Category "Photographers"

Mitchell Feinberg’s 8×10 Digital Capture Back

- - Photographers

When I talked to Mitchell Feinberg recently he mentioned that he owned the world’s largest non-scanning color sensor array, something he created so that he could continue to shoot 8×10 film without Polaroid. Normally I avoid anything to do with equipment but this sounded interesting.

APE: Tell me why you created the 8×10 digital capture back and how it works?

Mitchell: When I look back, three years ago, it was crazy that I even tried to do this: design and manufacture the world’s largest color capture back, large enough to cover the 8” x 10” format, so that I could continue to shoot like my glass plate-carrying brethren a hundred years ago.

It was a race against the clock, or, specifically, a race to see if my stocks of 8×10 Polaroid would run out before the back was completed. In the early months of investigation most of my evenings were spent on meandering Internet searches. Months more were spent deciphering unintelligible technical papers. The few companies with the right technical expertise were eventually identified, but it was extremely difficult to be taken seriously. The experience felt like working at a call center, making unsolicited calls for storm windows. Eventually, one firm was convinced, and, after over a year of difficult design work, a first prototype was delivered in February 2010. The first production model was delivered about 9 months later.

The Maxback, as it has been named (the Brontoback, Velocicaptor and Back Scratch Fever were rejected), is the largest non-scanning color digital back in the world, with a capture area of over 8×10 inches. The largest commercially available color digital camera backs are about 4.5 x 6cm in size. It attaches without modification to a Sinar, and delivers high quality interim captures in under 30 seconds.

I use the back while I am working. Once I am happy with a photo, I flip off the back and then shoot a couple of sheets. In this way, I have the quality of 8×10 film, and the immediacy of digital capture. Crazy, right?

Well, the idea is not that crazy but I’m guessing the cost was astronomical. I shouldn’t ask but can you give me an idea on that?

The development and production of two backs (I wanted to have a spare) was equal to the cost of a good size house – before the housing crash. I know it sounds insane, but the financials on it are not so bad: I used to shoot on average 7.5 Polaroids per photo, and I shoot between 400 to 500 images a year. That’s at least 3000 Polaroids. At 15 bucks a pop. Or about 50K per year, minimum. Polaroid was at one point my highest single cost. I am depreciating the back, charging clients for its use, and I was eligible for the technology investment credit. I also took out a loan based on the projected income from the back, so I did not have a huge hit on my bank account. It is certainly not a fantastic rate of return, but the back is designed to last a very long time, so it should generate a strong profit over the long term (And that is not including the all-important photo-related issue that my clients love receiving 8×10 film).

The engineers and I discussed selling them, but no one wanted to bother with customer sales and support. I think there are maybe a dozen of so photographers who might have the desire and resources to buy one or two (I have two, so that I have a spare handy). This means we would not sell enough to start a proper production line, and it would be tricky to order small quantities from the sensor foundry, not to mention the main boards and other critical parts. It’s straightforward to make prototypes and hundreds of units, but five is a difficult number from a production/manpower standpoint.

We never set a unit price, but it would be in the low six figures. Anyone purchasing a device for that kind of money would expect excellent tech support, which implies that we would need to have backup devices ready in case there was an equipment failure. That would be costly. If I had an order tomorrow for ten of them, we could probably move forward with it, but it does not make much financial sense to pursue sales on a one-off basis.

Chris Buck’s Genuine Enthusiasm

- - Photographers

Chris Buck has been in the news lately for his controversial Newsweek cover image. This promotional video shows how his enthusiasm for ideas gets his subjects to do crazy things.

I don’t really like heroic portraits, I find them really boring. I don’t think it’s interesting when someone is celebrated in that way. I like vulnerability, I like surprises, I like when there’s a sense that you don’t know what’s happening in the picture.

— Chris Buck

via, Strobist.

Kurt Markus Interview – Part 2

- - Photographers

[Part 1 is here]

Photograph by Michael Karsh

Rob: The book “After Barbed Wire” came out and your phone started ringing with a few assignments, then you had a gallery show in New York and more assignments, so did your career take off like a rocket after that?

Kurt: It was a great time to be a fashion photographer because skin was being celebrated. I mean sunlight on skin. Bruce and Herb Ritts were really responsible for that. There was a sensuality in naturalness that allowed me to enter, because I couldn’t tell you what the fashion point was in a particular dress, but I could tell you how I felt about the sunlight on her skin. And that’s what I was responding to, and that was a time for it.

That was a unique time in fashion.

Yeah, and you could feel the skin. The skin looked real, touchable. That was the point. And that paid for everything. It was my passport to all sorts of stuff. It’s a great training ground to do portraits in.

Were you shooting a lot of fashion?

Yes, lots. I was a traveling fool. I had to fly Delta everywhere to get out of Montana and there was a time when I would be met at JFK by a representative from Delta to escort me through customs.

[laughs] Really?

I’m over a two million miler.

Wow, that’s epic. So, how soon after the book and gallery show, are you suddenly blown-up in the fashion world?

It really started to kick in like around 1988, 89. And then I’ve got about a 10-year time period there where I was flying non-stop. Fashion is this wonderful picture beast. Twice a year you’re starting over with new collections and the wonderful thing, nobody ever gave me a layout or anything. I mean you show up, and maybe you’d have some idea of where you were going to do the shoot, but once you got there you just made it up. I mean it was very free.

And I think most of the time as soon as you stopped shooting and the pictures were done and they appeared, you know the two or three out of 800 that you did, or 1000 you did, you know once that happened, the pictures are dead. They’re over, they’re gone.

That’s amazing, feed the beast.

But you’re making this incredible money and meeting incredible people.

I wanted to ask you about the fashion crowd, because those don’t really seem to be your people.

You know after awhile if you’re going to do fashion you wind up, at that time anyway, with your own team. You’d have somebody to do hair and makeup and probably a stylist, and that they were integral to your pictures because it required that kind of collaboration. You spent all this time together too, you take most of your meals together, you’re traveling together. So you better be with people you enjoy being with.

What about the designers, and the editors at the fashion magazines, they seem like a wacky group of people.

There are some, but my experiences were with people like Rosanna Armani, Giorgio Armani’s sister, who was just absolutely delightful. Funny, no bullshit, she had her crew, and if she styled someone, you can better believe that’s the way they were going to look. It wasn’t like, “Oh, do you like it with the hat on or with the hat off? Oh, let’s shoot it both ways. No, this is it.” And it was just so direct and so pure in that sense.

It’s a creative thing for them, but it’s a business too. And they’re like anybody else on this group that’s traveling and doing the pictures, they want it done well, but they have to enjoy the day. And if they’re creating dramas every single moment, it’s not going to be fun.

