or completely run out of time.
Having spent many years working at magazines of a similar genre from time to time subjects we’ve covered before would crop up in meetings and that’s where I could finally say with authority, “I’ve searched for pictures on that subject before and nothing good exists so we should kill the story now or assign an illustration.” This is usually when the Editor or Creative Director decides to do a quick Google image search and finds the perfect photo.
Bruce Kramer is the owner of Art Mix in Los Angeles, one of the top photographer agencies in the country. They’ve always been an editorial friendly shop handling several of the biggest names in this industry. When I heard that Bruce was opening a gallery in Brooklyn I had to ask him a few questions to see what was up.
Tell me about your new venture Bond Street Gallery?
I was visiting with a friend Robert DiScalfani who lives on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens and has lived in the area for over 10 years. We were walking around the neighborhood and came across a derelict yet beautiful building and both of us looked through the window and at the same moment said “this space would make a great gallery.” I had the idea of doing a gallery in the back of my mind so I cleaned out my bank account and stated this journey.
Over the last few years we started to receive emails regarding the images from the talent I represent at Art Mix and I had been making sales with very little effort and noticed a trend of younger people wanted a photo of their favorite celebrity and in general a much wider interest in photography.
I recruited Robert to be my partner, he’s been a working photographer for over 30 years who still does platinum prints in his own darkroom. We had the building restored, keeping it as original as possible. It’s a small 3 floor town house with a backyard–very much a different vibe than the large white boxes in Manhattan. Our vision for the space was to make it seem like you are visiting someone’s home or a photographers space where he might have his and others work hung around for inspiration.
The area in Brooklyn where it’s located is changing rapidly yet still has a sense of the past. Many new residents are restoring townhouses instead of buying new and we feel the area, in time would appreciate a gallery that had roots to the past but with a vision for the future.
I started to research photos of Coney Island and came across the work of Harold Feinstein a noted flower photographer who has published many books on subject. As a youth he would walk on the boardwalk in Coney Island with camera in hand and take pictures of one of the most culturally diverse areas in the country.
I continued to research photographs of Coney Island and came across many others who also had great imagery: Bruce Davidson, Bruce Gilden, Harold Roth and Sid Grossman to name a few. I contacted their galleries and I arranged to exhibit their work in the show.
We have plans to continue to exhibit work by forgotten and undiscovered talent from the New York area and around the world.
What skills can you bring over from running a successful photographer agency to running a gallery?
Having run a successful photography agency with varied talent I have developed a strong sense of what I consider to be good or even great photography and the ability to recognize talent.
Running a photo agency is very competitive as there are many agencies and photographers and less and less jobs available these days. I’m a firm believer in marketing and advertising which has really been the cornerstone of my business and I intend to bring that style to running the gallery. We are not expecting buyers to walk in off the street, we will go to them. While I’m new to the gallery world I’ve been in the photography business a long time and I’m getting a great response from established art photographers and galleries.
Do you think commercial and editorial photographers should sell their commissioned work as art?
For years photographers commissioned work has been selling in galleries. Penn, Avedon, Bailey, Newton, Outerbridge, Bourdin, both William and now Steven Klein. There have always been and there will continue to be commissioned photographers who are hired for their eye, lighting, sense of style and aesthetic. Even though the images were created to sell a product I feel they are no less art than the photographer who creates images on their own. In fact in some ways I feel the commissioned photographer has a harder job as they often have to work with other people’s ideas and parameters yet still be true to themselves.
How do you pick an exhibition for the gallery?
Picking to photographers to exhibit is not as easy as I thought it would be. I want to show work that speaks to me, that has soul and guts and I do feel I’m a good gauge of talent but I’m trying to view the photography from a non-commercial point of view. Photography was a medium many hobbyist got into and some of them were pretty good. The guy who sold me a car recently asked me what I did and when I told him about the gallery and he mentioned he use to take photos of jazz musicians. Well he certainly did: Miles, Dizzy, Lou Rawls, etc. Joe’s work has a raw quality to it that you no longer find.
I’m trying to dig a bit. I’ve contacted photographer clubs and have sent emails to their members. I’m also attracted to commercial photographers. Many do personal work to balance out the what they have to do to earn a living and I’ve come across some great work.
