Todd Selby is the talented young photographer behind TheSelby.com a website dedicated to documenting interesting people, their creative spaces and their stuff usually in New York, London and LA. It seems to have hit a critical mass online recently with a mention in the NY Times (here) and all kinds of design blogs (here, here, here and here).
Todd has really found an underserved market in media and he stands to reap the benefits of not only by becoming known as a photographer who shoots creative interiors but also for serving an audience who’s hungry for this type of photography and any collateral he can come up with to go along with it. It’s quite inspiring to see someone forge a new path and then actually begin to see serious traction. I asked Todd a couple questions about it:
How did The Selby get started?
I have been thinking a lot over the past two years about wanting to work on a photo related art project that I could do on my own and distribute on the internet. When I started taking pictures professionally seven years ago I did my first portfolio solely of photos of my friends in their homes combined with a few still-lives of their possessions. It was a natural shift to just take that work and put in on the internet. From there the concept has evolved and I have started adding new elements such as paintings, videos and hand written photo captions and interviews.
It’s completely blown up online and even made an appearance in the The NY Times. Does that translate into assignments for Todd Selby or just calls from people who think they have a cool place?
Yes, I have been getting a lot more calls from magazines, tons of interest from advertisers as well as home and fashion brands contacting me directly. I also get a lot of emails from people around the world showing me their homes and their artwork.
Any thoughts on getting pigeon holed into the guy who shoots those hip interiors?
No thoughts of that until you just mentioned it. Ha, Ha.
How do you know The Cobra Snake? Do you know The Face Hunter? Any thoughts overall on the popularity of this type of documentary photography?
The Cobra Snake is an amazing photographer as well as a marketing and business genius who’s 5 to 10 years ahead of most photographers. He helped me realize the importance of distributing your work as widely as possible and building up content that is really interesting. I think this is something you already know as well Rob. This is a tumultuous time for photographers, and I believe that the people who are going to really succeed are the ones that think outside the box and really forge their own path directly to the consumers of photography. Cut out the middlemen, do it yourself and get it out there. That is Cobra Snake’s DIY ethic which has directly inspired me to do The Selby project.
Is there ever an end to a project like this?
I dont think it will end, it is too much fun.
Do you have anything else you’re working on?
I am working on doing more of my watercolor paintings and editing photos for an upcoming show and book release which will be at Colette in April 09. Also I am producing some extremely limited edition clothing, jewelry and art collaborations for sale on my online store, http://store.theselby.com. Also look out for shows in Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York for 2009.
Bil Zelman contacted me recently about some pro bono work he’s been shooting and in particular how rewarding it is for him. Ultimately it ends up benefiting his business too with genuine interest in the work from Art Directors and nice press placement. Here’s what we talked about:
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you arrived at a successful commercial photography career.
In art school I developed a particular style of hard-flash, in your face, street photography that landed me some museum shows. This was a handful of years ago when 6×6 transparency film and a tripod were standard for the commercial world, but things were just beginning to change. After sending out a few hundred ridiculously inexpensive promo pieces, I gained the trust of a local agency who hired me to shoot a campaign for Virgin Megastores. I took the campaign to the street with no assistants, very little experience and it turned out stellar. The work won a bunch of awards and suddenly the kid with two cameras and four lenses was getting calls. I suppose my confidence and naiveté mixed with my shooting style was something people were ready for.
I’ve always tried to bring something fresh and innovative to the table, and the believability of my shots has been well received and rewarded.
How do you determine what is pro bono and what should be paid, how do you know it’s not something the client should be paying for?
I don’t have any steadfast rules except that they have to be non-profit and preferably a charity. There are plenty of large non-profits which can clearly pay a fee for their photography. Also, many trade and lobbying organizations are nonprofit groups, but not charities so you do need to be careful.
I’ve chosen to work with non-profits which are local, for the most part, whose only budgeted alternative would be to have someone on their staff shoot stuff with a digital point and shoot. And who, after a little research, could clearly benefit from my help. I will also admit that I generally only accept projects where artistic excellence is appreciated and encouraged. Something you’re not going to find everywhere.