And it’s going to show up in the pictures. You’ll see the drudgery, the lifeless eyes of the model, the unfortunate person who you’re photographing; if there’s a bad vibe in the air, whoo, to me it’s just deadly.

And what about the pressure?

I didn’t feel it.

You didn’t.

I mean I worked hard. I always showed up, there was never a single time when I didn’t show up, you know, or be present, and do the best. I’ve always associated the click of the shutter with “Yes,” that you like what you see. I never thought of photography as a job. And then when I’m given this chance to photograph these really great looking people, travel to nice places and eat well, I’m still trying to make the best picture I know how to make.

It never became a job?

No.

That’s amazing. You’re lucky.

Well I think it’s absolutely essential.

You’re caught up in a very crazy industry and there’s a lot of money and there’s a lot of people fighting for it.

Well there’s the other thing. I’ve never thought of photography as a competition. They hired me because they wanted me, not because I’m the best photographer, but I’m a photographer that they wanted. And they could just as easily picked someone else, but they made individual choices where I’m not interchangeable with someone else. That’s why I don’t think of it as a competition.

That’s powerful.

It’s just different choices.

You were raised correctly, someone taught you well.

Well, thank you, but I don’t know where I get some of this shit sometimes.

That’s really healthy, you know? It’s really hard for artists not to take it personally.

I think most artists feel like it means that their work is not good enough but that’s not what the decision is.

What happened next? You got off the merry-go-round?

I think the world just went a different direction.

Right. I mean we’re pretty close to 2000, so things are really changing.

Yeah, 9/11 was big. I could feel the seismic shift pretty quickly after that. You know a lot of budgets got redirected, the trips got shorter and shorter.

And then it got more competitive, too. I mean the industry really changed in that way, and people were aggressively fighting for work.

Yeah. No kidding.

And we’re talking about the digital revolution as well. For a guy who spends a lot of time in the darkroom this has got to be disheartening for you.

It’s impacted how I make a living, but in truth I’m doing my best work right now. I’ve become a better printer, I think I’m a more interesting person. I photographed Mike Tyson not too long ago. I just really enjoyed it. I could appreciate that I’m the oldest guy around. And it’s cool. You can relax a bit, not be afraid of who you are even if you’re kinda dopey at times, just being human.

But I get shocked every once in a while. I had this workshop a year ago and I asked this group of people, it hadn’t even occurred to me in the first couple of days, but I said, “Raise your hand if you are making prints.” And one or two people raised their hand out of 17 people.

Oh, I would have thought zero.

That’s the revolution, because I’ve always thought of photography as an object. It’s not electronic information, it’s an object. I don’t believe in a photograph until I make a print. It doesn’t exist for me. It’s just like thin air. So from that perspective it looks to me like people are afraid. They’re afraid to commit to putting their name on an object and claiming it. They’re dodging the biggest bullet of all which is standing up for your work.

It takes guts to make a print. You know you have to convince yourself that this is you, that you’ve made this and that you’re putting your name on it, and you also have to believe that maybe somebody else either can appreciate the work you’ve done or can appreciate the fact that this is you. There’s nothing else to hide behind.

OK, but that’s Kurt Markus, the print is integral to who you are as a photographer. That’s not the case for all photographers.

But you know what, Rob? I’ll boldly say this. Those people are never going to make it.

Tell me more.

Because they won’t be satisfied. They’ll just get fed up with looking at their pictures on a computer monitor, because they’re going to surf the net, and they’re going to look at other people’s pictures, and they are going to wonder what’s wrong with theirs.

You don’t think photography can exist separately as an object and digitally?

Not by a practitioner. I think photography can exist that way to anyone looking at photographs.

If you make pictures, you have to make a print?

Yeah. If you make pictures, and pictures is your work, you might last for a few years, maybe even 10, but why would you want to be a photographer and not take it all the way, all the way to a print? I do not get it.

Well, I mean there are a lot of reasons, most people don’t have a work ethic that you have.

I don’t look at it as a choice, you’re either obsessed or you’re not.

I’m trying to think of some examples of photographers who are not printing.

I’m not saying that you can’t have someone else print for you. I’m just saying that if you don’t have a print and the image only exists only in a computer box that’s not sustaining.

You can’t make a career out of that as a photographer?

No. Obviously, as soon as I say that you can imagine someone doing it, but…

You only believe in photography as an object?

I believe in the rectangle. Filling that rectangle with a photograph remains the most challenging thing that you can do. Then you print it, sign it, and show it to somebody else. It’s a blank canvas. If you can make a straight photograph, fit it in the rectangle, and make it work, you have accomplished something.

If you have to go outside of that rectangle, bring in other things to put inside that using non-photography tools, it’s cool, I don’t have a problem with that. I just think that you run the risk of it being a gimmick when the most powerful expression is the simplest. For me, you can’t manipulate it into existence by going outside the rectangle.

It’s like a high wire act, and a safety net is not going to be there for you all the time.

How much of the effort for you is making the picture versus making the print?

They’re just inseparable but I’d say the moment of exposure probably is the key.

How long will you spend in the darkroom working with the negative?

Well sometimes I don’t have to do anything. It isn’t that I expect a labor or anything, or that it’s going to take a long time. I try to follow Paul Caponigro’s thoughts on just not expecting anything, and if it’s just there and it’s handed to you, please, I’ll take it. It’s your point of reference for photographs that you love.

Why do you love this Ansel Adams picture, or why do I love this Paul Strand picture? You can’t deconstruct those photographs into pieces. They’re all of one thing. And the power of it is that you can’t take them apart.

Right.

It’s magic, you know [laughs] ?

Have you done many workshops?

I’ve done a couple in Santa Fe.

And that’s a big part of what you’re imparting onto these photographers, is that you know there’s a lot of value, there’s a big reward for treating a photograph as an object.

Well, yes. It’s part of it, but it’s also part of the experience of being a photographer and what it means to hold a camera in your hand and ask Meryl Streep if she could look to the right, or look down, or stand here. It’s a trip. You know, the actual experience of it is just a trip. It’s not like anything else. It’s so powerful.

I mean, I feel like I’m transported when I do pictures. Sometimes even with the landscape, I just think, “Holy shit, man, the electricity’s running through your body.” And that’s got nothing to do with the object in a sense. It’s part of why you’re doing the picture, to feel that. And then to carry through with it is the object phase.

And you get that same electricity from the print.

I think if you allow it, you get that jolt in every phase. You can get that jolt from signing the print. You are keeping your hands on it as long as possible before turning loose with it. And then once you turn loose with it, well, maybe you’ll get a jolt walking into somebody’s house that has one of your prints up, and looking at it you feel like saying, “Yes, that’s pretty good.”