Do photographers need to decide between becoming an editorial, commercial or fine art photographer or can they be all three?
I don’t think a decision can be made concisely. If you are the type of photographer that has a vision and you stick with it, perhaps adapt a bit to the right and left if need be, remain passionate, your work will stand out. I do believe photographers when starting out are not just working towards a pay check, It’s more about expressing themselves. Often somewhere down the road they lose direction and do as told and stop using the judgment that got them there. All photographers no matter how successful should always be challenging themselves, exploring and experimenting to keep there creative juices flowing. More and more I am seeing photographers successfully working in all areas without compromising. My hopes are I can take an art photographer and get them commercial work and get commercial photographers into the art world.
“We fetishize homes now, in a way that we never used to,” said Todd Eberle, a photographer whose work appears in Vanity Fair and in prominent museums. He has been hired by many celebrities, including Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton, to document their homes and offices. His clients, he said, want him both to memorialize their homes as they really are, and at the same time to “take it to a different level, and somehow improve upon the reality.”
“…Often, the decision to hire a photographer, for fees that can run to $75,000, is made when someone buys an architecturally important house or oversees a painstaking renovation.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was intimidated by working down the hall from legendary Rolling Stone Director of Photography Jodi Peckman. She’s garnered every accolade the photo industry can hand out and her rolodex is the size of a parmesan cheese wheel.
As it turned out my fear was unfounded because she’s a real sweetheart who’s willing to chat at length about working as a photo editor as well as happy to debate the merits of working with any of photographers in this industry.
I thought I’d ask her a few questions:
1. People ask me all the time how I became a photo editor and I’d be willing to bet everyone’s story is different. What’s yours?
Wellllllll… I had a friend who was the assistant to the Art Director here and I used to visit her at work and hang around the office a lot. I was still in school at the time. The Art and Photo Directors got to know me and so I would help out returning film or any small stuff they wanted. At the same time I was also printing photos for the guitarist of the band The Police (he’s a photographer). The Photo Director (Laurie Kratochvil) asked me if I wanted a real job, so she sent me to a photo agency where they hired me to file photos. I ended up working there for quite sometime and eventually left to hang out with my brother who lived in Italy. When I returned Laurie asked me if I wanted to work at Rolling Stone on the Random Notes section. I said yes, and I’m still here.
2. You’ve been a Rolling Stone a long time and I know there’s huge advantages to working within a specific genre having spent my entire career working with outdoor sports and athletics but how do you stay excited and challenged by the subject matter?
The best part about working here is that really it’s not just a music magazine. The range of what we cover is pretty big. We’ve got movies, TV, internet, politics, sports, crime, foreign and national affairs, environment and more. So, I don’t really see it as one genre. That being said, I’ve had to reinvent the job many times over. Coming to the same office, same desk, same everything for this long can get pretty weird and repetitive. The people around here change so that’s good and new photographers crop up all the time. I’m a creature of habit, so staying put suits my lifestyle (I eat a hamburger almost everyday).
3. One of the biggest challenges for me as a Photography Director was hearing, “you can’t hire that photographer” or “we’re not going to run that photo” and not taking it personally. How do you deal with it?
When you’ve been someplace this long you don’t really hear that too often. I guess they figure I know the magazine pretty well by now and fortunately my opinion holds some weight.
4. Do you still look at promo cards? What about promo emails?
Don’t really look at them. Well, I look at them of course, when they come in, but they rarely relate to anything we do here. Seriously, I get photographers who shoot babies and food send stuff all the time. I try so hard to open all the emails, and there are hundreds, but it’s not always realistic. There’s just not enough time. I feel terrible about that and I always promise myself I’ll try harder.
5. I found I didn’t have enough work for even my core group of photographers let alone adding new ones to the list. Do you still add new photographers to your list of people to hire?
We do. Not too many cover shooters tho.
6. Any predictions on how the photography industry will look 5 years from now? How about the magazine industry?
Ahhhh, magazines and newspapers will be around forever. I’m not too good about predicting the future, I’m livin’ in the moment all the time.
These next two questions come from an aspiring Rock and Roll photographer and reader of my blog.