Also, when the entity is small and local, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the budget of your local “keep kids off the streets program” and someone who can probably afford you like say Greenpeace. Beyond that it’s all about researching them and trusting your gut.
Pro-bono projects I’ve worked on recently would include:
My local Sudanese Center, which clearly operates on a tiny budget. They covered $380 of my expenses and my assistants and I donated time/equipment. When the children and families found out that they were getting their photos taken for free, 80 people showed up dressed in their finest at sunset in a field I had scouted (they were bussed from the center). It was an amazing feeling…and scary, as I had imagined 8-10 would actually make it.
The the International Pediatric Neurological Society. Sound fancy? It’s two doctors I know who donate time and resources in their spare time. They could never have afforded to fly a photographer to Kiev, and Peru, but really needed the help. Because of the two trips, on which they covered about half of the cost, they now have a fantastic presentation with which they can seek out funding and raise awareness to their cause. And I ended up feeling really good about it and landing three pages in Archive.
A local, neighborhood outreach program came up with just enough money for me to shoot 30 rolls of grainy b/w on their project; A well designed, oversize brochure to raise funds and awareness. Beautiful.
Anymore it seems like the big commercial guys are not shooting as much editorial and I would suspect that at times shooting commercial can seem tedious and un-fulfilling. Does this serve as an antidote to that?
Absolutely, I manage to shoot about a five or six good editorial pieces a year and crave more, but San Diego isn’t the best place to be for that kind of work. While I’m blessed with great commercial assignments, those projects are usually confined to product placement first and artistry second.
The charity assignments I’ve done have given me grounds to test new ideas and ways of working, are usually not collaborative (Yes, it can try your patience to have someone else edit, crop and manipulate your work all the time- No matter how well it’s done, or how good the intentions).
I feel so empowered to be able to use my camera as a tool for social change, large or small. Nothing has felt more satisfying, and nothing has garnered a greater response for me than this type of work. From simple thank you letters from complete strangers to Art Buyers skipping over ad campaigns and
celeb work and asking “where where the photo’s of those children taken.” It still amazes me.
It’s also a sad fact that no matter how good that cover shot or ad campaign is, there’s a shelf life before it’s thrown out with all of the other magazines. It kills me. Hopefully people will be able to use the images I create for their causes to raise awareness and even funding for years to come. A longevity we rarely see in other media applications.
You mentioned that photographers are missing out on a opportunity by not taking on these kinds of projects. Can you explain?
The positives to taking on these types of projects are endless. To improve the lives of others, to better your community, to art direct your own piece and have total creative freedom, to travel, to see and experience things you may have never thought possible, to be reminded that not everyone is middle class.
And even the self-serving part; to draw attention to your own work and your own vision and be noticed by others in a fantastically positive light. Images from my last trip to Kiev ended up being printed in both Archive and the PDN Photo Annual. One week of shooting with no production work at all ended up getting noticed just as much if not more than my bigger budget shoots for the year.
And, oh yeah, did I mention that you’ll feel really, really good about it?
Jake Stangel has a new website for young photographers called “Too Much Chocolate” and it’s already off to a great start because of a smart interview with Trevor Graves. Trevor was part of a group of talented snowboard photographers who revolutionize the snowsports industry in the 90’s. They brought in-your-face, lifestyle and grungy party photography to an industry that had been dominated by pretty landscape pictures with people walking/skiing through them. The surf/skate/snowboard genre of photography is my favorite for the way it seamlessly blends lifestyle and action photography. Trevor now helms Nemo Design over in Portland, OR.
Here are a few choice quotes from Trevor in the interview:
“Personally I hope to be exposed to a young shooters work though a respected third party.”
“We are looking and thousands of creatives a year, I may not have a job today for you but I may in the future so I want to put your website in my bookmarks folder under “something”. David Lachapelle I would put under “Fashion” or “Sexy”, Ansel Adams I would put under “Landscapes”, Annie Leibovitz as a “Celebrity portrait” photographer. Make my life easy, where can I classify your style? Is that category the type of work you would like to be doing ten years form now? I don’t want this to sounds harsh, but I have 10 minutes for you today; ask yourself how do you want me to remember you?”
