Posts by: A Photo Editor

Happy Holidays Photographers

- - The Future

The holidays are nearly upon us and unlike the Thanksgiving break where you had to explain to your drunk uncle George that you really do take photos for a living and that “No, I’ve never met Britney Spears,” this holiday is all about your immediate family and friends and their deep appreciation for your unique ability to take fantastic photographs of everyone and everything. There’s no photo editor or art director breathing down your neck and no deadlines to meet nothing really except the pure joy of taking pictures with people you love.

It’s amazing to me that people would deny the presence of talent in the making of a professional photographer. With my knowledge of this industry and exposure to great photography and knowing what goes into making a great photograph and how to identify great photography the holidays are the time of year when I break out the camera and realize that my photos suck. With all that I know I still have a really hard time making much more than above average images. Whatever, eat it.

In the holiday spirit I have a prediction to make about photography in the future. Magazines and Newspapers can squeeze the life out of their contributors all they want, but mark my words from the soon to be smoldering crater of the publishing industry will rise all the original content creators (not the content packagers? doh!) and photographers will prove once and for all, that they are superior, to all other means of communication. Is there any doubt that photography has always trumped words for immediacy and video for introspection? Because, as much as I want to blather on about this and that and the other thing, drowning in the gray space or leaning inches from my screen to stare at a tiny video box with a crappy jumpy picture of some shit-bag getting hit in the nutz with a skateboard what really gets me cranked is amazing photographs that sing off the screen. I think computers were made for photography (editors always bemoan photos printed in the magazine never look as good as they did on the screen) and blogs without photographs suck and those sucky blogs that are currently making money will be trumped by blogs with photographs and those blogs will be trumped by blogs with killer photographs and so forth. And, soon it’s not about undercutting each other it’s about overbidding because there are too many jobs and the only way to fend off the clients is to make insane demands but that never seems to do the trick so you have to just stop showing up for shoots and instead go for a joy ride in your Ferrari smashing empty magnums of champagne against the road signs and prank calling your agent pretending to be the photo editor at some crappy magazine that pays for shit and uses photos like a website from 2007. In the future photographers will rule the world.

I’ll meet you there.

See you Next Year.

The Online Magazine

- - The Future

I haven’t really paid much attention to online magazines because I think websites should be websites and magazines should be magazines and when they try to mix those roles it turns to shit. I especially hate that online reader that allows lazy publishers to turn their newsstand version in an unreadable online/downloadable version. A computer screen is not a piece of paper and people who are sitting in front of their computer screens are in work mode or information gathering mode not hang out and enjoy a good page turner mode.

A contributor on Photo Rank submitted a link (here) to Gutter Magazine (here) and I have to say it’s the first time I’ve thought “that’s how a magazine should look online.” My favorite feature is that I can read it backwards, which is how I read all magazines and the navigation bar on the bottom just feels like the perfect tool for reading an online magazine. Well done Gutter.

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Take A Break

Turn off the computer and read a book over the holiday. Here’s the reading list my contributors compiled (big thanks to Dude). I think we can all take a little time to become better at talking about pictures next year (Thanks Robert). Who knows we may need to defend ourselves.

Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art by John Szarkowski

Ansel Adams at 100 by John Szarkowski

The Photographer’s Eye by Szarkowski

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Perception and Imaging, 3rd edition by Dr. Richard Zakia

Photographers on Photography; Lyons, Nathan (ed.)

Photography until Now; Szarkowski, John

History of Photography, From 1839 to the Present; Newhall, Beaumont

The Decisive Moment; Cartier-Bresson, Henri (read the introduction essay)

On Photography; Sontag, Susan

Ways of Seeing; Berger, John

Bystander: A History of Street Photography; Meyerowitz, Joel and Westerbeck, Colin (specialty but a very good book)

What do Pictures Want?; Mitchell, W.J.T.

Richard Avedon: Evidence 1994; Avedon, Richard (read the essays)

Helmut Newton’s autobiography

The Camera”, “The Negative”, and “The Print” by Ansel Adams

Robert Adam’s “Why People Photograph

Beauty in Photography” Robert Adam’s

On Being A Photographer’ by David Hurn and Bill Jay

Creating a Sense of Place” by Joel Meyerowitz

W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance the Life and Work of an American Photographer – by Jim Hughes

Stephen Shore’s recent re-release of “the Nature of Photographs

The daybooks of Edward Weston

Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity by Ted Orland

California and the West by Charis Wilson and Edward Weston

Updated:

The Photograph as Contemporary Art” by Charlotte Cotton

L’Amour Fou: Surrealism and Photography; Rosalind Krauss, Jane Livingston and Dawn Ades.

