Posts by: Grayson Schaffer

Gregory Heisler Interview

Gregory Heisler has spent the last quarter century photographing covers for magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, and Life. In 1994, he was famously blacklisted from the White House press corps for shooting a double exposure of President George H.W. Bush (“The Two Faces of Bush”) for Time’s Person of the Year cover. Since then, Heisler, now 58, has seen photography shift from film to digital and magazines switch from staff shooters to freelancers. Since 2009, he’s been teaching portraiture at the Hallmark Institute of Photography, in Massachusetts. September 30 through October 5, he’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops called The Evocative Portrait. —Grayson Schaffer

Grayson: You’re a professor now?
Gregory: It’s like camera school—vocational school. It’s for people who really want to take pictures for a living. They wouldn’t be there to become a curator. It’s very hands on.

Grayson: Like you’ll be doing at the Santa Fe Workshops.
Gregory: At the workshops there’d be a little more theory and a little more emphasis on the philosophy of it. The classes that I teach are that but the emphasis is more on craft.

Grayson: In your workshop, what kinds of skills will you be working on.
Gregory: It’s kind of a color week, the emphasis is on color, so we’re going to be looking at color from the subjective point of view as opposed to the objective. Not looking for correct color or accurate color, we’re going for color that’s more about feeling. So I would say, a lot of our time is going to be spent looking at ways to express ourselves, particularly in the context of portraiture. To express oneself creatively using color and light.

Grayson: What do you mean by color? Lighting, post production, or just subject matter?
Gregory: The emphasis is more on working with light in ways that are expressive. Not big deal lighting stuff with huge strobes. It could be ways of manipulating ambient light, it could be very simple. There’s sort of a whole spectrum of ways to do that.

Grayson: Where are you in your own work, are you still producing editorial pictures?
Gregory: Yes. Less frequently because I’m doing the teaching gig, but because I’m an artist in residence, I’ve still been able to accept commercial jobs, and what I’ll do is I’ll make little videos on the side that I then bring back to the school and show the students the next day. I did a cover for Sports Illustrated about three or four weeks ago of Lebron James. They called Friday for a shoot on Saturday, and the magazine was on stands by Wednesday. I had videos to show the class on Tuesday. It’s very timely. And the two things really dovetail well together.

Grayson: How has your work evolved over the years. You used to have that iconic, TIME magazine, medium- and large-format format film look. Is that still how you’re producing pictures?
Gregory: I was shooting lots of large format portraits then but I’ve since changed to digital, where you have so much more control. There are millions of things you can do with digital; you can be more spontaneous, and you’re more in control of your color palette. Also, sort of counter-intuitively, I’m now working more simply because of digital. I’m working less with strobes and more with continuous lighting—LED’s, Tungsten, etc. and working to make very simple images. I did a series of images for the National Arts Club in New York, of different authors, and writers, and those are some of my favorite pictures I’ve done in the last several years. They’re very simple, all done on black backgrounds, very quiet. But they’re really beautiful. It’s just a different kind of portrait for me.

Grayson: Interesting, so this Lebron cover, did you shoot that with a 5D or a digitial Hasselblad?
Gregory: That was actually shot with a Hasselblad and strobes, which contradicts everything I just said.

Grayson: It does seem like as you see people using smaller and smaller kits. That Hasselblad is used more for magazine covers than anything else.
Gregory: That’s probably true. It’s such a funky camera. They designed it from the ground up but they designed it in landscape view. It’s a landscape camera. And basically 99 percent of people use it vertically, and it absolutely sucks to use vertically. It doesn’t have a vertical shutter release, the viewfinder’s on its side, and the camera hangs off the tripod. If they were designing a camera from scratch they could have designed a vertical camera, or a revolving back, but they didn’t, which is kind of shocking. I’m sure somebody will come up with something like that sooner or later.

Grayson: When I look through your older work, it seems like people would hire you to do all kinds of images. I can’t point to one specific style and say that it was you who shot it. But these days it seems like art directors are hiring for a really specific look—a schtick. Is that something that’s changed over time?
Gregory: That’s a very accurate perception. These days it might be someone like Platon who might have a very specific look or style for the pictures that he takes and that’s something that people want. Twenty years ago it might have been William Coupon, who was doing things in a very specific way, on a painted background, and all his pictures were the same. That’s always been surprising to me because… well, actually, it’s not surprising. Art directors want a sure thing.

Grayson: Is it as simple as that? Art directors want to play it safe?
Gregory: Yeah, it is. I hate to say it because I think people are risk averse these days more than ever. Before they even pick up the phone, they know what the picture’s going to be. So there’s a certain comfort in that, a certain security that they can lay out the cover of the magazine and kind of know what it’s going to be. They can put one of his other photographs in its place and have an idea what it’s going to be, and they can sell that to their editor. The last thing people want is a surprise, these days. The weirdest thing to me is that magazines would never do this for their writers. They would never hire a writer who writes for another magazine; they want to have their own stable of writers. Newsweek would never hire a TIME writer, and TIME would never hire a Newsweek writer—but they would both hire the same photographer to shoot a cover for them. In fact they want to be in the club in a way. These magazines don’t have enough confidence to have their own style, so they use a borrowed style. That is shocking to me, but your perception is very accurate. It’s a way to be more commercially viable, but to me, that’s not having a style, that’s having a schtick. To me, style is like your fingerprint. Nobody else has it. A schtick is like gloves. You can buy them and put them on. Technique is like that. Anyone can set up their lights in the same way these folks do and come up with largely the same results. Not the same pictures, but largely the same result.

Grayson: When you come to a picture, it’s got to be more difficult if you don’t know, for example, that you’re going to put somebody in a chair and shoot them from ankle level. How did you figure out that you’re going to shoot Lebron over plexiglass in your recent SI shoot.
Gregory: You kind of figure out every picture from scratch, which is not to say I never do pictures that I’ve done before—but I really try not to. Whenever I get an assignment I try to think how to shoot this person for this story in this magazine at this point in time.