“We all need to make a living in life and everyone has different standards of living and if you have a high standard of living, then go get a business degree, photography in the long run will not make you happy. ‘Starving artist’ is a cliché for a reason. As a professional photographer if the first year doesn’t break ya, the next five will keep trying.”
Another online archive from a top photographer (here). Thanks Dude.
I remember there was a photographer who’s website I used to visit often but one day it disappeared and he told me he pulled it down so people would stop copying his work. I think those days are over now.
Not sure how new this is but it’s certainly unusual for a fashion photographer of this caliber to have a personal website this comprehensive (here).
This growing trend among top photographers I attribute to google searches that will turn up all kinds of strange and possibly unwanted results (and other steven klein’s of the world) if you don’t have a site dedicated to your work online. Also, growing the fan base is always a good idea.
From Steven’s artist statement: “Portraiture in the past has been regarded as a documentation of a person but for me it is a documentation of the encounter between myself and the subject. It is not meant to reveal them, nor is it meant to subject them to an X-ray; it is a departure from that.”
I was floored when I picked up the November issue of GQ and saw in it a 32 page photo essay (online here) shot by one photographer. That’s major. There are very few photographers getting 32 pages in magazines all to themselves these days (anytime actually) and a photo essay of this magnitude is a major deal. The photographer was Jeff Riedel. I’ve worked with Jeff in the past and always admired his photography and work ethic but hadn’t talked to him in awhile so I gave him a call to discuss the piece.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did this come about?
Well, I think GQ is making a turn as a magazine towards content, moving further into a combination of fashion and content. This was certainly a big deal for them and reminiscent of the photo essays Vanity Fair or most recently The New Yorker might do.
Everyone has proclaimed this the most historic election of our time and GQ was the only magazine that stepped up to the plate with a photo essay of historic proportions.
They called me up back in January and said we want to do this 30 page story and we want you to shoot the entire thing. I went into the office and had this really interesting meeting because within 2 minutes it became an open forum collaboration between the writer/features editor Mark Healey, Design Director Fred Woodword, and Photography Director Dora Somosi. It became very political very fast. We started drawing up wish lists of people we wanted to go for. One of the things that came out was how Richard Avedon did this shoot of politicians back in 1976 called “The Family” for Rolling Stone. That was certainly an inspiration for the project, not in a way that we wanted to rip it off but as a point of reference. I looked at it and tried to understand what he went through to get those images. I recently saw the whole body of work at the Corcoran Gallery in D.C. He got access to everyone they wanted to get except Nixon from what I understand.
So that brings up a question I wanted to ask you because some of the pictures look like you didn’t get access to everyone and I like the overall effect on the essay whether it was deliberate or not.
Some of the things that happened were astounding. Obama was on the cover of GQ I think last December and the McCain campaign was able to manipulate that and turn it against him and say ‘see we told you Obama’s a celebrity, a fashion symbol he’s all artifice’. That’s really an outdated perception of what GQ really is. Of course McCain, ironically, had no problem being shot by GQ for our portfolio. The Obama campaign for the most part stayed clear of it. In the end we couldn’t get him for a sitting.
I think it actually works for you because you have the iconic picture of Obama. The picture that defines him in this campaign.
Yes, it couldn’t have turned out any better because his face is on the cover of Rolling Stone three times and if we’d actually gotten a sitting with Obama we just likely might have done the same and it wouldn’t have been as strong as what we got at the convention.
Did you shoot film and 4 x 5 like you usually do?
Yes, it was all shot on film. I shot a good deal of 4 x 5 for the studio, and many of the environmentals like Bill Richardson on his horse. I ended up shooting a lot of 6×7 as well. The reportage was with a Pentax 6×7 with long lenses holding my hand as still as I possibly could in low light. There’s a lot of blurry frames. The magazine wasn’t very keen on digital and I can understand why. It’s a historic election these are going to be historic pictures and there’s still an integrity to film and while we can still do it we should.
Do you shoot a lot of digital now?
Anything that’s commercial or celebrity stuff is digital. Since I now live outside of the the city it’s so much more convenient for me. I use a back on a Hassleblad 555. I need to hear the clunking of the mirror and have the weight of the camera for it to feel like photography for me. I still need that familiarity to take pictures.
Were any of the politicians suspicious of your motives?