Tell me about this show you’ve got at Staley-Wise.

So, it’s me and a dead guy.

Yes [laughs] .

Which is cool.

It’s cool you’re not dead [laughs].

It’s with Hoynigen Huene, who was a big Vogue photographer. His estate has these platinum prints and the gallery thought it would be interesting to pair his work with mine.

You’re having a show, and you’re alive. Life’s good.

Yes, and you know, it was nice. I enjoyed looking through some of my pictures, because most of these pictures probably were never published. And I think one of my favorite pictures is one that they would never publish, because you really can’t see the dress. But I’m so glad I did the picture.

Is this a picture you did for yourself. You knew they would never use it, so you made it for yourself.

No, not really. It’s pretty hard to do that, to intend to have this feeling. Because every once in a while, you can sneak one into a layout, or they’ll put one in that’s kind of a throwaway picture, as in a mood picture. So I didn’t consciously think, “Oh, there’s no way they’re going to use this picture, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

There were probably variations that showed the dress in a more detailed way, but, it’s really nice to go into the darkroom with pictures you did 15 years ago, and like one and make a print. It’s encouraging to know that you should follow whatever instincts are guiding you. You should really respect those and be willing to fail, because you will really fail if you look back on your work, and you discover that you didn’t really try.

Let’s talk about your legacy. Staley-Wise seems like a nice gallery to have representing you.

It’s a pretty traditional, old school gallery. They don’t represent photographers who work conceptually, and I think my pictures fit in there.

Really?

Yes, I’m not embarrassed by that. The Museum of Modern Art isn’t calling me up, I’m not like Lee Friedlander or Gursky or some photographer who has a museum show every two years. And I don’t get critiqued by the soothsayers of photography. I can live with that.

Why is that?

I don’t think my pictures are challenging enough for some people. You know what I said about the rectangle? I still believe that, it’s immensely challenging to work within the frame. I don’t feel a need to break new ground technically or any other way. I can still go out and do pictures and be very satisfied doing that. I think that my day will come.

Hopefully you’re not underground when it comes.

Either way that’s fine. I would like the luxury of some serious thought being placed on my photographs. When someone really understands the whole body of work, I think it’s a pretty remarkable life.

Is it enough for you to take the picture, make the print, sign it and put it in the box. Do you feel satisfied at the end of the day?

Yes. That’s why I don’t need a show to feel satisfied. I don’t confuse that, ever. Because by doing it this way, I also get to revisit it from time to time, and I can see, “OK, that print wasn’t so good, I need to tear that up and do that one again.” Or, I’ll look and I’ll say, “Jesus, I’m glad I did that, because that print is really beautiful and I can’t do that one again.”

Do you feel that you’re at the apex. Making the best pictures and prints of your life.

Yeah. I’ve got a better chance of pleasing myself.

Amazing. Does it really take that long?

I feel like that’s the way it should be. You don’t want to feel like you’ve done all you can do when you’re two years into this.

Nice. You still take pictures of cowboys?

I’ve got a hankering to go back into it.

Really?

Just because I think I’m a better photographer.

visit Kurt’s website to see more of his work http://www.kurtmarkus.com

Kurt Markus Interview – Part 1

- - Photographers

Rob: I want to start at the beginning. When and where did you start making pictures?

Kurt Markus, 1981, with portable studio tent.

Kurt: I got out of the army in the early ’70s and I knew one thing, that whatever it was that I was going to do with my life, I wanted to love it and believe in it. That should tell you a lot about my army experience.

I enjoyed playing tennis, so I thought, “OK, there’s one thing I enjoy. Maybe I can find a job at it” and I got a job at a tennis company in California.

How old were you?

26. This was Billie Jean King’s company and it was during a time when tennis was booming. People were putting up tennis courts in little towns like Whitefish, Montana.

The company had retained a small advertising agency, but it got too expensive so they started doing a few things in-house. There was only six, seven of us and I had a camera that I’d gotten at the PX while I was in the Army. I did a few pictures of people shaking hands at the net and it was published in a newspaper. And I want to tell you: if you can get the first photo credit under your belt [laughing] early, with your name spelled correctly, it’s encouraging.

I’ll bet that was pretty exciting for you.

Well, it also became a responsibility because they were starting to count on me.

They were like, “That guy’s a photographer. He owns a camera.” [laughs]

I started to have a little bit of pressure applied to me, and I was looking at how-to books and that sort of thing and it kind of mushroomed. A year later I wound up at a horse magazine in Colorado Springs–which is a longer story–and was fortunate to have a really great bookstore, the Chinook Bookshop, where I memorized the photography how-to bookshelf. Then I journeyed off that shelf into the fine-arts shelf of photography.

Uh-oh.

And wow, that pulled some Gs.

What blew your mind?

Edward Weston’s “Pepper Number 30″ did it.

I probably could have guessed that.

I was ready. I was ready to see it. And I was ready to respond.

It seems, though, that’s quite a leap coming from tennis camp and “Western Horseman”?

Exactly. And I grew up boxing groceries in a lower-middle-class family in a very small town in Montana. The idea of photography being taught in schools hadn’t really caught on, so nothing in my background prepared me for that experience. I think that those are the really valuable experiences, ones that just come out of nowhere while you’re plodding along on a journey. Even though I was doing pictures and I was really interested in photography, it was like I was on one planet and the next moment I had jumped planets.

I thought, “I don’t need anyone to explain this picture to me.” I could increase my enjoyment through a bigger understanding of who Edward Weston was, which I eventually got into big-time. But Pepper #30 was a straight-ahead photograph. I never looked at the picture and thought, “what lens did he use?” There was just something complete about it, and deeply attractive, and beautiful.

How did you get involved with Western Horseman Magazine?

The long story short with that is my first wife’s father was the publisher. The editor of the magazine had a family crisis and quit, so my father-in-law asked me if I wanted to work on the staff.

What was your job like?

When I first started with the magazine, the editor, who had been advanced after this other editor left, said that you’ll get one plum assignment a year. Plum means you can travel somewhere. OK. And the rest of the time, my job was to edit material that came in, and do layouts and some other stuff. Some of the incoming material was press releases from Purina, so you can believe that I was ready for my plum assignment.

Give me an example of a plum assignment?

One of my first was I had discovered a photographer named Bank Langmore, who had done these really great pictures of cowboys. And I convinced the editor that I should do a story on this guy. So, I went to San Antonio, where he lived, did a story and made a great friend who has been inspirational to me ever since.

Then I started to have a little bit of success when some readers responded, and I was encouraged to push my luck and get two plum assignments. And then I started really getting into it, and I’d take whatever time I could for myself and go off and bounce around the West.

Then eventually I was editor for one month, before it was “quit or be fired.” I have a rather unique distinction, because not many people can say they were editor for one month.