Grayson: Do you have a series of questions that you ask yourself? Ways you think about it?
Gregory: Those would be them. If you’re shooting Bruce Springsteen for Rolling Stone, it would be a different picture than shooting Bruce Springsteen for TIME or Fortune. There’s no reason those pictures should all be the same. One story might be talking about his latest release, another might be about his fortune, another might be about how he stays fit. Those are all different images, and that to me is what makes it interesting—trying to figure out how to tailor the image specifically for that person. There’s no reason you’d shoot Mother Theresa and Newt Gingrich the same way.

Grayson: How long does it take you to think of these things?
Gregory: Sometimes day, sometimes not until you’re walking into the room. And even then, sometimes it all goes out the window. A lot of the challenge and the reason for the success of those one-shot photographers is that their pictures almost have to be subject proof. Because you usually only have a few minutes with the person. You never know who’s going to walk into the room—whether they’re going to be friendly, grumpy, sick of photographers, or between meetings.

Grayson: On the opposite side of the spectrum from being subject-proof, do you have photo shoots that fail from time to time?
Gregory: I think they all suck. The picture I was hoping for is never the picture I get, but yeah, I think they fail all the time. Fortunately my clients don’t think they do, so I can continue to have a career. But I just look at them and think, ugh.

Grayson: You’ve had some fairly well known people work for you. Who were some of them?
Gregory: Dan Winters worked with me for awhile about 20 years ago. There’s a guy named Gregor Halenda. We used to joke that he hadn’t earned the “y” yet. He just relocated from Manhattan to Portland. He’s terrific. He does a lot of stuff with still life and motorcycles. There’s a guy named Monte Isom who just worked with me freelance, and he’s doing well. It’s interesting because it takes so much to be a good photographer. Some of it is the industry, some of it’s your personality. People aren’t hiring just a picture, they’re hiring someone they can work with. That plays a big role .

Grayson: Do you ever feel threatened by the success of your former assistants?
Gregory: No I think it’s gratifying. It’s awesome!

Grayson: It’s interesting, because you definitely meet both kinds of photographers—the proprietary kind and the generous kind—but it seems like the guys who are really at the top of their field recognize that they’re doing something that can’t be easily replicated and are willing to share what they know.
Gregory: My brother used to say some people have an “inferiority simplex.” It’s not that they’re under the delusion that they’re inferior; they actually are inferior and they secretly know it. I think that’s what those photographers are like. They’re very jealous.

Grayson: What about your work flow?
Gregory: It varies with the client. For SI, they’re on a very tight deadline, and they want raw send-offs. So they want files FTPd right from the shoot. That stuff goes off, and at that point let go of it. Later, I’ll send them processed jpegs with what I think it should look like, but it’s up to them whether they abide by that or not. In the case of Lebron, it pretty much looked the way it was supposed to look.

Grayson: So when you send them jpegs, you’re monkeying around in Lightroom or Photoshop, burning and dodging to get it where you want?
Gregory: Well yeah, in the case of Lebron, it was kind of done. We had five or ten minutes with him, but we’d spent the better part of the day messing with lighting, so as soon as he walked in it was good to go. We did a global correction with a digital tech on set and then sent them off. Normally I do all my own post work. It’s not that I do it better than anyone else, I just do it my way. I make decisions. People who print at labs are probably far better printers, but they won’t make my decisions mid-process. I don’t want to be out of the loop. I want to be a photographer and do all of it.

Grayson: On Lebron, what were you using?
Gregory: That’s a funny one. The picture was actually set up to photograph him with the NBA trophy, which ended up not getting used. The trophy is a highly polished golden globe—so I wanted a good reflection, which is more like a still life than a portrait. It’s difficult to cast the light. Even an octabank would leave a spot. So I got a 12-foot roll of white seamless paper and pounded the light through it. It’s very diffused soft light, but it’s incredibly inefficient. The light off him was like f4. But on the other side of the seamless it was like 90. The seamless is opaque for all intents and purposes. I don’t remember using gels.

Grayson: Were you an early adopter of digital?
Gregory: No. I went along kicking and screaming. Digital held no romance for me at all. I hated it. I miss my big cameras. The working process, I miss it.

Grayson: But you figured out how to do it?
Gregory: Yeah, I pretty much put a clothespin on my nose and took a plunge. It’s amazing, but it’s weird to be on the far side of a learning curve. And it’s always like that. If you learn how to use a Deardorff, you’ll always know how to use every 8×10 camera. You’re good to go. But if you learn how to use the 5D and then the 5DMKII, each one is a little bit different. They have different focus points. If you want to switch from Aperture to Lightroom, you have to learn how to do all that stuff. It’s a constant learning curve which I hadn’t signed on for. I wanted to grow in terms of making pictures, not adapting to new software and technology. But that’s the game now.

Grayson: Any look, any style, any era, all available at the touch of a button, now.
Gregory: Yeah, there are a lot of decisions to make, creatively. Now, with digital, you can really be the author of your own work. From the beginning to the end of the process, you control everything.

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting. If you want to join Gregory in Santa Fe for “The Evocative Portrait” go (here).

Andrew Southam – The Fashion Portrait

- - Workshops

Known for a mix of celebrity and lifestyle portraiture, Australian Andrew Southam maintains a very honest and revealing blog for a working photographer. July 22-27, he’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops called “The Fashion Portrait. Among the techniques he uses to keep his work fresh, Southam regularly shoots on the streets of his adopted home of Los Angeles. He treats the exercise as a kind of sketch book to look for new ideas that he might try to recreate on a set when there’s no time for experimentation. Grayson Schaffer spoke with Southam about his upcoming workshop and how he keeps searching to reinvent himself.

Grayson: Have you fully embraced American culture? I think it’s sort of ironic that some of the best work of an Australian photographer is quintessential Americana.
Andrew: In Australia we’re sort of colonized by American popular culture—film and television. So if you’re a moderately sensitive kid you’re absorbing all of these American notions of masculinity, beauty, and heroism. It’s all pretty profound if you’re destined to be a photographer. Then I married an American girl. I have an American son who’s eight, so I’m deep into the sports world with him. I never played basketball as a kid, but I’m at all of his games and practices.