No I don’t think any of them were suspicious and we shot some dirt bags like Jerome Corsi. Why that guy would show up for a GQ shoot I have not idea, I guess he’s desperate for publicity. By the way, he announced to me during our shoot, I think back in October, that Obama was finished. His chances of winning were nil because Obama, according to him, had just accidentally let it slip that he was a Muslim. I’m not kidding, he was really saying this shit. I thought about him on election night.
So this brings up a big question you clearly are not trying to be objective here and can you be objective in this kind of thing. The editors seem to have a point of view on this and they wanted you to bring that to the shoot. Am I correct in saying that?
There’s decisions that are made, editing decisions that do adhere to a point of view. For example on the Corsi shoot, I didn’t intend the image to translate as harshly as it did. I don’t set out to burn somebody, though I do appreciate a sense of irony in a photograph. But there’s a process that you can’t really help. You’re trying to remain as objective as possible but as soon as you put that camera to your eye the objectivity ceases to exist. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Right you can’t create something interesting without coming at it from somewhere. It wasn’t a requirement from GQ to remain objective?
It was never discussed. GQ never told me how to shoot McCain but I gave them options so they could choose how to portray him. These are politicians and they’re very guarded and aware but at the same time there are moments that are very truthful that come out in the course of a shoot. It’s interesting too that by the time the magazine was being put together things had changed in the race and perceptions had changed so the edit of the work changed to reflect that.
Can you be objective and do you have to be objective. How important is that for pulling off a shoot like this?
I don’t personally believe there’s any such thing as objectivity in a photographic image. I don’t think it exists. One can fool themselves into believing it does but there are unconscious processes that come forward when you’re shooting as well as the conscious advertent ones. But, there’s a vast difference between subtlety and trying to find a strand of irony and a complete attempt at a take down picture. I would also add that the more subtle ones tend to be smarter pictures than the obvious and overly advertent ones. and by the way, Bill Richardson can’t ride a horse.
Did you deliver as you went and what kind of collaboration was there in the editing?
I cut up contact sheets and I didn’t hand in anything that I felt strongly against but I wanted to give them some choices because it’s a pretty sizable portfolio and there’s decisions that need to happen with regard to the layout and design so I gave them a pretty wide edit. We turned in the film as we went, over the course of 9 months. We started out thinking it was going to be color heavy with some black and white mixed in and we ended up with a balance between the two. You think 30 pages is a lot but it’s actually not. It was good to break it down as we went along. We tried to do a studio and an environmental with everyone.
How much time did you get?
We got a couple hours with John Edwards. We got good chunks of time because we did a studio shot and an environmental shot. With others, we got ten minutes. It varied.
So, any thoughts on what’s happening right now to the industry?
We’re in a different world, a different environment it’s like an instantaneous change for our industry. The results were so immediate for us. Advertising shoots that were nearly fully produced were canceled and there’s a knee jerk reaction happening. Budgets are going to be scaled back and a number of magazines will fold.
How do you feel about producing work online?
I think that’s an extremely powerful tool. I think the web is very revolutionary in many, many ways. The dissemination of information from one part of the globe to another.
What is the role of photography online?
I think it’s going to play a more and more important role. The internet has changed the world but we haven’t seen anything yet. One issue for photography right now is how it’s rendered on the computer screen – how it can look great on one and like shit on another. Or what a friend mentioned to me about the GQ portfolio- how it printed so beautifully in the magazine and looked so much worse online. I think generally at this point there simply needs to be a lowering of expectations from one to the other.
What do you think of the political process now that you’ve done this?
The same thing I’ve always thought. That there’s two political parties that are bought and paid for by the corporate interests, and by extension they represent and defend the interests of that class. I much more believe that the biggest divisions in American society are those of class not race. The American presidential campaigns are the most overdrawn political events. Does it really need to be 2 years long. Why can’t it be 6 months and then we make a decision. It seems like a giant smoke screen that covers up the issues that really need to be addressed like the job losses, the economy and war.
Were you very involved in politics before you shot this work?
Yes, I’m very involved.
Were they aware of this before they hired you?
Yes, I think they might have had an idea.
Really? It’s not represented in your work.