Wait, what? You became editor and got fired in a month? [laughs]

It shocked the hell out of me, and my wife Maria. I thought I was going to be the editor of the Western Horseman forever.

Why did they ask you to leave?

I got promoted to editor and I thought, “Well, I’ve got my budget. As long as I stay within my budget, I’m the editor, I can do whatever the hell I want.”

Well, I couldn’t do whatever in the hell I wanted. I redesigned the cover except I didn’t consult with anybody else. I didn’t consult with my former father-in-law, the publisher, or with any of the bean counters in the basement.

[laughs] And you thought that would work out OK?

Well, I knew they were going to give me a hard time because I was doing things differently but I wasn’t going to let them tell me until it was too late. Then I thought, “This is going to work out, just have faith.”

So you redesigned the cover.

…and the inside.

And the inside of the magazine, on your own, without anybody’s approval.

Yeah.

And once they saw it, that was it.

I don’t think that it was so much that they didn’t like it, it’s just that they could see that I was going to be uncontrollable.

That seems to be a theme in my photographer interviews.

And you can relate to that, Rob.

Yes.

Conceptually, I’d like to think that I’m pretty open. But once you leap into the here and now it becomes real and not just a concept, then you start drawing the line, especially if you believe in what you’re doing.

Once I lost that job the bank foreclosed on our housing loan because it was contingent upon being employed, then it was panic time. I could have been working at Janitor’s Quarterly, because working 10 years at The “Western Horseman” didn’t open any doors.

What year was this?

1985, I think. Something like that.

What happened?

We moved to Montana.

Back home?

We had two boys and as a photographer I thought it was either New York or Montana. I had seen some people in New York try to cart kids around the city and I decided, “Montana’s going to be it.” And also money wise, I don’t think we could have swung it.

Do you feel like you had the chops to go to New York?

I don’t know about the talent, but I had the ambition.

You wanted to run with the big dogs.

You know, one of the things about photography that has stayed with me, although I question it from time to time, is that persistence really is valuable. Don’t you think?

Yeah.

You know that great classic quote, “F8 and be there”? You do have to be there. Being there is half and you can do that half. And I figure sweat is part of the equation. If you can be really cool and persistent, that’s great, but I was more like sweaty and persistent. I figured that I could maybe outmuscle it.

So you hadn’t had any gigs outside of “Western Horseman”. You didn’t try any advertising. You hadn’t shot any other…

Well, I got a break. I had this cowboy book published by Jack Woody, through meeting Bruce Weber. This is how it goes. You thrash around, then you meet people, and maybe you wind up becoming friends. You just don’t know where it goes. But I believe you’ve got to be out there thrashing around, creating ways for yourself.

How did you meet Bruce Weber?

He came to Colorado Springs while I was with “Western Horseman”. I got a call from Laurie Kratochvil who was at Rolling Stone. She knew me through this other art director who had been at Rolling Stone. His name is Hans Teensma.

He and I were friends, and Laurie Kratochvil had talked to him, so I get this call from her. She said, “I’ve got a photographer coming to do a portfolio on Olympic athletes.” They were training in Colorado Springs.

And Bruce was big time then?

I had no idea who he was. I said, “Sure, I’d be delighted to help you.”

“Well, he needs a place to set up. He’s going to have a portable tent studio to shoot outdoors and he might need some local services”

And I said, “Sure.” Whatever I could do. I had no connection to Rolling Stone or anything like that. I hadn’t done pictures for them at that time. I was just a guy.

So anyway, Bruce Weber comes to town and wow, what a trip that was. Maria, my wife, wound up spending most of her time with him because I had a day job. She’d come back at night and tell me stories “Kurt, you’re not going to believe what they’re doing to these athletes. Cutting their hair and making them wear these little outfits and stuff.”

Anyway, Maria’s having a good time, and she invites Bruce and his crew over for dinner. I hadn’t known you could have hairdressers and stylists and assistants with you when you did pictures, so this was a whole different world. But it took no time at all to become friends, we shared a love of pictures even though our paths were dissimilar. Bruce wound up opening doors for me. He’s been a constant in my life ever since.

You just connected with him then?

You know even to this day, we think quite similarly about photography, what kind of pictures we like to do and see.

How did he hook you up with the publisher?

Jack Woody had just published Bruce’s book, so he calls Jack up and says, “You’ve got to see this guy’s work.” That just fell into my lap.

Well, Bruce must have seen something in your work to recommend you to his book publisher. It must have been great work at the time. It must have been of the level of people operating in New York.

I think he saw potential.

So what was that book?

It’s called “After Barbed Wire.

Right, so you’re in Kalispell then and you set up shop, and what? What was your plan?

I just was looking for a place to live because the bank had foreclosed on our house. I had some family here, but it was also a great place to grow up. I thought that the least I could do is try to give our boys a chance to grow up in a good place.

And then it started… because of the book, I started to get a little bit of work.

When the book came out did you send it to people?

It was distributed and Jack Woody had a pretty good fan base and some of the fans were art directors.

They saw the book and you got calls, like out of the blue?

Yeah.

[laughs] Your phone just starts ringing?

If it rang at all, you answered. I got a job from the advertising agency for Levi’s because they were coming out with a cowboy cut jean. And that’s how it works. They’re like, “Who’s that guy…

“Who’s that guy who takes pictures of cowboys? What’s his name? Oh Kurt. Right. And he lives in Montana. Perfect.”

And he’s cheap. Well, not that cheap, they paid me almost as much as I made in a year.

Oh my God. You must have been doing cartwheels when you got that Levi’s job.

It was a huge bonus.

How long are you up in Kalispell before this job?

Probably less than six months.

You lost your job. You lost your house. You move up there. The book comes out, and suddenly you start getting phone calls, and then you land a big Levi’s job.

Well, I mean, for me, it was big. I did the job by myself, I didn’t even think you could have an assistant or anything like that.

Didn’t you see Bruce Weber and his entourage?

But I didn’t think it was ever for me.

Right. That was not your style.

Bruce is shooting for fashion. The art director who contacted me never said anything like, “Do you have an assistant?”

“Let’s see what he does if we don’t mention an assistant.” [laughs]

Yeah, well, I probably could have asked for one but I didn’t know of anybody. Would it mean they’re going to have to fly somebody in here to do this?

So I shot about maybe 50, 60 rolls of film and I was really into doing my own black-and-white work so I didn’t want some lab to do it. I came back and the art director said, “By the way, we need this immediately.” I just looked at him like, “You’ve got to be shitting me.” He needed it in two days or something. And I’m processing this film four reels at a time. And, oh, by the way, I need two sets of contact sheets. I stayed up for two days straight.