Grayson: With your workshop, are you focusing on portraiture or this kind of lifestyle? Is that seamless for you?
Andrew: Here’s how a I came up with that. They asked me if I would teach a fashion workshop, and I’ve always felt like a little bit of an imposter in that world—fashion. Fashion photography is a narrow cul de sac. If you’re going to be serious about it, I think you need to live in NY or Paris and eat, drink, and sleep it. I was never that fascinated by it. I began as a portrait photographer in Australia, and it was tough to make a living, because when you’re assigned a portrait you might get one or two pages. So I kind of drifted into fashion as a parallel career because then could get an eight-to-ten page story and the cover. Then the celebrity culture sort of blew up and that felt like a really natural place for me because I was always more interested in the person than the clothes . But you still have to have hair and makeup and a stylist, and you have to know something about how it all fits together. So when Santa Fe asked me to do a fashion workshop I had to explain to them that I really honestly wasn’t a pure fashion photographer but that I would feel comfortable teaching something called A Fashion Portrait, which is largely what I do. They’re portraits that have some sort of fashion knowhow with elements of hair and makeup. The clothes matter a lot in those pictures. That’s how I came to that. It felt like that was something I could teach and something I knew about.

Grayson: Is the styling part of the course
Andrew: Yeah, they get a local guy who’s great and he works really hard for us. With a dozen people in the course, that’s a lot of girls to do hair and makeup on. He worked in New York and Paris before he kind of drifted out to Santa Fe. It’s great for people doing the workshop to use talented stylists. Even if they’re not destined to become professionals they will leave the workshop knowing more than they would.

Grayson: About how a photograph is really a collaboration among everyone who’s on set?
Andrew: Yeah that American Dream series I did was with a stylist named Kelly Hill who worked for J. Crew and was a creative director for a long time. Just as a presence on the set, a stylist will have so many good ideas. There were shots in that series that she saw and I didn’t. Her contribution was irreplaceable on that particular project.

Grayson: Do you have any strong opinions on whether the styling should be sort of obvious or subtle?
Andrew: Well I think it really matters what your picture is and what you’re doing. For me it has to be subtle. If there’s any element of style in the photograph that announces itself overtly, then the photograph fails. If you think, Look at that hair or that crazy lighting, then, to me, that sort of defeats the image which is meant to be more of a feeling. In that American Dream series it sort of accrues picture by picture and adds up to something. But it’s never about, “Wow those jeans are so great on him.”

Grayson: Your first instinct is that it all happened naturally even though it was produced?
Andrew: Totally. That was the lovely thing about doing that project. We did three long days away from home. There’s something to be said about doing things where people are not racing back to their offices and their computers. Checking in with their agent every five minutes. My ambition now is to photograph people in what appears to be their lives and to try and make it as utterly real as I can.

Grayson: When APE spoke with you earlier, you were in the midst of a mid-career crisis and this American Dream project was your escape. Is this still what you’re pursuing?
Andrew: It’s shown me the way forward. It did get me some great work and it got me the biggest ad jobs I’ve ever done. I’m on my fifth shoot for Ugg Boots. (I shoot their men’s campaign.) They let me do my thing, and they really want it. They’ve allowed me to work in the capacity of a creative director, which nobody had ever let me do before. Obviously, I’d done that on my own shoots, but no one had ever paid me to conceive the shoot from the ground up. So now when I shoot I have that as a gold standard. Creativity is really is a muscle, and you have to keep working at it. I’d like it to be second nature but it’s still a bit like going to the gym when I leave the house with my camera.

Grayson: How important is the equipment for your work?
Andrew: I can only speak for the work I do. But I think it’s really about getting out there and taking photographs and deepening my understanding. Light, the way people appear—you need to practice that aside from work. Because when you’re on a set for real, you’re dealing with all these other things like the clock, a publicist, the client, hair and makeup, a stylist, and a lunch that’s late. But I went downtown the other day and took a bunch of street photographs. It’s like a notebook to me now: A guy looking over his shoulder in an interesting way.

Grayson: So you’re thinking, “Maybe that’s a look I want to try and recreate on a set at some point?”
Andrew: Absolutely. It’s incredible how the stuff that I find on the street is working its way more and more often into my job. I’m on this campaign to change my approach. If you and I were to go out now and take pictures of each other, it should be pretty effortless and fun. I want to get that feeling into my work. Otherwise it can become worklike. I want it to be like taking a picture of a friend, and I want to be unburdened by questions like, What does this magazine want? Who else shoots for them? What do they like?

Grayson: You mentioned that you’re trying to change the way you shoot. There aren’t many people in your position—well established—who are really shaking things up.
Andrew: Maybe shaking things up is too strong. I’m trying to get better at the things you saw in American Dream. That project was wonderful thing—almost in a way that makes it intimidating to go into the next one. In terms of changing: yes I am deep into my career—27 years—and I’ve found a groove. But I think I got so deep into the groove that it became frustrating and felt like I was doing less than I was capable of.

Grayson: The difference between a groove and a rut?
Andrew: Yes, well said.

Grayson: Can you explain a bit about American Dreams?
Andrew: It was me in that state of frustration dreaming up an assignment that I would love someone to assign me. So in the absence of getting the job that you wish someone would give you, you need to assign yourself. You have to be your first client. I know that’s tough and expensive and time consuming, but there are ways of doing it. You can cut corners. Enthusiasm is an infectious thing.

Grayson: So is that what you did, you leaned on people who you knew from more traditional shoots?
Andrew: The stylist from that shoot was someone I had a long friendship with. So I leaned on her, and she helped me find the talent, and together we found that car. The only other person on that shoot was my tech. I knew I’d be shooting a lot of images, so I wanted to have someone there making sure everything was safe. I paid him something, but certainly not his full rate. And it was a big adventure. The actors didn’t get paid anything; they did it for the pictures.

Grayson: How would you say that project helped you improve? Maybe tuning up your autopilot for when the rest of your brain power is consumed by working on set?
Andrew: Yeah and that autopilot thing, that’s what I’m trying to work towards. An effortless flow. And it’s a life’s work. You achieve it momentarily and then extraneous circumstances will get in the way. But once you know what that feels like, it’s definitely something to aspire to or conspire to make happen.

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting. If you want to join Andrew in Santa Fe for “The Fashion Portrait” go (here).