There might have been a rumor or two about my left leaning politics.
Underground caves are cool and only pictures can do them justice. Stephen Alvarez has been shooting awesome cave pictures for a very long time and here’s a cool video about a book project he’s working on:
Martin Schoeller has always been a personal favorite to work with and one thing you will notice on a shoot is the almost hypnotic rhythm he establishes with the film loaders, lights, camera adjustments and direction to the subject. It has a pace to it that lulls you into…
See for yourself here:
From his new book, Female Bodybuilders available at pondpress (here).
Jill Greenberg officially took herself off everyone’s list with that little stunt she pulled with outtakes from her McCain cover shoot for The Atlantic (I’m talking about all the photoshopping not the “lit from below” picture which felt like a nice try but not quite there) and made it a little more difficult for Photo Editors to get someone new and untested past the editor and more importantly the publicist.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about Mark Tucker has links to all the coverage and several questions of his own (here).
It’s the publicists who usually vet the photographers and if you’ve ever looked at a celebrity or political picture and thought “the most interesting thing about that picture is the person in it” that’s because safety is more important than creating something visually exciting. The challenge for Photo Editors has always been getting interesting photographers past the publicists because they always google them or come with a pre-approved list just to make certain the photographer will not do something unflattering or controversial. So, I’m shocked that the McCain camp approved her given the “candy and crying children” controversy that’s not much more than a google click away (well, it used to be a google click away…) but I’m guessing that The Atlantic didn’t seem to pose much of a threat so there was no background check on the photographer.
Hit pieces in magazines are not unusual, but it’s usually the writers that are the one’s waiting till the shoot is in the can, the fact-checking mostly done and then they can finally ring the subject up and start asking hard questions. What’s unusual here is that Jill went off and did it on her own without letting the magazine know what she was up to. Usually the magazine is involved in these kinds of decisions if not directing them in the first place. So, I can pretty much guarantee she’s not interested in getting hired anymore to do “the monkey light” and really just wants to be known as someone who manipulates. Even if some Photo Editor wanted to hire her now they wouldn’t get her past the editor let alone the publicist.
The Atlantic unfortunately got burned in the whole deal but there’s no way to know when someone is going to go rogue on you and if it ever happened in the past nobody would even know about it. The 2 week embargo seems unusual to me and it’s likely a function of The Atlantic wanting really badly to do something interesting in a very crowded newsstand and allowing Jill Greenberg to lay down the rules on what it would take for her to shoot a cover (at which point I would expect a photographer to tell me they hate the person they’re about to photograph and might not be the best choice for this assignment). If I’d been the Photo Editor in that situation I would be looking for a new job because I would have had to convince the editor to take a chance on a first time cover shooter for the magazine with very little political experience and on top of it get them to reduce the embargo to 2 week for outtakes.
Ultimately I don’t think she’s suddenly screwed it all up for photographers everywhere because shoots of this nature are almost always closely watched by the publicists, the terms with the magazine are exclusive and publishing outtakes from a cover shoot will land you in court
This was a very deliberate act by a photographer who knew she was going to get blackballed by publicists and make herself un-hireable in the editorial world to make a political statement or maybe she just wanted to remove herself from the editorial world in a dramatic way because in the end who but clients visits a photographers portfolio site and if you’re tired of having clients and working with publicists and just want to make art then this is one way to do it.
You probably know how much Photo Editors like their photographer lists and really any edited group of photographers is handy when looking for people to hire or looking for new people to add to your personal list.
I think this Women in Photography website (here) will become a very strong group from which to find talented photographers to hire. I like that it has a very specific point of view as defined by the co-curators amy elkins and cara phillips.
I mentioned to someone the other day that there are many resources that serve as lists of photographers for the creative community that you can buy into. But, if you don’t agree with the list of people you’re buying into, why not just go make your own. If it’s useful and the creative community knows about it, we will use it. The Women In Photography website is a good example of this.
Photos from Denis Darzacq’s new project “Hyper” (here) were all over the internet a couple weeks back and they certainly deserve the attention as fascinating and unnerving images, plus there’s no photoshop involved which makes it all the more interesting.
Here’s a behind the scenes video I found on the Lens Culture blog (here) from his book La Chute.