Reflex: A Vik Muniz Primer; Vik Muniz and Lesley Martin

At The Edge of the Light: Thoughts on Photography and Photographers, on Talent and Genius; David Travis

Rebecca Solnit book about Edweard Muybridge’s strange life; it’s called River of Shadows

Talking About Photography

- - Working

As the Director of Photography at a national magazine one of the most difficult things I have to do is discuss photography with people who know next to nothing about it. Most editors are very literal minded when it comes to photography, they want a picture of the person, place or thing that the writer talks about. To convince them that other images will better serve the story is a difficult but important task in making a magazine’s photography great. Learning how to describe what you intuitively know makes one photograph superior to another is the greatest skill you can have in this battle.

There are many ways to use photography at a magazine. The worst is to use photos as decoration or as a literal translation of the story into pictures. Low end catalogs, real estate brochures, those car rags next to the gum ball machine at the grocery story all use photography this way. So, goddam boring *snore*. This does not serve the reader, it only serves the editors unconscious plan (my theory) that the photography only support the story not equal or trump it. High level photography and photo editing brings additional information about a subject to the story and when it’s really cracking the reader reacts emotionally. In my book “that photo makes me want to throw-up” is way better than “it’s fine by me.”

I have a sweet technique I use for finding the great images from a shoot that really tends to piss-off the editors: I edit the film without reading the story. This helps me tune into which images have the most impact on me and which ones transcend subject matter and become forces in their own right. When you read the story first you react differently to images that match important plot points and wrongly ascribe more weight to them.

Once you’ve found the images you want to use how do you defend them? There’s always the time honored technique of the scowling Director of Photography telling everyone that will listen that these are the best images from the shoot and to publish anything else would be the greatest tragedy in the history of all magazine making, to be used as an example for future generations of the perilous pitfalls associated with not listening to the DOP when it comes to the goddam photography.

If you can’t use intimidation you need to find language to describe the photography beyond the obvious lighting, focus, exposure and subject matter. Editors will use those terms to determine if a photograph is good or bad and it’s an easy trap to fall into but as photo editors we know the power of photography lies in its ability to affect us emotionally and there is no literal translation to the emotions it projects (or some shit). The first place to look is the fine art world, because they have shattered any preconception that focus, exposure and subject matter have anything to do with what makes a photograph great. And, they’ve plumbed the depths of an emotional connection in photography for such a long time they’ve developed a whole language and way of speaking about it that makes it somewhat easier to understand and explain to laymen.

The best place to start and develop your language for photography is anything written by John Szarkowski, who recently passed away, but was the Director of Photography at the MOMA from 1962 to 1991. I started with these two books:

Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art  

Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art

and

Ansel Adams at 100  

Ansel Adams at 100

John gives you language to defend photography, an important skill to have.

Corporate Greed

- - Photography Business

Robert Wright delivered part 3 (here) on the “business” of editorial photography and we both agree that corporate greed is the source of the problems we face in photography and generally in business today. It always seems like I randomly run into information that further clarifies what we’re discussing and this time is no exception:

From New York Magazine, American Roulette: In our winner-take-all casino economy, the middle class is getting royally screwed. A call to arms for populism, before it’s too late (here). Via the writers strike blog (here).

We’ve had a bracing, invigorating run of pedal-to-the-metal hypercapitalism, but now it’s time to ease up and share the wealth some. We can afford to make life a little more fair and a lot less scary for most people.

And then.

From a book review by Roger Lownstein in Portfolio Magazine (here).

Supercapitalism
By Robert B. Reich
Knopf, 272 pages, $25

[...]As Reich admits, this unfettered capitalism is very good at what it tries to do: mainly, earn profits for shareholders and offer a wide array of affordable products to consumers. It is lousy at everything else, which, according to Reich, includes providing health care and ample pensions for employees or a living wage for those on the bottom or protecting small retailers and the environment.

[...]Free markets have been great for the kingpins of private equity—not so for the working stiff.

[...]Reich spends a lot of time contrasting the present era with what he calls the Not Quite Golden Age of the 1950s and ’60s, when unions and government promoted stability for workers and communities at the cost of a far less innovative economy. It’s startling to be reminded of just how controlled the U.S. economy used to be.

[...] Anyway, technology ended it. Ma Bell lost its monopoly to new long-distance-transmission technology, and truckers to Federal Express. Down came the regulatory walls, companies were forced to compete, and Wall Street demanded profits and profits alone. Communities be damned.