That was a rather jolting introduction to the advertising business.

Wow.

And then, because of the book, I got a job for a Yohji Yamamoto. The art director for this fashion guru in Japan loved Jack Woody’s books and asked me to do a bed and bath campaign for him. Then I took them out to, God help them, a ranch in Nebraska.

Really?

And it was just Maria and me.

Wow.

And with the art directors and the main person from the company there, I just took a bed outside, Maria and I made it up, and I shot it. I put like a towel in the stock tank and threw it over this barbed wire and shot it. I just thought, this is the last job I’ll ever have. This is really, really awful. This is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any magazines. Well a month later I get this catalog that the art director put together and it’s pretty cool. And then, because of Yohji Yamamoto’s name in the fashion business, these catalogs were sent to some other people and I got a fashion job.

What was that job?

Joe McKenna, who is a stylist and a fashion editor, started working for Rolling Stone. He had seen the catalog and then he had gone to this show I had had in New York, and he asked me at the show, “What would you like to do?” I said …

Wait. You had a show in New York? Is this from the “After the Barbed Wire” book?

Yes.

How did that come about?

Well, partly through Bruce, but not really. Jesus, this is more complicated than I realized.

You keep surprising me with these things that happened to you. They fell out of the sky on your head. How the hell does that happen?

It does, you know.

Before we get into that, I am looking at these pictures from “After Barbed Wire”. They’re at a very high level already and this is very early in your career. Did you, the magazine or anyone have any idea that you were producing such great work? I mean, you didn’t have any other assignments or any advertising work or anything?

No, I was left to my own devices. I spent about a third of my income in my “Western Horseman” years on books. I’m sure there are some other photographers that have a better or larger library of books than I do, but there aren’t many.

That’s what’s amazing to me. You’re purely getting this from books and how-to’s. Did you meet any photographers that influenced you?

When I was with the Western Horseman, I discovered Paul Caponigro. I loved his pictures so much that I created an assignment for myself to go interview him. I go there with a list of 147 questions that I had typed out. I thought this is a really cool thing and I want to be prepared and I don’t want to just waste his time. So I’m not going to let this pass without giving it my all. So I typed up all these questions and I get there and I pull out this list. And he said, “What do you got there?” I said, “Well, it’s my questions.” He said, “Well, I think you can forget those.”

He just went in such a different direction. He was so kind, and we’ve remained friends all these years. We exchange Christmas notes and stuff. I have to insert this here because I don’t want to neglect not saying it. It really helps if you know someone who is living a good life that is worth some sort of emulation. Photography is a strange business, and I met some people who were deeply unhappy being photographers. I thought, “Hmm, this could be dangerous.”

Right. Back to the army.

This should be… there’s no better job than this. And, anyway with Paul in particular, I thought, “If I’m really lucky, when I’m 70 years old, I’m going to be living like this. I’m going to have my dark room, I’m going to be making these prints, I’m going to really care about these prints. I’m going to have some quiet. And I’m not going to be on somebody else’s string.”

Anyway, Paul represented that to me and if no one you know is living that life, maybe you should think twice about what you’re getting into.

(Part 2 of 2 tomorrow) visit Kurt’s website to see more of his work http://www.kurtmarkus.com


Nick Onken Interview

- - Photographers

Rob: I need to get into the history of Nick Onken, tell me how it all started. Where are you from? How old are you and when did you get into photography?

Nick: I’m 32 and from Seattle. I started getting interested in photography about six and a half years ago.

That’s it?

Yeah, I studied graphic design then worked as a designer for five years, then I got greedy.

Where did you go to school?

I went to a community college up in Seattle and there was a required intro to photography class as part of the design program.

Oh, dammit! They’re teaching that to graphic designers?

Yeah, but more just as a component. After graduation I designed book covers for a couple years, then went freelance. Then three years later, when digital started hitting the world, I picked up a digital camera. I had a bunch of small clients that I would shoot random, blurry, you know, textures and abstract stuff that I used in my design work for websites and brochures.

You didn’t feel like buying iStock pictures for a dollar? You just wanted to go shoot them yourself?

I knew what I needed. It was kind of more about me being able to get what I want. At that point I don’t think iStockPhoto was really that much into existence. Then I started shooting more and put some photos up on my website and somehow convinced a design client of mine to split the travel expenses to go to Africa and build them a photo library.

[laughs] What?

[laughs] Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing.

What were you shooting for them?

It was just people and places. no talent, product, or anything like that. The organization was a mission and the project was to capture the people and the places. So I had my Sony F707 – [laughs].

I suppose that’s a really bad camera, I have no idea?

It was like a glorified point-and-shoot. You control it manually, but you’d shoot through the screen on the back.

Yeah, and so how did it turn out?

It turned out great for the time. The client was super happy, I got back and I thought, “Wow, I didn’t know I could ever do that.”

Was a lot of that because you’re a designer and you know what’s going to make the design great or was it that you were actually a talented photographer?

The design part helped me see through the lens, imagining the final product and composing. I’ve always had more of a vision with my photography and had to catch up technically. There may have been some talent mixed in there somewhere.

Do you look back at that brochure and cringe?

Oh, yeah. I think I have maybe one picture or two from that whole trip that would still see the light of day today.

What happened after that?

It was another eight months before I really started looking into photography more. I was a graphic designer, it was not something I thought I could abandon. I hooked up with another photographer, Jim Garner, because I was doing website updates for him. He shot a lot of local Seattle projects, and weddings on the weekends. I started asking him questions and eventually he invited me out on set. He’s gotten pretty big in the wedding world now, but all the stuff I did with him was just the local commercial jobs such as products on the table, and then a few environmental portraits, and a little bit of architecture, etc.

He did everything because if you’re going to be a photographer in Seattle, you better shoot everything, right? So Jim took you under his wing and showed you some stuff, what happened next?

I was still on the fence about doing this photography thing, because I loved design. I was back and forth between the two for months. One day he leveled with me and said, look, you need to be a photographer and that’s it.

How did he come with that conclusion, did he think you had the skills?

I’d been hanging out with him and he’d seen some of the stuff that I was shooting personally and he believed in me and said you need to do this. That was a huge for me.

Was that six years ago?

Yeah that was 2004. I still assisted and helped him out on shoots and I was taking on a lot of design work to pay the bills during the transition, shooting a little bit of my own stuff here and there. Eventually I got a call from Nike to shoot all these athletes.

How did you get that job? Did you market your work to them?

No, I had a friend who was an art director at RGA, they were in a pinch and they needed somebody, so they called me a week before the shoot. It was the week before Christmas and I had three days to arrange everything. When I finished I thought, there it is I’m totally in, the ball’s rolling.

Yeah, man.