Chris Buck – The Surprising Portrait

Known for his humor and pitch-perfect execution, Chris Buck is go-to photographer for any magazine that’s trying to illustrate an abstract concept. Ahead of Buck’s Santa Fe workshop, the first week of July, Grayson Schaffer interviewed the 48-year-old New York–based photographer on the subject of creativity and, specifically, how Buck has so damn much of it.

Grayson Schaffer: What are you working on right now?

Chris Buck: We’ll I’m actually not sure how to answer that question. I’ve got a couple of editorial things. Just finished shooting and now I’m preparing for another. One for GQ, and I’m trying to shoot for The Guardian weekend magazine. I’ve got a book coming out in the fall so I’m prepping for the release of that.

GS: Is that top secret?

CB: No, it’s a series of portraits of celebrities in which they’re not visible. Environmental portraits. The celebrities are hiding in the environment.

GS: Very cool. You’re sort of known for having a never ending stream of original concepts in addition to great lighting and execution. How do you come up with this stuff?

CB: You know, I guess I always have my eyes open. To some extent anyone who does interesting work it feels like there are interesting things that could be done or should be done that aren’t. Eighty percent of our culture out there is either not interesting or annoying to you. The other 20 is actually kind of interesting. But even within that you always feel like there are interesting things that aren’t being done. I think creative people kind of feel like they want to fill that void.

GS: So your creativity comes from noticing absences?

CB: Just trying to makes things more interesting where they may be underachieved. I’m sure people look at my work and feel that way. Sometimes they achieve great things with my work and other times they don’t. But the story still needs to run. What I’m striving for is to do something that’s a little new and exciting and maybe a little magical.

GS: But you also have a sort of humorous, highly irreverent sort of thing going on too—the Ken dolls for instance. Are you naturally irreverent?

CB: You know I never really intended to make pictures that would be perceived as being funny. I’m the kind of person where if I see a joke, I can’t help but put it in there. The humor ends up being subtle because they aren’t gag photos. Recently a person described my work as dead serious but totally funny at the same time. The work is clearly serious in intent and visually ’m trying to execute in a way that tells the story and is visual at the same time but it’s almost sort of like when you’re a young man and you’re not athletic, you sort of have to be funny if you want someone to pay attention to you. I’m just translating my juvenile class clown thing into my photograph. It was never intentional, I just can’t resist putting in a little humor.

GS: When most people try and execute a humorous photo, it’s usually too obvious and over the top and, as a result, fails. You seem to hit the right balance every time.

CB: Well thanks. I think it’s probably because humor isn’t the first aim. To make something a little odd and interesting. If humor can be slipped in, than it works. But many of my photos, I don’t feel like there’s humor in them at all. Like the series of hidden portraits, people are going to think those are really funny. It’s great, it’s certainly the most subtle humor ever. It’s like when a comedian comes on stage and people start laughing because they associate them with their previous work.

GS: For people who are going to come to your workshop, I would argue that you can’t teach that sort of spontaneity and creativity. What do you think?

CB: It is a portrait class, that’s the area I’m most interested in. And it’s called “The Surprising Portrait,” but my definition of surprising is not as narrow as one might imagine. I’m not looking for people to shoot more like me. The aim is to help them make portraits that will be surprising for their audience in whatever way that might be. It’s still looking to nudge them a bit and do something a little more adventurous. To engage with their subject. I’m very much about the finished picture and not about the process. Interacting with your subject is important but only insofar as it leads to better portraits. Different people do that in different ways. I’ve met great photographers who deal with their subjects by shooting them very differently than I do and they get great portraits. But there are certain things that lead to better portraits fairly consistently.

GS: Are you one of those light, funny, chatty guys?

CB: I think I vary it up. Sometimes I’m chatty, sometimes I’m quiet. But they’re all going to the same end. I’m looking to set my subject up in a way that gets the reaction I want or need from that particular session. Sometimes it’s relaxed and comfortable, sometimes it’s bossy and manipulative. Sometimes I want them to be uncomfortable. It depends on what it is. Sometimes I’m looking to establish that this is my shoot and I’m in charge. When I was initially shooting, as a young photographer, I was doing that, but it was less self-conscious. I have an end goal of this kind of picture and I’ll do whatever I have to to get there. It was sort of instinctual. But now I think it’s a little more self-conscious, though there is certainly still an intuitive aspect. The subjects are largely ready to go on the ride. I had my portrait taken yesterday by a former intern, and I recognize the fact that it’s their job to put me in the place they need to get the shot they want. Particularly with celebrities I think people often look the the celebrity to direct the shoot and that’s a very difficult road to go down. Most of them just want to be told what to do. They’re the passenger and as a photographer, you’re the driver.

GS: In your class, will you cover any of the technical side?

CB: I’m really focused on the aim of the picture. For me, I do a lot of post work, but the look is still natural. Sometimes I’ll shoot with natural light and do detailed plates and put the plates together in post, so the picture will look photojournalistic, but it will actually have been put together with a number of plates. The experience I want for the audience is largely pretty traditional and natural, but I’m not shy about using technology in the execution or in post to achieve the experience for my audience as I want it. The same thing for many of the photographers taking my class. I don’t have any pretense that the way I do it is “the way.” As long as the finished work is engaging for the audience. I never want the technical to upstage the work. For instance, Cindy Sherman’s work is very technical but it doesn’t get in the way of the work.

GS: Who should take your class?

CB: People who know they’re on to a good thing but are having a hard time closing the deal. It’s for people who have that vision and they want that vision on the page through their images.

To join Chris at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for “The Surprising Portrait” go (here).

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting.

Kurt Markus – The Portrait: Finding Your Voice

Montana-based photographer Kurt Markus has spent the last half-century photographing for magazines like Vanity Fair, GQ, and Outside. Though he’s shot fashion, sports, and celebrities, he’s probably best known for his iconic black-and-white photos of Cowboys and scenes from the American West. He’ll be teaching a course at the Santa Fe workshops, starting June 24, called The Portrait: Finding Your Voice. He spoke with Grayson Schaffer from the set of a Vogue Hommes shoot in Georgia.

Grayson Schaffer: What are you shooting today?

Kurt Markus: A cool young guy named Sean O’pry. I guess you could call him the current face of the moment. The idea of the shoot is to come back to his hometown, sort of like when Dennis Stock went to James Dean’s hometown’ in Indiana. I’m photographing him in the place where he grew up— a little town about 15 miles outside of Atlanta.