7. In music photography, more so than other kinds of photography, people are willing give away their work for free or in exchange for access. Even musicians ask for photos in return for access. Magazines and festivals also seem to be trading access for photos. An example is the SPIN correspondent program, (here) How do you make a living (or at least part of a living) in that kind of atmosphere?
They’re giving you better access so you should be able to make better pictures. Better pictures should lead to more work. I worked here for free and so do our interns. We end up hiring half the people who are interns.
8. What is the best way to for a photographer to get their foot in the door at Rolling Stone? What assignments should newcomers approach (i.e. festivals)?
Being a concert photographer is brutal. So much competition. Find something special you do well and different from the others and work on an interesting and unique portfolio.
9. I always loved seeing the contact sheets from a shoot for the first time and in many ways that was better then seeing something printed in the magazine. What’s your favorite part of being a Photography Director?
Well it isn’t opening the box of photos. I’m always too nervous. Looking at pictures is so interesting and inspiring, and I really like photographers. I meet interesting people all the time. It’s creative and I feel that I am a part of what makes Rolling Stone what it is and how it looks. I feel so so lucky to have fallen into this job.
10. If you never got a job at Rolling Stone what would you be doing right now?
I’ve run quite a few sporting event photos over the years but I’ve never really contemplated what goes into making one so I decided to join a friend shooting a week long sports event. My initial reaction after the first couple days is… ARE YOU FNG KIDDING ME. Where the hell did all these people with cameras come from? I shit you not, I saw soccer moms with 600mm Canon lenses. What the hell are you going to do with those photos? Put them in your scrapbook? There were literally thousands of people shooting pictures of every single person, place or thing you could imagine. I guess I’ve spent all my time sending people to events and buying stock photos but never attending to see what goes down. You photographers can certainly put up with a lot.
After my initial shock with the camera toting public I realized half these people are actually sporting press credentials representing all kinds of magazines, newspapers and even blogs. I’m all for shooting original pictures but if everyone is standing in the exact same spot shooting the exact same thing I’m not so sure I see the point.
The bottom line is, access is everything, which is not really news to anyone but reinforces the idea that bringing your personal vision to photography is the key to making it.
Hollywood is not the place he had imagined as a child – forget spontaneity and pass that BlackBerry. “You know, one of the things I probably romanticise most is the freedom that photographers had before it became such a marketing and advertising machine.”
One day sitting in my office on 6th avenue reading photo industry blogs while the phone rang off it’s hook and the books piled up outside my door and assignments that needed to be made were not being made I had a eureka moment. I was reading Andrew Hetherington’s blog *what’s the jackanory* and there was debate about why a photo editor did something and why a photographer let a photo editor do something and I thought, “Photo Editors need a blog, I’ll start one.” I owe him a debt of gratitude for that moment but that’s not why you’re reading about him here. He’s also been on my list of photographers to hire for many years so I’m not going to ignore him despite the fact that a few of you think photo industry blogging is a self-perpetuating back slapping machine.
Andrew (website here) is a top editorial photographer who lands commissions from magazines like GQ, ESPN and Details; and wins awards from CA, American Photography and PDN. Even though he spills his guts on his blog every week I thought you’d like to hear me ask him a few questions.
1. Can you tell me how you became known by Photo Editors and Art Directors as the cow with wall photographer and has it helped or hindered your career to be remembered so well for that one image?
I think it has been a great help. Its important to be remembered for something, right ? You know I didn’t realize this shot’s hidden potential early on, sometimes you are so close you don’t see what you really have. I didn’t think it had much of an edge but editors and art directors all started to react to it when I started showing the book around. I had it hidden down the back but then it quickly made its way to the front especially after PDN used it on the cover of the 30 issue in 2003. I used the image as part of a mailer that year and I still see it up on editors bulletin boards from time to time.
FYI, I am also refered to as the guy who photographs drunk Irish folk, barf, women’s bums, bloody noses, you know the funny quirky gross guy.
2. I’m sure it wasn’t a “eureka” moment but can you describe the chain of events that lead to you becoming a top editorial photographer?