Little did I realize, I didn’t see another job like that for two years.

You thought “I made it, Nike, I’ve hit the big time,” then crickets for two years. What did you do during that time?

I took the money and moved to Paris for six months.

What? Are you serious?

I wanted to live in another country. I used that time to just take it in and learn, breathe, and explore. I shot a few personal projects here and there, shot some models from the agencies there. I traveled to different countries on the weekends and just kind of hung out. I think for me I wanted to do that as an artist, it’s kind of what we take in that comes out in our life and in our art. Living in another country was something I wanted to do.

Did you start freaking out thinking, OK, I need to get some jobs?

Yeah a bit. When a year blows by and nothing of the Nike status comes through, when you think the ball should be rolling, you start to worry. Around the beginning of 2006, I hooked up with Amanda Sosa Stone and she helped me get my bearings straight about marketing and gave me the low down of like how this works, how the advertising world works. She pushed me to go out on meetings and create a marketing plan and I started to do that with the very limited budget that I had.

Talk to me about your style of photography, from day one have you always shot lifestyle?

Yeah, it kind of evolved to be quite honest. I started doing model testing at an agency and it was more catalogy at the very beginning and then just evolved and evolved. Eventually I was doing more lifestyle conceptual stuff. I was still paying the bills with graphic design projects and assisting here and there for Jim. Then in March 2006 I moved down to LA.

You decided you needed to be in LA to make it.

I decided that to play at the top level where I wanted to be, I needed to be in either LA or New York. LA fit my style a lot more and I had a lot of friends down there. It’s not as much of a sink or swim city as New York. So I packed up my little Honda Civic full of all my computers and cameras and moved down to L.A. I basically started from scratch. I started hitting up some modeling agencies and trying to get a little bit of paid patchwork here and there. I was still picking up a lot of design projects. Looking back now, LA was a great stepping stone to my eventual NY relocation.

So when did it finally click? When were you able to go full-time photography?

It was probably three and a half years ago.

So two years after you moved to L.A., you finally got enough clients. Was this just hitting the streets, marketing, producing personal work and building your brand?

Yeah. I’ve always shot my own work, shot my own tests, and stuff like that.

Yeah, but it wasn’t just a lucky break, like Bruce Weber said “Hey, kid, here, take one of my $100,000 shoots, I don’t need it.”

No, it’s all been a lot of hard work. In 2006 I did a two-month trip to Asia for that nonprofit and that’s when I think I really hit my stride with travel work. I got a lot of really great work out of that. And then I think May of 2007 I picked up another Nike job, still in-house and a smaller Nike job, then the rest of that year was a bunch of other small stuff. It’s always been a hustle, and it never stops.

When did you land with Greenhouse reps?

Q3 of 2008.

How did you end up with them?

I had a portfolio meeting over at an advertising agency and I was talking to one of the art buyers. She was really friendly so I asked her who are the good reps out there? She gave me her card and said “Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you all you need to know.” So I emailed her, and invited her to lunch. When we went to lunch, she started telling me what reps were great then said, “Hey, wait, I’ll tell you what. I’ll just email some for you, how about that?”

She emailed them and said “Hey, I know this guy who’s really good”?

Yeah. She actually ended up emailing four other reps, who all ended up being interested, so I went and interviewed them with a set of questions.

Wow. Your work must have been strong then, that those reps were interested and obviously having an art buyer vouching for you is pretty huge, but still the work needs to stand on its own.

Yeah, the work was there enough for a high level Art Buyer to recommend me.

But also clients too. I mean agents aren’t going to take somebody on who doesn’t already have some clients and isn’t generating some work. It doesn’t make financial sense.

Yeah, I had that and I had my brand. I’ve always been big on branding.

So they saw you had your shit together. That’s probably a big part of their job, getting the brand and getting it all cohesive. You had that all done. So after you landed with Greenhouse, obviously a big repping firm, you turned full-time to photography. Take me through the last three years. Obviously we got hit with a massive recession somewhere in there. You were starting your photography career full-time right in the middle of the economy hitting rock bottom, right?

Yeah, and it’s been a great few years. I started at Greenhouse in October of 2008 and I got my first real ad campaign in December 2008 so it took a few months. I had been doing meetings for a couple years prior showing my books at ad agencies. Making the rounds and doing meetings and luckily they remembered me and saw where my work was at that time.

And so you broke into that Leo Burnett level of ad world and you’re in the club aren’t you?

Yeah, I mean the ball’s rolling for sure and a big asset is having a rep like Greenhouse that puts you in that top tier of talent. But, even up until I got that big job, I bid on at least 12 big ad jobs until I finally got that first one. I got so used to not winning the bid that when I did get one I thought, “Oh my God. They actually gave me a job.” In the end, as cheesy as it sounds, you gotta be in it to win it. If you’re bidding then at least you’re being considered.

So I want to talk a little about lifestyle photography just because I feel like, it’s a unique beast. There is a ton of cheesy lifestyle, but pulling off real genuine moments seems to be one of the toughest types of photography. And from my experience it takes a shitload of money to pull off.

Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean you have the casting involved. You have location scouting. I shoot mostly location work. Location is a huge part it. The productions are thousands and thousands of dollars, at least mid five figures. Depending on how many days and how much talent you have on set, all the wardrobe, and you have wardrobe per talent and hair and makeup. Yeah, it does get very, very expensive.

It’s just a ton of people working on it. I know, there’s probably advertising shoots where there’s just a ton of people hanging out, because they’re expensive shoots or something. I feel like in a lifestyle shoot there’s a ton of people working on the physical product, more so than anything else. What makes great lifestyle photography in your opinion?

In my opinion it’s that realism that you can create, real moments and authenticity. It comes from your taste in wardrobe, people, props, clothes, locations. Everything is about your taste, and how you see. Then that all goes into that picture and into that set. You’re creating an action, and a theme, and a story. And then you’re shooting it. And then you’re snapping that camera at the right moment, or a series of moments and then you’re coming back and editing, I think editing is a big part of it as well. I would say the key to my style of photography is me feeling that moment.

And we all know how photojournalists do that, but how do you manufacture that? That’s the thing, right?

Yeah, and that was actually a learning process for me. The transition from my personal work where I get talent running around doing random things at whatever time of the day to advertising photography, to where I’m given this specific creative direction, its very difficult to create a reality within that, because you’re so specifically directed. Luckily I’ve always pulled it off. It’s creating and putting the elements together and then getting the talent to do the action and create that story within those certain parameters, and then just snapping the right moment. And doing it over and over and over and over again until you get the right one. Now I’ve gotten it down pretty well.

How do you get them to act genuine. I mean, is it just casting?