GS: All natural light?

KM: I bring lights every once in a while and do my best never to open the case. I consider it a retreat, the last card you want to put on the table. I just feel so much more inspired by the light that’s out there, if you just look and if you’re flexible enough to move around. I’m going to be shooting in this house tomorrow. I’ve got a little set up that I call the ACME lighting kit. It’s something straight out of a Road Runner cartoon. It’s like a hardware floodlight with a daylight bulb and a stand. That’s my idea of lighting.

GS: You can get away with that?

KM: I’ve paid my dues. Believe it or not, when people ask me to do pictures for them, I think they just assume that’s what I do. It’s kind of great. I’ve entered into a zone that I think probably some photographers wouldn’t mind being in. And since I’ve got this pass, I’m using it.

GS: People assume you need 2.1 gigawatts of electricity and a room full of octobanks. In my mind, you’re an exception to the rule. A lot of the better known people use a lot of toys.

KM: There’s been a trend there, really, since Annie Leibovitz brought in auxiliary light during the daytime. Her look became so popular that it became the thing to chase if you were a photographer. I think at a certain point that sort of lighting took over and if you couldn’t do it, you weren’t going to get hired. Now, it’s a difficult situation to retreat from if you want pizzaz because that kind of light made color beautiful.

GS: No matter what the natural light was doing, you had a sure thing.

KM: It just made color beautiful because of the photographer’s control of the light. You could push it into a certain tonal range. And the warmth of the light no matter what the natural light was like at your location. But that’s never been my kind of idea of a portrait, so I was never tempted to do it. I feel like I’ve kind of ridden out the storm. And now I’m doing the best work of my life. Something happens over time that you can’t exchange for the moment. And that’s just loving the person that you’re photographing—not spiritually, but you have to really be into that person because the act of doing a portrait is truly collaborative. And that collaboration may be very subtle, but it’s there. There was a time when I never wanted to do a workshop again. It exhausted me. The digital age was really kicking in, and I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer a beginning photographer because everyone wanted to know about histograms and pixels and I had no language, no experience for that. So I said, let’s not do this again. But I got talked into it again last year. What I found was that no one in the workshop really cared if it was digital or not, and figured “OK, I can do this. I’ve got something to say and it’s worth saying.” I’m believer in workshops. It’s a very energizing and valuable experience that you can’t really get any other way. You go home and sift through the wreckage of the week and pick and choose. And it’s good to know there are others out there trying to be the best photographers they can be.

GS: Your work really is more so about the interaction and the moments and the gestures, rather than the technology. Do you think that sort of knowledge is transferable?

KM: Well again, I don’t want to psychoanalyze this whole thing, but if you think that you can make every picture just based on the technique, like “I want to be Irving Penn so if I do everything just based on Irving Penn’s technique I can do Irving Penn’s pictures,” you’re badly mistaken. It’s a lesson to learn, because you see where he uses light, you know what kind of film he uses and you think you can crack the nut by cracking his nut, but it never really works. That may be frustrating but for some people it’s a revelation that “hey, I’m unique, I do my own pictures.” That’s a difficult lesson to swallow, and I think most of us chase other people’s pictures.

GS: Is that something you did early on? I know you’re self taught. Did you start by trying to emulate other people and over time find your own thing?

KM: I think it’s unavoidable. You, as a writer, are influenced by what you’ve read, in certain cadences and word choices. You may pick up the energy from Hemingway or Cormac MccArthy (if you want to drop some punctuation). And photography is like that too. You get some juice from somebody by, for me, Andre Kertesz, a Hungarian photographer who’s not that well known, but he did these really light, lyrical pictures that were very inspiring to me. Just the idea of being lighthanded that I get from Kertesz that I can actually use. I can’t think of setting up a person to pose for Satiric Dancer, which is one of his photos. I would never want to duplicate that. The title of the workshop I’m doing is “Finding Your Voice,” but it’s actually “finding yourself” and learning to express yourself through your work. Trying to figure out what that is.

GS: What actually is going on in terms of how you run your workshops and how you teach ?

KM: The digital era has really helped to make a teaching process out of it. The first workshop I did, they had film. We had to process it, look at contact sheets, it was labor intensive and by the time you were done, you’d kind of missed the moment. My approach to “Finding Your Voice” is to break down the portrait into subcategories. For instance, the Environmental Portrait. I like the idea that you always have a backstop, something to fall back on. Let’s say you’re photographing artists. Someone like Arnold Newman, who photographed artists, is a really good person to look at. His photographs are very architectural, they’re about shape and design and that’s they key. It’s not about a moment, it’s about a moment made. Arnold Newman organizing a photo to make a very strong statement. There’s that sort of picture making and then there’s picture making in a studio environment where you have to light it yourself. So I’ve got examples of different photographers and how they approach the portrait. Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe which is an intimate relationship, and that’s going to affect the portrait too. And then we have assignments like “make an environmental portrait.” It can be hard to move people off center because we can’t help ourselves. We get in a groove and fall back on what we think works. I really try to limber someone up to take chances. A portrait is an extension of every kind of picture ever made, because in a way, even a landscape is a portrait. It’s a portrait of the photographer.

GS: What about the technical side and process? are you still shooting film, are you shooting digital? What’s your process look like?

KM: I shoot film. I don’t think I could do work that I really believe in with the feel and the look that I want if I was shooting digitally. There’s a certain resistance that I’ve got. But the light coming through a 6×7 Pentax lens hitting on film, is something digital can’t duplicate—and I love the look of it. Then I’ll scan the negative and send the file to someone, they can use it in a publication. It’s pretty rare that I try and make prints anymore because they seem to get in the way. But for I picture that I really love, there’s really no substitute for going into a darkroom.

GS: And you do some of your own printing?

KM: I do all my own printing. At one point I had people helping me, but when I go into a darkroom, it’s my print. I don’t really want people helping me. I don’t retouch. I don’t try and manipulate the image into something I like afterward. 6×7 is a very forgiving medium. Black and white film, these lenses, a slow shutter speed. I’ll photograph women and a lot of time they look flawless, but real. When you’ve had a great experience photographing someone, you don’t want anything to get in the way of someone thinking that’s great looking person.