I suppose the only editorial application of a technique like this would be a fashion story since you need the talented street performers to do the jumps but whenever I see something like this I start to think of all the different ways I can get it into the book. Now, with all the hype certain types of photography can receive on the internet there’s a little extra incentive to find something quickly.
I stumbled upon this treasure trove of photographer interviews that Randi Lynn Beach produced and I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before. There’s an absolute wealth of information from all kinds of photographers. Visit the site (here).
I’ve always had mixed feelings when it comes to hiring photographers overly versed in a subject matter. Certainly, when a photographer knows how to behave, act and dress around a subject it can cause the subject to drop their guard a bit and make for more intimate images. It also usually means they’ll be more accommodating with their time and with what they allow to be photographed so you get better access. The trade off is that photographers sometimes don’t push the pictures beyond comfort level, they won’t ask the subject to do something that might make them uncomfortable or might jeopardize their relationship with the subject.
On the other hand picking a photographer who has some distance from the subject and is not excessively concerned with their feelings or the possibility of making them uncomfortable or how they might be looked upon by the subject can result in some really spectacular work.
Anyway, this is a little more heady than I wanted to get into with this post because really I just saw this narrated slideshow over on the Texas Monthly website and I was imagining Peter Yang in his checkered vans and spiked hair dragging his cow shit covered 7b’s, c-stands and octabanks all over Texas and thought that was interesting. Of course I know Peter as a guy who shoots a lot of Rock and Roll pictures for Rolling Stone so I didn’t realize he’s from Dallas and went to school at UT and worked in Austin for 9 years and to what extremes he’d go to, to get a picture when I fired off a bunch of questions to see what the hell he was doing shooting cowboys in Texas.
Check out the slide show and audio commentary (here)
Was it really a 16 day shoot? I’m amazed magazines still do 16 day shoots. Did you have to sleep in a ditch?
It was sixteen days altogether for a cover and an 18-page portfolio in Texas Monthly. We logged 5,000 miles driving back and forth across Texas. In reality, there were six or seven days of shooting. The other days were spent traveling, scouting and investigating.
Leslie Baldwin and TJ Tucker at TM made initial contact with the ranches, but in the end, cowboys aren’t phone people. Arriving at each ranch felt like starting from scratch. I’m this Asian guy with spiky hair and checkered Vans, my first assistant is a California kid, and the second assistant is a hipster with tattoos running down her arms. We had to win them over with our charming ways.
On another occasion, we were out near Marfa. It was already ten at night and I had nothing planned for the next day. I was feeling really depressed as all I’d done that day was hang out in a field throwing rocks at a fence while the cowboys were out working on horseback. That night, we came across a bar and got to chatting with the bartender, and out of sheer desperation, I asked her if she knows any cowboys. It turns out her ex-husband is a cowboy and we ended up driving 3 hours due west and making some of the best images from the trip.
It sounded like you were shooting film. Why did you decide to shoot film?
No, I was shooting digital. I haven’t shot film in a long while. For the portraits I used a medium format digital back (Leaf Aptus at 75 S on a Hasselblad H2). For the documentary shots, I used a Cannon 1Ds2. There was a ton of dust and shit kicking up everywhere I went. For someone who rarely needs to clean his cameras, I was in my motel every night with an air blower and Pec Pad cleaning my cameras Nachtwey-style.
Cowboys, cows, horses and octabanks don’t sound like a natural combination and I suppose that’s why Texas Monthly choose you for this assignment. Did you ever feel completely out of your element like what the hell am I doing here? A New Yorker out in the middle of Texas with a bunch of cowboys sounds like a recipe for trouble to me.
Hey, I’ve only been a New Yorker for four years. I may not have grown up on a ranch (or anywhere near cows or horses), but I am from Texas.
I did feel out of my element at the beginning. I had just come out of 3 straight months of shooting my usual fare. Celebrity shoots where everything has been discussed and agreed upon and every moment of the shoot accounted for. Advertising campaigns with art directors and their clients standing in front of the monitor approving every shot frame by frame. Now here I was in Texas with no one telling me what to do. It’s a photographer’s dream, but it took a bit to get used to.