[...]Corporations cannot be expected to divide their loyalties between social interests and capitalist ones because they have no means of weighing one against the other. Only a democratic institution can decide whether, in order to preserve community values, it is worth throwing a little sand into the gears of capitalism—say, by keeping a big-box retailer out of downtown. But those institutions, namely Congress and state legislatures, are failing.

Don’t let the greedheads win.

Link Juice

- - Blogs

Sending a little link juice out to…

I haven’t read it yet but I’m told by a very good source that A Visual Society has an excellent photographer interview up (here).

What’s the Jackanory has a new book (here).

Photo Rank is repaired again (here). Two people told me the registration wasn’t working and I discovered another 30 or so that tried and gave up when I looked at the database. Should be working now and that’s a good example of how 1 customer complaint is equal to about 15 people.

Copyright And Photography On The Internet

- - Photography Business

So, it appears this story where photographer Lane Hartwell asked YouTube to remove a video, created by The Richter Scales, under a DMCA take down order is not going to get resolved quietly. I think they could have paid her a fee and removed the image and gotten on with their lives, but we shall find out in the coming days when she posts her side of the story.

Uber blogger Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch decided to make it front page news (here) with the same laughable fair use defense those Richter Scales tried but if you read through the lines it seems to be more of a case that a video everyone liked and Michael was featured in is not longer available and he’s pissed-off about it.

Michael ends his post with this Web 2.0 fairy tale:

Societal ideals around what constitutes ownership over art are changing. People who try to protect and silo off their work are simply being ignored. Those that embrace the community, and give back to it not only allowing but asking for their work to be mashed up, re-used and otherwise embraced are being rewarded with attention. At the core is a basic implicit understanding – if you want to be part of the community, you have to give back to it, too.

Dude, are you drunk? Content is king. People who steal work to mash it up and don’t attribute or pay their sources are dicks.

A cursory reading of the comments shows the usual dreck like “it’s the internet, get over it” or “your photos suck why would you care” or even better “it’s an awesome marketing opportunity that you should have taken advantage of.”

Here are a few of the better comments:

Amie Gillingham

December 16th, 2007 at 5:37 am

We shouldn’t be clamoring for such an erosion of ownership rights just because we all loved the end result. Permission is everything!

and

Paulo

December 16th, 2007 at 7:34 am

Er Mike, aren’t you supposed to be a lawyer? Grab a clue, man.

Those who can, create. Those who can’t, steal.

and

DT

December 16th, 2007 at 5:45 pm

The whole “you shouldn’t post your work on the Internet if you don’t want it stolen” argument seems like a path to a pretty depressing society. If you don’t want your wallet stolen, don’t carry it with you. If you don’t want your car broken-into, don’t park it on the street. If you don’t want your house burglarized then don’t have windows…

[...]Here, we all gain when artists put their work on the Internet. We can view their work from thousands of miles away and gain an appreciation for it. She can sell prints, I can send her feedback, etc. Everybody ends up happier.

The general public’s misunderstanding of copyright is not what’s disturbing here, it’s that influential bloggers like Michael and Robert Scoble (here), who should be leading by example, seem to think we should throw it out the window in favor of some type of web 2.0 community empowerment. I just don’t see the upside for anyone when the original creator of a work cannot be found.

Update: Lane Hartwell statement (here). Here’s a highlight:

The band did not remove the image from the video when I brought it to their attention and instead they told me they had the right to use it. They could have easily apologized, removed the video from YouTube and re-edited without my image and reposted.

Photography is my livelihood. It’s how I pay my bills. I’m not treating the band any differently than any other group that uses my work without my permission.

Are Photographers Unhappy?

- - Working

Just in time for the holidays a Time Magazine story (here) submitted on Photo Rank (here) ranks jobs according to happiness and photography comes out on the bottom between bartender and welder with 20.8 % saying they’re “very happy.”

Are you effing kidding me?

Not only does this study claim photographers are not happy it also reveals that most of the other unhappy occupations are all unskilled laborers. I find this very hard to believe and my only explaination is that the survey was somehow flawed and included people who don’t make a living as a photographer. I certainly can believe that you’re unhappy if you don’t make a living doing your job.

My only other thought on this is that photographers lie about their occupation. A waitress trying to become an actor would probably claim to be a waitress if a surveyor asked but a bartender trying to become a photographer would probably claim to be a photographer. Maybe that’s why they’re so close to each other.

Frank W. Ockenfels 3

- - Photographers

Frank Ockenfels does everything well.