GS: So if someone brings a film camera to your workshop, is there a way to accommodate that?

KM: Oh I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s an issue, I don’t think anyone is shooting film at a workshop. But I’m teaching portrait making not technique. Everything looks good on a monitor, not everything looks good in print. But if you’re going to live with your photograph it can’t just be a screensaver.

To join Kurt at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for “The Portrait: Finding Your Voice” go (here).

Note: We’ve partnered with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops to interview several of their instructors for upcoming workshops that we find interesting.

Director Jesse Rosten On His Fotoshop by Adobé Video

- - Social Media, Video

by Grayson Schaffer

If you need proof of the career-building power of social media, look no further than Jesse Rosten. The 31-year-old TV-commercial director lives in the small, Northern–California town of Redding and has spent the last eight years producing spots for local clients like casinos and colonoscopy clinics. Then last month Rosten uploaded a fake advertisement for a non-existent beauty product called Fotoshop by Adobé. The two-minute clip is a commentary on the beauty and magazine industries’ reliance on retouching. Launched with a tweet and a Facebook post, Rosten’s video quickly racked up more than 5 million views between Vimeo and YouTube and made the rounds on the media industry websites. Grayson Schaffer spoke Rosten about what went into this production and what Rosten thinks he got out of it.

Grayson: What sparked the idea for this clip?
Jesse: I was watching an infomercial for some beauty products with some “before” and “after” photos and it just looked like the “after” shots had been retouched. I thought I should do a commercial for Photoshop because it seems like that’s all the beauty industry uses anymore. It’s that whole photographers’ refrain, “Fix it in post.”

Grayson: There was some serious production that went into your project. How did you pull it together and fund it?
Jesse: I’m a commercial director, but I’d never worked in this particular genre before—fashion and beauty. Everyone involved volunteered. We had two make-up artists, a hair person, and four production people. The camera lenses were all donated, and I’ve got some of my own lighting gear. The biggest out-of-pocket cost was buying food for everyone on the day of the shoot. It wasn’t super expensive; it just took a lot of labor.

Grayson: How did you convince everyone to get on board with this?
Jesse: The first thing I did was write a script and put together a storyboard. I’ve worked with lots of these people on other paying gigs so they’re always up for a good time. The crew had been in other viral videos I’ve done, so at this point they’re sort of familiar with my crazy ideas.

Grayson: What were you hoping to get out of this?
Jesse: I just hoped people would find it funny—a snarky message directed at the beauty industry and Photoshop users at large. But I also realized that the more this looks like a real commercial, the funnier it’s going to be. So while it is a satire, and there are elements of parody, the funniest thing about it is that it’s all true.

Grayson: Now that it’s blown up and has been seen by several million people, what has it done for your business?
Jesse: Yeah, my inbox has been a mess—a lot of inquiries and interest. I haven’t turned it into any paying gigs yet, but now I feel like I can justify putting time and resources into this. On the one hand, this project was something I wanted to do to stretch myself as a filmmaker, but it has also been good marketing for my work.

Grayson: You said that you had done some other viral videos?
Jesse: Two years ago, I did a video called iPad Plus Velcro which had a little bit of success. Apple actually picked it up, which is unique because they usually have a very specific brand aesthetic. And then this same crew helped me produce another video called iPad Photoshoot, where we took nine iPads and did a shoot using the iPads as a light source.

Grayson: Were you able to get Apple to fund the second video?
Jesse: No, I tried to milk it, but I never heard back.

Grayson: Do you feel like you’ve cracked the code for what it takes to make a viral video?
JR: Yes and no. I don’t think I’ve cracked the code, because at the end of the day you really don’t know when something is going to go viral: You don’t create a viral video; you create a video and then it goes viral. But at the same time with this Photoshop thing, I knew that it was a current topic and that its novelty gave it serious viral potential. But I never expected it to get as big as it did as fast as it did. In less than 24 hours, it had half-a-million views and that was before it had been written up on any major blogs.

Grayson: Was that like a mainlined shot of adrenaline?
Jesse: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sitting in front of the computer hitting the refresh button and watching the view count go up every ten minutes. It’s nice to know that something you created is resonating with people.

Grayson: What is your specific line of work?
Jesse: The paying gigs are commercial direction. I work with agencies and sometimes directly with clients to direct, shoot, and edit commercials. I’m also trying to break into narrative filmmaking?

Grayson: Anyone cool you’ve worked for in the past?
Jesse: Honestly, I’m not a big-name-brand director. I’m self-taught and self-employed. It started with local car commercials eight years ago, and I’ve slowly worked my way up to hospitals and casinos and government-type jobs. In the last two years I’ve focused more on working with agencies that have their own client lists.

Grayson: Surely clients understand what a rare thing it is for a director to generate five million views without a budget? The YouTube versions of most SuperBowl ads don’t rack up those kinds of numbers.
Jesse: Well that’s always been my thing because I haven’t had a lot of resources. One of the things I like most about filmmaking is creative problem solving—whether that’s coming up with a creative story or coming up with a creative way to make due with few resources. Right now I feel like I can do anything with a camera and a few worklights.

Grayson: So what’s your advice to people who are where you were eight or nine years ago. Can social media kick open the door?
Jesse: I think so. Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist when I started. But my advice would be just to continue to create. There’s really no magic formula for this sort of thing, it’s just a lot of hard work. Your first project is probably going to suck, but every time you take on something new and push yourself a little further you learn something. Eventually you’ll start creating work that you’re proud of.

The Impact Of Conservation Photography – Garth Lenz

- - Photographers

by Grayson Schaffer

On January 18 the Obama administration blocked the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would’ve moved bitumen and crude oil from the tar sands region of northern Alberta to refineries in Illinois, Nebraska, and eventually the Texas Gulf Coast. The pipeline’s advocates claim that it would create 20,000 new jobs and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. Its critics claim that employment figure is closer to 3,000 temporary workers and that the pipeline would represent a serious environmental disaster even if it never ruptured or caused a spill; getting the oil out of the ground, they argue, is already tearing up Canada’s boreal forest and would massively contribute to climate change. One thing that’s not discussed in the debate is the role photography has played in shaping the battle lines. Chances are, if you’ve seen photos of the mining operations in the tar sands region, they were shot by Canadian photographer Garth Lenz. Grayson Schaffer recently spoke with the 54-year-old Victoria, British Columbia–based shooter about his work.