As far as trouble goes, no one was seriously injured in the process. I drank a lot of beer, ate a cow testicle or two, rode a crazy horse, heard jokes that haven’t been kosher since ’64, tried to lasso a fence post, and ate at a lot of Dairy Queens. A lot.
When you decided to do the lit portraits were you thinking this is my style and I’m sticking with it even if the 7b’s get covered in shit or were you thinking of bringing something new to the genre of cowboy portraits?
Lighting the photos had always been my plan. I’d seen a lot of images of cowboys growing up and I wanted to bring something new to the table while staying true to who they are. It rained a couple of days and there was lots of dust everywhere we went. The lights were always tarped to keep out the elements.
Of your other portrait work how much is planned and how much is just “let’s see what’s happening when we get there.”
I started my training as a newspaper photographer. As a journalist, you are not permitted to affect the environment. When I moved to magazines, this way of thinking stuck with me for years, and helped bring a candid, found quality to my photos. With celebrity work, you can’t tell a publicist “we’ll just get there and see what happens.” You have to assure them you won’t make their client look like an ass. My shoots now are much more planned and produced, but I always strive to keep some spontaneity.
I see a growing trend here as the Yousuf Karsh estate (here) becomes the latest in a series of photography masters to unveil professional websites that will not only serve as wonderful resources for the photo community but act as a central resource for consumers and professionals looking to purchase prints and reprint rights.
During his career he held 15,312 sittings and produced over 150,000 negatives.
The short video clips (here) are particularly interesting to watch as Yousuf answers questions that we seem to ask photographers over and over.
Photographer Renée Jacobs interviewed 93 year old Charis for London based Photo Icon magazine (website here). Here’s an excerpt.
AT THE AGE of 93, Charis Wilson has seen more than most people ever will – and the art world has seen more of her than almost any other woman in the history of photography. As Edward Weston’s lover, writer, companion, driver (Weston never learned to drive), and model from 1934-1945, Charis left an indelible imprint on Weston’s work and the way in which his photographic nudes are examined. Charis is the subject of more than half of all of Weston’s nudes, including some of his most famous – the Oceano Dunes series and Nude in a Doorway. His portrait of her at Lake Ediza is well known (if somewhat misunderstood). Charis grew up in a literary family, surrounded by adults and few children to play with. She was a sickly child and developed her strength by bicycling – and swimming naked out to the kelp beds in Carmel Bay. When she met Weston, she was 19 and he was 48, already an accomplished photographer with one book to his credit and a growing reputation as a new breed of modernist photographer. Her literary skills helped secure Weston a Guggenheim grant in 1937 – the first ever awarded to a photographer. Her insight and observations accompanied his photographs during their Guggenheim travels in the ground-breaking and bestselling book, California and the West.
What was your reaction to seeing the photographs for the first time? I had seen some poor reproductions before that – but to actually look at the prints, I had never seen pictures like that. I was used to other people that made pictures softening things – the Pictorialist style was in vogue – so I had never seen photographs like these. Sonya showed me some of the shells and the peppers – then pulled out some of the 4×5 nudes.
… and what was your reaction to the nude photographs?
I thought they were terrific. Again, I’d never seen anything like that.
Did it make you want to be part of that art or did it make you more interested in him as a man and a person?
Yes, I was more interested in him I think… well, it’s hard to say. It’s too far back to really determine – but whatever it was, I wanted more of it. More photographs. More of the person that made the photographs!
What was the posing or directing method that he would use in those early sessions?
He didn’t give any directions. He just said: ‘Go over there and sit down or lie down, or do what you feel like doing and move around all you want. Change your position as you want to’. That’s what Sonya had told me: ‘… there’s nothing to posing for Edward. In fact, you don’t even pose. You just move around and do what you feel like’. And that’s all very well, except when you try to do what you feel like he’d yell: ‘Hold it! Hold it! Stop right there’. So you could never move without being told to ‘hold it’. I had a mental picture of what I would look like in his camera – these rather idealized nudes based on ones seen in his darkroom – but even after 5 or 6 moves I never got to the point I had imagined because he’d keep stopping me on the way.
It was during that time in 1936 that Edward made the famous nude study of you in the doorway of the Santa Monica Canyon house – and neither you nor he were completely happy with that image, correct?