Yeah, and I think casting is a huge part of that. For me, I like to cast people with great personalities that you can kind of see on video castings. Casting the right people with great personalities makes it easier to direct because the talent can move and have a good time on their own.

So, you have to be an expert at casting?

At least have a good eye and feel people’s vibes, what kind of energy they have. It can be hit and miss, but you get better the more you shoot.

Just based on meeting a lot of good lifestyle photographers, a lot of it comes down to the photographer’s personality. Somebody you’re comfortable around, who’s interesting to talk to, a good conversationalist.

Yeah, you have to be good with people. You have to make them feel comfortable.

I want to talk about your website (here) a little bit, because so many people dig your website. You designed this from scratch?

Yeah, I hired somebody called Knowawall to do it. It was a good six-month project.

Did you know exactly what you wanted, as far as functionality and different things you wanted it to do?

Yeah. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I have a couple friends that used them to do their websites. Coming from a design background, I can see all the functionality, the animations, the loading. So, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted going into it.

I had my brand somewhat developed, and I hired these guys, and was able to use my design background to art direct, a bit. I gave them a very solid brief. I was actually pretty impressed with what they came back with in the first round. I knew I would be, because, it’s like hiring a photographer. You look at their portfolio and you will have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get.

Right. You saw they had solid work in there, super-refined.

Exactly, I’ve gone through so many websites and, coming from a design background, an impatient design background, I had a pretty good idea of the elements that I wanted to fuse into the website that would make it easier for my clients, and my potential clients, to digest the site easily and not have to worry about wait times too much.

And so it wasn’t cheap, right? I mean, you did pay top dollar, but it’s like hiring a good photographer.

Yeah, I mean it cost me more than my car. That didn’t even include the blog which was another little bit on top of that.

Add in a car stereo and some rims.

I launched in February 2010 and my whole idea going into this was that books are being called in less and less and people referring straight to the website. I had two or three jobs last year where people booked me without even calling in my book.

Major jobs?

Yeah. A laundry detergent campaign.

Oh, nice. So yeah, you have a lot of confidence in it. You can send it out to anybody, they’re going to be stoked on it, and stoked on the pictures.

Yeah, defiantly. It’s the whole experience, you can also keyword search on there. There’s at least 2,500 images in the database.

How is it you have 2500 images on your website in only six years of shooting? Do you shoot a lot of personal work?

I guess. I have this ABS theory, “Always Be Shooting.” And I laugh because I get emails from people who say “I’m abiding by your ABS theory.” I think, oh man, I was slightly joking about that, but I guess those are good words to follow for the journey.

Do you have a pair of brass balls you bring out and say coffee is for closers?

Exactly. So I guess I’m always shooting. I try to bust out as many personal projects as possible.

Do you think that’s part of your success?

I think so, I would say the more work you’re doing the better you’re getting, the more your eyes see every time you shoot. It’s all those thousands of decisions you’re making before you click the camera. All your taste, the location, the wardrobe, the styling, the hair and makeup, the model, the direction. Every time you make those decisions you learn for the next time. And so the more you shoot, the more you learn. Did you do a post on the 10,000 hour rule?

I think. So you’re bought into that? That you need to be shooting all the time, because you need to log the hours, the reps.

Yeah, log the hours to improve. On top of that, the reps always love it when they have new work to show, so they can keep putting in front of people.

Talk to me about the blog. How does blogging fit into your marketing and business plan. What’s the purpose of it? Why did you start a blog? You seem to have one of the more active blogs for someone who’s not doing workshops or selling books?

Well I do have a book, but…

Oh, ok but you’re not sponsored by Canon or Nikon and doing workshops?

No. Have you ever read the book, Never Eat Alone?

No.

It’s a great book on building relationships and networking and, you know, the biggest part of that is sharing knowledge with people, and giving something to people. I started it when I was back in my design days before blogs became popular, before anybody actually knew what they were (including me). I started this thing called “Shop Talk” and it was a static HTML page that I manually updated myself, then eventually when blogging became a norm, I rolled it into a TypePad blog engine.

Wow. Old school. It was based on that idea behind the book?

Yeah, kind of. There’s nothing there in the book that really talks about it, but it was based on the idea of sharing and giving back, and what goes around comes around. I believe that if you give people things, it’ll come back to you in some way. So that was the start of the blog. Just share things that I’d learned along the way. And as I keep learning, it can help other people. I don’t know if it’s really gotten me any direct work, per se, but I think it definitely sheds another light into who you are as a photographer, and a person, if a client views your work.

Do you think it’s part of the package that clients are using for hiring now?

Yeah, in a non-direct way.

You don’t have any direct evidence of landing jobs because of something related to the blog, or Twitter do you?

I did this email blast a few weeks ago and I got this kickback email from an art director, saying “I’m not really taking emails but you can Twitter me at this and I’ll be doing portfolio reviews via Twitter.”

No way, really?

Yeah, so I hit this guy up, “I got your email, here’s my website, check it out.” And he hit me back on Twitter with “Nice work, I have a campaign coming up, maybe we can collaborate on that” and so then we continued to have this dialogue via Twitter. But, that’s it. I have more photographers that follow me on Twitter than, art directors.

Sure. But you’re going to keep it up still?

I think part of the idea is creating buzz around your brand.

And could you ever see, relying on blogging and Twittering and Facebooking for marketing?

Its become a couple different channels, you know. You’ve got a photographer channel and you’ve got an art-buying, photo editor channel. It’s a whole different channel. I feel like the blog and the Twitter (@nickonken) and the Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/nickonkenphoto) stuff is more an audience of other photographers. So, for my book it’s been a good channel to distribute and promote that.

What’s the book?

It’s called “Photo Trekking,” and it’s through Random House. We launched it last year.

Oh yeah, you had that big party.

Yeah, we threw a big party for that and I used it as an excuse to have a special happy hour for art buyers and art directors in New York.

Oh, all right, so it’s a marketing piece for you?

Yeah, doing the book really was, it was having a PR piece but also, you know having a book under my belt with a major publisher is a pretty good deal. And just to be able to promote that to art buyers.

And are you selling a lot of books to photographers as well?

Yeah, I think we’ve sold a few thousand.

So things are looking up for you, you’re shooting campaigns for major clients now.

Last year I did a lot of major clients from car manufacturers to alcoholic beverages to sneaker companies to beverage companies.

Was that your best year ever?

Yeah, it was.

I think my readers will like hearing that. You built your business in the middle of a recession and when the economy hit rock bottom you were off like a rocket. Good for you. Well deserved.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

Tim Hetherington’s Last Interview

Outside magazine called over a month ago to ask if I would interview a photographer for their summer interview issue. I immediately pitched them Tim Hetherington whose work I admired although I’d never met or spoken with him before. The body of work he created in Afghanistan was so vast and varied, including an award winning Oscar nominated documentary (Restrepo), plus he’d made some outlandish statements like “forget photography” in the press that I just knew he was blazing new trails for photographers and photojournalism in particular.