My Dad was a lighting camera man (cinematographer) we were surrounded by gear growing up
I had no interest in moving pictures
Hated being in front of the camera which we often were
With my Dads encouragement I started dabbling with his Pentax slr
Joined the school camera club
Began to shoot the sports at school
Got to go to all the rugby games and be on the sideline
Got to all the parties too, score
Had a darkroom in my bedroom
Processed film in the bathroom
Discovered reticulation by accident !!
Had to decide what I wanted to do when I left school
Wasn’t terribly academic during my teens
Was more interested in music, fashion and my hair
Was accepted to Art School; a 1 year course in Commercial Photography
Didn’t learn much. It was the first time this school offered the curriculum
so it was a bit mickey mouse
Assisted photographers in Dublin
Began shooting on my own, fashion mostly
Did alright for a while
Got as far as I could go
Needed to figure out where I was going with my life
Got a green card in a lottery
Moved to New york, gave myself a year to see what happened
Was exposed to tons of amazing people and experiences who all had a profound effect on me and my photography
Fell in love
Started shooting again, mostly fashion
Did alright for a while
Realised I wasn’t going to be Steven Miesel
Got as far as I could go
Lost the passion for the fashion
Started to concentrate on what really excited me, environmental portraiture
Got a big break and was chosen for PDN 30 2003
Got the cover, yes the cow
Started to get really cool work with really cool people
Not taking any of it for granted
3. I’ve always had you on my list of photographers as someone who can take banal situations, make them interesting and also make a complete story out of it, not just one portrait. Can you tell me how you arrived at this style of photography? Also, does it bother you to be called to shoot subjects I think are dull?
Well Rob you never called so I guess there wasn’t much need for dull banality at Outside or Mens Journal. [SNAP! -Rob]
When I started out shooting in New York I always used a ton of gear, different cameras and lighting packages. I was all over the shop. As an assistant I had worked with so many different types of photographers that it took me a while to shake all their influences and hone my own style. At the time my personal work was more straightforward and as I transitioned from the fashion into portraiture I was looking for a way to shake my previous work habits; to be mobile, to be able to shoot indoors and outdoors at a moments notice, to be able to take advantage of whatever opportunity presented itself. Ambient light isn’t my thing, flash is, so I also wanted to keep that quick and simple too. I like a bit of quality though and amn’t a huge 35mm fan so in a nutshell I try for point and shoot mobility with a lit medium format aesthetic. I think this really frees me up (when there are no major assignment restraints) so I am not locked in to one or two set ups. I also wanted to be able to create the same quality of image whether I am on my own or whether I have one, two or three assistants. I love it when I get called to do a gig that calls for a set up portrait combined with elements of reportage.
Dull that doesn’t bother me at all and hey if there’s any travel involved I am down. To be honest I love pulling up in front of someone’s place in bum fuck no where, you never know whats waiting behind the door. Most of by favorite stuff is as a result of being out there somewhere; it may never make the magazine edit or even have anything to do with the assignment but one mans dull is another’s life altering experience. It can certainly be a bit hairy at times and the magic is not always a given but I do enjoy the challenge.
4. Are there any career choices you that you either regret or were the best decision you ever made?
I think the best decision I ever made was to start shooting for myself, to start doing what I wanted to do the way I wanted to do it, and not to worry about satisfying anyone else but myself.
No major career regrets to be honest, its usually the more obvious regret; when a shoot doesn’t work out as well as one had hoped or I miss a shot. Just makes me try even harder the next time.
5. If you were an insect what kind would you be and why?
I would be ‘grasshopper’
“Yet it is eyes which blind the man”…”Because a man can see, he does not look.”
– Master Po.
TechCrunch reports (here)–then I received an email from one of the founders–on the launch of a new company called GumGum (here) that allows people to license images on a cost per impression basis. This is the way images are licensed in the print world so it only makes sense that they should go that way online. This is such a brilliant idea for photographers and very similar to one I was trying to work on after leaving NY, but never got anywhere with, so I’m glad someone beat me to the punch.
If you don’t want to pay the cpm the photographer is offering they give you the option to serve advertising either on the image or as a pre-roll to the image instead.
Either way the photographer gets paid. How’s that sound to you?
Watch the video here on how it works:
The cool thing is how easy it is for someone to license an image from you. It reminds me of what Apple did with music.