Grayson: You get to chalk up last month’s decision as a win, right?
Garth: It was a great win. Of course, the Republicans can and will reapply at a later date, but one has to think that this is a very positive step. The same reasons that make the pipeline a bad idea now are going to make it a bad idea in the future—even if it goes around the Ogallala Aquifer [under America’s heartland]. There will always be a real risk of a breach in that pipeline. The bitumen contained in the tar sands crude pumped through these pipelines is far more corrosive than petroleum, so the chance of a leak is even worse. Plus, the pipeline would completely undercut initiatives for Americans to be pursuing their own sustainable energy sources.

Grayson: What exactly is the environmental movement fighting against? Is it the pipeline, specifically, or is the fact that this oil gets burned at all?
Garth: Well I think that depends on who’s doing the fighting. There are obviously a number of groups whose primary concern is the risk of a pipeline rupture. And then there are a lot of other people who look at these pipelines as the linchpin for expansion of the dirtiest most carbon-intensive fossil fuel on the planet. And the creation of that fossil fuel is predicated on the destruction of the boreal landscape under which it’s found. That part of Canada holds a significant portion of boreal forest, the most concentrated terrestrial carbon sink on the planet. In terms of climate change, it’s a double whammy. This is why NASA climatologist James Hansen feels that it is “essentially game over” in terms of maintaining a stable climate if the Tar Sands are developed, and environmental writer Bill McKibben refers to the Keystone pipeline as “a 1700 mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

Grayson: Explain how you think your photographs may have affected this process.
Garth: People hear so many arguments back and forth, and it can become extremely confusing. I think there is a real honesty in actually seeing the physical impact of what a development project like this means on the ground. When you’re actually there and you see the scale of impact, you really realize that we’re changing the earth in a way that has never been done on this kind of scale. I think the photography brings that home and will compel people to do their own research into the matter and form their own opinions. I think photography has the potential to convince people that this is, in fact, a huge issue and worthy of their attention.

Grayson: In writing, everybody has an opinion, even if they try to present an objective version of a set of events. When you shoot the tar sands, are you thinking about how to cast each photograph in a light that supports your point of view? Is photography inherently more honest than writing?
Garth: I don’t know that I’m going to say to a writer that photography is inherently more honest than writing, though I imagine you’re a photographer as well. Especially in the digital age the honesty of photography is being questioned, but I try to make my photographs as honest a representation of what’s really there as possible. Photographs are compelling, they get people’s attention. I think that honesty is important.

Grayson: So how do you stay honest but still advocate for your cause?
Garth: I am definitely not trying to photograph with any particular agenda, that usually results in bad photography and bad journalism. When I am photographing, I am not trying to advocate for any particular cause. Of course I care about these issues but my work is really driven by an interest in the issue and its potential for producing the kind of aesthetic imagery I respond to, and in trying to tell a story. When I am in the field, my aesthetic perspective really kicks in and is the overwhelming influence in the photographs I produce. When you’re shooting from a plane, everything is happening so fast that you’re working on instinct and intuition. I’m really just trying to make a strong, powerful, beautiful image. There are images in my exhibit for which I have been criticized for making the Tar Sands look too beautiful. Those are some of the images that I am most proud of. I like the idea of challenging peoples preconceived ideas about what these landscapes “ought to look like.” The same exhibit also has a large print of some of the work done on producing dry tailings, which has the potential to have a very positive impact on that aspect of the Tar Sands’ impacts. Some people might prefer that I not show an image that shows some of the efforts being made to try and reduce the impacts but I think it is an interesting image and an important part of the story. At the same time, some of the images are pretty graphic and challenging. The overriding influence in producing these images and including them in my exhibit was that I found them interesting and compelling visually. I’m not really thinking, “Oh, if I frame a picture this way, people are going to think that.” I am really not thinking about how other people are going to respond the them, it is really more about how I am responding to the subject matter in the moment. My overall approach is pretty intuitive. Whether I’m on the ground or in the air, my aesthetic desires take over. I care about these issues a lot and that’s one of the motivating factors in photographing these kinds of industrial landscapes. But the fact is, I find the subject matter incredibly arresting and powerful, just on its own merit. And I think even if it weren’t for the fact that these are important issues that I feel compelled to communicate, I would still find this subject matter fascinating.

Grayson: Explain what the International League of Conservation Photographers does.
GL: The ILCP was created in 2005 to bring together the best practitioners of this kind of photography. The idea is that if we work together as a network, the impact of our actions would be a lot stronger. The ILCP helps photographers more effectively use their work to support environmental causes and organizations. They’re trying to raise the credibility, the standards, and the public awareness for this kind of work.

Grayson: Awareness? You mean that Keystone isn’t just an abstract talking point for talk radio hosts to bat around?
GL: Yeah, that it’s real, and that the photographers who are covering these issues are doing so with a very high code of ethics and a sense of integrity to communicate an honest representation of the threats.

Grayson: How do you pay for these projects? Flight time is not cheap. Then there’s your time, your equipment… How does a photographer get funding to do what is essentially activism?
Garth: For me, it comes from a variety of sources: fine art print sales, editorial assignments, stock sales, etc. I’ve been doing commissions for NGOs, fundraising mostly through folks who have supported my work over the years. Sometimes you have to be creative. My first work on the tar sands was in 2005 as part of a very large project that I conceived and completed for a coalition of groups working on boreal issues. In 2010 I made three trips to the area, mostly shooting stills for the documentary The Tipping Point. The producers helped cover the cost and air time, but I retained all copyright, which allowed me to produce a huge amount of material. I think I’ve been fortunate in that I recognized early on what a big issue the tar sands development was going to become.