When I think about high level photographers who can shoot anything and are flexible and can problem solve on the fly, Frank (Frankie three sticks) comes to mind every time. He’s one of those guys who you can hire to shoot B&W, Color, Alternative Process and can shoot on location or in a studio and works with celebrities, athletes, musicians, kids, psychos… whatever. He’s the nicest guy in the world and seems to know his way around a camera pretty well, so I guess you would call him a generalist. But, here’s the thing, I always remember Frank for his collage technique and even though I’ve never called him to shoot that technique he somehow avoids letting it define him but it’s what makes him memorable to me.

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Photo Rank Back Up

- - Websites

A hacker used a loop hole to dump users and spam in to the system of every website running pligg open source software that I used to create photo rank. I put spam blocking software on the comments and now you have to respond to an email to register. It’s crazy how easy it is for robot spammers to quickly wreck everything. I suppose if I actually had an IT guy this wouldn’t be a big deal. Live and learn.

Director Logjam

- - Working

I had a fashion shoot implode the other day after we finished casting and scouting locations, so we quickly scrambled to put another one together and I had 3 days to get a photographer on board. To shoot fashion at our rag a photographer has to be approved by myself, the Fashion Director and the Creative Director. If one of us doesn’t agree they’re rejected. This, as you might imagine, can be difficult especially when you have 3 days so the process usually amounts to me pitching photographers I know will be available and the CD pitching photographers that are most likely booked till Easter and the FD spiking a few here and there for various reasons. When we finally settle on a couple we all agree on I quickly call the agent to check availability and depending on who the agency is you either get a quick answer or you get “I’ll see what can be moved around” and no answer for like a day.

While, I like all the photography that’s come out of this process when you’re in the middle of the logjam it SUCKS.

Switching Categories

- - Photography Style

Portrait, Fashion, Fine Art, Photojournalist, Still Life, Lifestyle and Car Photographer. There’s more but this is just to illustrate something that happened recently. A photographer who’s top 3 for me in one of these categories tells me he also shoots in another category which I don’t have a problem with, I just don’t think he realizes that in the other category he’s number 54 on my list.

Oh. My. God. – Jan Von Hollenben

- - Photographers

My favorite thing about photography is that I’m always discovering new stuff and my taste is just never fully developed. I can imagine that being a photography critic is quite a drag because you’ve seen everything before and there are very few surprises for you in photography. I found Jan Von Hollenben over on Photo Rank and every time I show someone these photos I get the same reaction… Oh. My. God. Photography is just awesome like that sometimes.

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Writers Strike Continues

- - Photography News

Story in Variety yesterday, “WGA talks leaves bitterness.”

Here’s what I found interesting:

AMPTP insiders said they’re convinced WGA West exec director David Young is trying to make the WGA battles a part of a larger, more global struggle against corporate “greed.”

[...]“For them, this is not a writers strike. It’s about changing society,” one exec said. “We are so frustrated. We’re dealing with people who don’t care about this community. They care about making social change in America.”

Making A Living As A Photographer

- - Photography Business

Robert Wright delivers a couple smart posts on the business of photography and that oh so important part, many photographers overlook, making sure you treat it like a business. He’s got some strategies for dealing with the current state of affairs which amounts to a stagnant day rate and thinly padded expenses.

US vs. THEM… or flogging a dead horse

US vs. THEM part DEUX!

I agree with much of what he says even though I’m a part of “THEM.”

He talks about working within the system but using whatever advantages you can to create positive cash flow. I’d say the biggest point to come out of it is that idea of renting equipment. There’s hardly a photographer that I hire anymore that doesn’t charge me to rent equipment. Hell, I just paid a $7,000 rental bill but what am I going to do about it, nobody owns equipment anymore and if they do they rent it to me. It’s only fair.

He also brings up the editorial photographers group (EP) which failed to turn editorial photography into a viable business but I will add likely mitigated the level of damage that was about to happen. I personally learned a ton from what I read on the website back then and many photographers that I dealt with changed their business practices for the better. I even cribbed off the contracts when writing and trying to understand a few of my own.

The big downside for me was that anyone with a camera was suddenly using the EP attitude to badger me into paying higher rates and signing their contract terms and the reality was they didn’t have the skills as a photographer to make those demands.

The barrier to entry in the editorial market has always been that you can’t make a living at the bottom of the market and now the middle of the market is completely flooded with photographers making it impossible to specialize in editorial photography. This can’t be good and I really don’t have a solution at the moment but at least Robert has a strategy for dealing with it.