It’s just the beginning for this technology but I’d like to see widgets photographers can put on their site that will take me to a licensing area with only their images. Also, they’re really going to need powerful search and keywording technology similar to what Corbis and Getty use if they want to make the service worthwhile for publishers but that’s where I think using google to search for images and then gumgum.com to license could be a powerful combination for the future.
Teens appear to be willing to curtail illegal downloading when told they face fines or jail time.
This finding, among many in a survey published by Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) on Wednesday, is the basis for the software company’s new campaign to teach teens respect for intellectual property rights.
[…]Microsoft’s survey found that about half of the teenagers surveyed (49%) said they are not familiar with the rules and guidelines for downloading content from the Internet. Only 11% understood the rules well, and of those, 82% said downloading content illegally merits punishment. Among those unfamiliar with the law, only 57% supported punishment for intellectual property violations.
[…]Nevertheless, Microsoft wants to correct teens’ woeful ignorance. To do so, it has turned to Topics Education, a developer of custom curricula, to create a curriculum called “Intellectual Property Rights Education” for middle school and high school teachers. The Microsoft-sponsored curriculum consists of Web-based resources and case-study driven lesson plans that aim to engage students about intellectual property issues.
Vanity Fair lost 12.8 percent at newsstand, part of an overall circ drop of 6.3 percent to 1.2 million—but in the second half of 2006, the magazine published much-sought-after photos of baby Suri, spawn of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
GQ’s sales dropped 9.1 percent to 913,580, after subscribers to the shuttered Cargo were transferred to GQ but opted not to sign up for that title when renewal time came.
I usually place photographers into one of three groupings according to how expensive I think they might be to work with. I’m not talking about the creative fee because that usually stays relatively the same for everyone. The expenses are where the total cost for a shoot can vary wildly.
Low budget photographers have little or no rental and digital fees, no assistant, will drive 500 miles to save a couple bucks on airfare or even make 3 connections and endure several hour layovers, eat cheap fast food, rent compact cars and sleep in dive hotels or sometimes a ditch.
The medium budget photographers have rental and digital fees but are usually flexible and just looking to not get stiffed. They fly coach but it needs to be on specific airlines where they can upgrade to first class or collect miles. They always have an assistant but might be willing to use a local, eat sushi, rent SUV’s and stay in a nice hotel.
The high budget photographers hire a grip truck, have a preferred retoucher on speed dial, they fly first class and always travel with their 1st/digi-tech and need a second from LA or NY and a third could possibly be a local if they absolutely have to. They always have catering on set and then eat room service, rent 2 SUV’s (one for the assistants and gear) and only stay in hotels from a list they approve and sometimes with a specific room request.
How do I know what category you’re in? By looking at your photography.
Many times I won’t even call photographers because I know they’re going to be high budget and the shoot just isn’t worth that kind of money (vagueness by the editor about the number of pages available or even if it will ever run is usually a good clue). Sometimes, I get myself in trouble and the low budget photographer is actually high budget. That can cause a lot of tension as I try and hack away at the expenses.
Some of the high or medium budget photographers will say “hey, why don’t you call me for shoots like that that one you did with *low budget* photographer I’ll be flexible” but once we get down to an estimate the expenses always seem end back up where I didn’t want them to be.
I’m not sure what the cost of a photographers plane ticket has to do with their level of photography but I assume it’s their willingness to say no.
Last Sunday the New York Times Magazine featured a brilliant photo portfolio of actors that appears to be the antidote to the Vanity Fair treatment. Shot entirely by Ryan McGinley, in a spare but cohesive style, it surprisingly holds together nicely for 28 pages. I think their attempt to wrestle the Hollywood photoshoot beast away from its recent hyper-produced overwrought incarnation is a welcome relief.
You may be surprised to see that they got Ryan past the actors handlers given his easily googled (here) colorful past (FYI, if you want to see how you appear to a publicist just google yourself and if you don’t have a section entitled celebrity, forget about it). It’s easier to get unconventional photographers through the gate with the younger actors and a big project like this can act to change the conversation from who the photographer is to who’s in the portfolio. It’s also about trust and Photo Directors like Kathy are usually given a long leash by the publicists for a long history of pairing actors with talented photographers.
Online slideshow of pictures (here), behind the scenes shoot video (here).