Grayson: What’s the takeaway here for a photographer who wants to get into advocacy? And what effect can you actually have?
Garth: I think photographers can have a huge effect. Photography is one of the most powerful ways we can communicate both the fragility of the environment and the threats that unchecked industrial development present to it. That’s one of the reasons why, in all of my projects, I never just show the industrial landscape. You also have to show what that landscape was like before it became industrialized. The hope is to make people realize how important it is to protect the places that haven’t yet been impacted. The takeaway for photographers is that you have to really care about these issues. There’s not a huge amount of compensation. You have to be doing it for the right reasons because it’s a long haul.

William Hereford — Finding Success With Sponsored Videos

- - Video

by Grayson Schaffer

For New York–based William Hereford, 27, the former assistant of Chris Craymer, the breakthrough came two years ago with a short video called “Cooking Dinner”. Hereford calls the three-and-a-half minute clip “a technical test, an attempt to shoot video that acts like a still photograph.” He overlaid typography—the recipe instructions for roasted duck—onto the scenes so that the overall effect is sort of like a moving cookbook. The clip was viewed more than 30,000 times and led Hereford into the fuzzy and exploding world of advertorial—sponsored videos that give the viewer something both beautiful and useful but ultimately exist because they’ve got product to move.

GRAYSON: Explain the evolution of your business.
WILLIAM: After “Cooking Dinner,” the CEO of Meyer Corporation called my cell phone and left a message. That was unique; it was a sign of the developing market for this kind of thing. They said, “We really like this but if we just turn it into a commercial, it’ll never get as much attention as your original piece.” I told them I thought we should create content that looks like it was “sponsored by” and not “created for.” Now I throw those words around all the time when I meet with clients. If you want to succeed on the Web, the content needs to look as though it is sponsored content and not content that you created to advertise your specific product. Soft sell, soft sell, soft sell.

Or else make the hard sell. Everything in between is just crap. Some clients call and say, “We don’t want to push the product too hard, but we want to make sure it’s about the product.” And I always say, No, No, if you want to do this, either don’t be ashamed that you’re selling something (like these Old Spice commercials that are going around) or else produce something that looks editorial. And that’s what Anolon wanted. We shot 18 videos for them. The idea was just to show the product being used and shoot something that’s really beautiful to drive traffic to their site. I thought it would be great if we could let each consumer walk away with a service element—a recipe (See the videos here.).

GRAYSON: So what did Anolon do with videos?
WILLIAM: They used them as sponsored content on Saveur’s website [of which Hereford is also a contributor]. If readers of a magazine’s website like the content I’ve created, they’re also going to like the content I’ve created for Anolon. It makes sense for Anolon to advertise with Saveur; it makes sense for Saveur to pursue Anolon. That coupling allows us to have bigger budgets and create better content. I don’t think this was possible before Web videos.

GRAYSON: Where’s the market for this stuff?
WILLIAM: I recently went to a Women’s Wear Daily conference, and I was the only photographer there. It was all marketing people. There was a price to get in, so it was a big investment for me. I thought it was so perfect. I met someone who asked why I was there. I said, Last year 80 percent of my income came from advertorial.

GRAYSON: How do you price this stuff? Who’s to say what it’s worth?
WILLIAM: It’s still the wild West. The print industry has a pretty good structure, but well-produced video just costs more to make. You can’t shoot it with a still camera wrapped around your shoulder and hope that it looks great. Everyone is scrambling. You’ve got to create these pairings between products and editorial in order to get a budget that allows you to do it right.

Christopher Anderson- Return of the Staff Photographer

by Grayson Schaffer

On Tuesday, New York Magazine announced that it had signed longtime contributor and well-known photojournalist Christopher Anderson as the weekly magazine’s first-ever “photographer-in-residence.” In a statement released to the British Journal of Photography, New York said the 41-year-old Brooklyn-based shooter would tackle a “broad array of subjects in a full range of styles, from photojournalism to portraiture to conceptual work.” Anderson will now work exclusively for New York, at least where print magazines are concerned. The odd thing, here, is that the era of the staff photographer was supposed to have ended when National Geographic gradually moved away from the practice. We called Anderson to try and make sense of the sudden turn of events.

Grayson: Congrats. We thought the staff photographer position had gone the way of the film camera, what happened?
Christopher: I’ve had a close collaboration with [photography director] Jody Quon and [editor] Adam Moss for quite some time. They came to me and asked if I would consider taking this kind of position as an experiment—a way to reaffirm the magazine’s commitment to exciting photography. It’s a great opportunity.

Grayson: What are the specifics of the arrangement that you can share?
Christopher: The amount of time is, as of yet, undetermined. We’re going to see how it goes for at least a year.

Grayson: As much as you can produce for them? Are you like an all-you-can-eat buffet of photography?
Christopher: Well this is the real world, and of course they’re going to want to use me as much as they can. It is, in that sense, an all-you-can-eat buffet. But I don’t think that was the point. The idea wasn’t to say “Let’s put him on staff so we can use him up as much as we can.” The point was to have my undivided attention. We want to see if working together in a concentrated way like this can produce some interesting work over time.

Grayson: So it looks more like a professor’s chair than a hamster wheel.
Christopher: Right. They have my undivided attention, but I also have theirs. As a freelance photographer, you spend a lot of time trying to drum up business—shooting just to eat. Now I feel like I can focus on the creative side. I genuinely like working with that magazine, and I love the current projects they’re presenting me with. You might think your hands would be tied and you’re owned by them, but in a weird way I feel much freer.

Grayson: Why do you think staff jobs went away in the first place?
Christopher: There were never many to begin with, though there were some contracts. I used to be on contract at Newsweek. But the implosion of the publishing industry in general, and the photography industry specifically, led to the end of that practice. In the end, it’s cheaper for magazines to use freelancers. It makes economic sense.

Grayson: So how does this arrangement make economic sense?
Christopher: I don’t know that it does. It’s kind of an experiment. But my sense is it’s not about economics. It’s hard to put an exact price on the value of this kind of collaboration. This is more about a creative partnership. I think that they’ve looked at models of how this is done before, particularly by the New Yorker. That magazine has had a long tradition of staff photographers over the years: Richard Avedon, Gilles Peress… and I think this is sort of that New Yorker model where it’s about letting my identity stay independent, even though I’ll be attached to the magazine.

Grayson: They’ll probably end up with some great work to show for it.
Christopher: I hope that that will be true. I also hope that I can produce some great work for myself. I see this as a mutually beneficial relationship.