Well, we knew it was a good picture. But we had our objections to things that should have been straightened up.
You were not satisfied with the uneven part in your hair and the bobby pins and he was not satisfied with the shadow on your arm?
That’s right. Well, the shadow on my arm was really worth protesting, because if you didn’t print it very carefully it looked as if I had a withered arm. Whereas the hairdressing was simply sloppiness on my part I’m afraid.
… and he only made the one exposure of that?
He did with everything 8×10; you couldn’t afford to make duplicate exposures. He never did.
People read all sorts of symbolism into Edward’s still lifes – that he never felt was there. Did you think Edward was being truthful with you and with himself (and with the art world) when he said that there were no hidden meanings?
Edward had a way of saying that in some cases symbolism was inescapable. It is just there and you can’t very well erase it when you’re making a picture, even if what is moving you to make the picture is something else. So he was not interested in the obvious reading of a photograph. He got impatient with people who were looking for everything to be sexual in a picture of a pepper. To him, that was a much too simple – and simplistic – way of looking at a picture.
And similarly, with the famous Lake Ediza photograph – you’ve written about how tired you were and how exhausted, but still you were somewhat perplexed or amused that people would read into that photograph a certain sensuality. It was really you just sitting against the rock exhausted.
Um… hmm. Yes, I really was just exhausted [smiles].
It got to the point where driving around during the Guggenheim travels, Edward would doze off and you would scout a location because you were so tuned in…
Uh huh. Right. For the most part.
But you felt like you still could never quite see the ‘Weston moment’.
In the early years, I was obsessed with doing that. I was making the picture in my head. I figured I knew what he was doing, and how he was seeing, so well that I could put it together – I never did. I finally figured that Edward was the picture maker and I was the wordsmith. He simply does not do it in words; I do not do it in pictures.
Why do you think you were obsessed in the early years with doing that?
I think because I had a very strong feeling that anything anyone else could do, I could do, you know. It was really bigheaded on my part, I think. That everything in the world could be that simple. That it was possible to get hold of and ease myself
Did you ever have any desire to photograph or do nudes of him?
No. No. I never wanted to take photographs. And it absolutely amazed Edward, because he had a good number of female students in those days that had all been helpers of one sort or another and he kept offering to teach me. I always wanted to look through the ground glass, in fact, it was so automatic that he finally stopped asking me and just moved off for me to get under the focusing cloth and look at his picture. He knew I always wanted to see it. But to do anything photographic? Absolutely not. I knew this much about photography from listening to what he said. It took far more command, self-command, of what you were looking at and doing than I would ever have. As far as I was concerned, writing – which is what I assumed I was pretty good at – meant that you wrote and then you rewrote – and then you rewrote again. Carefully. I had learned this from my grandmother and great aunt and father, all of whom were writers of one kind or another. Something you worked on. This was anathema to Edward. Photography – a photograph – wasn’t something you worked on. That was the kind of thing that no good people who fixed it up later in the darkroom did. He had to be so sharp and so straightforward that he could find the thing immediately, set up the camera and see just what he expected to find there. Get the thing in focus in no time at all, pull the slide, make the exposure. I could never see this as a way of working.
Why would I want to be a photographer? I loved what he did and that was enough for me.
When I see a project like this (Timothy Archibald’s sex machines comes to mind as well) I’m always impressed by the photographers ability to convince the subjects to sit for pictures that will potentially be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. It’s worth noting for for future assignments where a subject might be spooked easily.
Hey, it Looks like Sheila Metzner’s got a new website (here) as well, complete with music and slideshows (Caution: If you’re at work make sure the volume is down) so I think it’s safe to say we have a genuine trend here (ok, maybe it started a year ago, I haven’t been keeping up with Sheila and Albert).
It think this is partially about building a fan base and mostly about taking control of your content. All the legendary photographers have content floating around the internet and there needs to be a place to link everything back. Also, when consumers run into your work somewhere and google you to find out more, there should be a place they can go to see more work and other stuff like buying books or getting a lecture schedule or watching a video interview (you can do whatever, once you’ve got the google juice). Let’s hope the trend continues.