When I emailed to setup the interview he said it needed to happen immediately, because he was going to Libya. After what he survived in Afghanistan and previous conflicts it never crossed my mind that Libya would be his last. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

ROB HAGGART: Hey, Tim, how are you?
TIM HETHERINGTON: Rob, I’m very well, man.

Good. Did you find a way into Libya?
Ah, I’m still trying to work out what to do. I mean, I’ve got a potential way in, but—I mean the thing is, the situation is moving so fast it’s very hard to know whether it’s a good call or not.

Right.
That’s the main thing at the moment.

And do you have an assignment or are you just going to go?
Yeah, it’s like a top-shelf documentary film. A director who I know who—and I said I wanted to go in. The problem is, unlike making still photographs, you don’t know what you’ll get in this kind of situation.

Right.
When it’s so fast moving, it’s very hard to structure a kind of narrative. It’s difficult to find characters—you know what I mean? I have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s like a complete fishing trip, so it’s also, like, not wanting to—for them back in New York, the director—for them to understand clearly that that’s what it is.

Right, they probably don’t understand that or maybe just basing it on your previous documentaries, right?
I just don’t want to set myself up for them thinking that they’re going to get something and then they don’t, because it’s impossible—it may be impossible to do what they want out of that. No second chances— like it’s so fast moving, it’s pretty crazy what’s going on. In terms of the government moving very close to Benghazi and who knows whether Benghazi is going to fall or whether the rebels will counter-attack or whether Gaddafi will buy people out in the town, you know what I mean?

Read the rest over at Outside Magazine.

Tim Hetherington Killed In Libya

Tragic, heartbreaking news from Libya that Tim Hetherington was killed and and photographers Chris Hondros and Guy Martin have severe injuries after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.

I interviewed Tim just before he left for Libya for an Outside magazine piece. I hope to publish parts of our conversation soon. My prayers and thoughts go out to the photographers families and friends.

NYTimes.com story.

Update: Interview with Tim from November 2010.

Dan Winters Interview – Part 3

- - Photographers

Dan Winters interview part 3. Part 1 is (here). Part 2 is (here).

Rob: So when did you move to Austin?

Dan: We moved in 2000. I knew going into this that there’s no market in Austin. There are a lot of photographers here…

Rob: It’s amazing how many photographers there are in and around Austin.

Dan: Yeah, we have a pretty amazing photo community here. There are ties down here, but really there’s “Texas Monthly”, that’s about it.

Rob: What’s amazing, though is the Creative Directors that came out of Texas Monthly. Fred came from there and DJ and  Scott Dadich.

Dan: I was always envious of the relationship Seliger and Fred had and I had it to an extent with DJ, and we did some really good stuff together, but I never thought it matured to where we both had hit our stride. Now I feel like I’m on my game and I feel like it’s a culmination of all the stuff that preceded this. That happened when Scott and I started working together. The funny thing about Scott is how much younger he is than I. I think the first time I met him he was 23 or something, but for some reason it just gelled, and I think it was partially due to his tenacity, because some of the stuff we shot I was questioning what it was going to be like. Like that barbecue thing, it looked like an insect collection and I’d studied entomology since I was nine, even went to California State Fair and won once in high school.

Rob: Wait, you studied entomology? Ok, your style is starting to make more sense to me.

Dan: From the time I was nine until I was 18, I studied entomology under George Merriken. I wanted to be an entomologist, but realized they don’t get paid anything. I could make more money as a photographer. When George died and his wife donated his entire collection to a couple universities I flew up to California, and set up a studio in her house and documented the entire collection on 8 x 10. I shot them all the same way using a little set I built.

When I showed Scott those he called me to say, “Why don’t we do barbecue and do it like those insect collection photos.” And right from that moment I felt like we were on the same page. I really feel like I will always work with him, he’s a very close friend, he designed my book.

Getting him to design the book was a project in and of itself. He and I had started two books already, and we had one of them almost done, a black and white street photography book. So I had always said, if I get a book deal, you’re designing the book. So, I got this phone call from Aperture, and they said, “We want a book with you and we want to send some people down to your studio in Austin, what’s your schedule like?”

They have a two-year, first look deal with me and I have several books that I’ve been working on including a bee book.

meat

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Dan Winters Interview – Part 2

- - Photographers

Dan Winters interview part 2. Part 1 is (here).

Dan Winters, September 1989, New York City

Dan Winters, September 1989, New York City, photograph by Kevin Amer

Dan: I worked for Chris for exactly a year. When my year was coming up, and I said, ” two more months left.” And he’s like, “you’re really going to stop?” and I said, “yeah, I want to shoot.” The entire time I had worked for him, every weekend I was shooting at his studio because he would go to his house on the North Brook Long Island with his wife, and I would have friends come over and shoot portraits of them and do lighting. I built my portfolio while I was working for him. So when I left him, I started going to night meetings.

Rob: A year. that’s pretty fast isn’t it? Sounds like you were super ambitious

Dan: Yeah, I mean this is my life. I had that place in Little Italy for only three months, and then I found a room in Brooklyn in Park Slope. I was dying to get into the city, so I found a shit hole, we called it the hell-hole. It was this building on Lake Street and Hudson in TriBeCa, which at the time was like no man’s land. There wasn’t even a restaurant, you couldn’t do anything. You had to ride your bike over the canal to get Cuban food.

There were three of us in this place, I had one room and my darkroom was in my room and I slept on a futon so I could fold it up and shoot. I’ll never forget opening my eyes when I woke up and looking at chemistry that’s on my shelf.

Rob: [laughs]

Dan: This was a really interesting time. Throughout the history of magazine photography, there had been individual voices but there was more of a different schools of photography. You had the “Geographic” school, the “Life” school and the “Esquire” school of photography. So the magazines were dictating the look, to a certain extent. And photographers were really kind of like scurrying to fit in so that they could be shooting for that magazine, rather than a photographer really trying to hone his own voice and get it published.

So, in the ’80s, I feel like a lot of individualization started to happen with guys like Seliger, Chip Simons, Eisler, Karen Kuehn. Then there was Bill Duke and Matt Mahurin, who did tons of stuff for “Rolling Stone” and were really trying to really individualize. And some of it was based in technique, which I always feel like is a little bit shallow, because I think, when you rely totally on technique, if you have the waif-y, alabaster-skinned model, and you have the right background, you have the right lights, and you have the 8-by-10 Polaroid, you can make this kind of picture. But if you take any of those elements away, you don’t get that. So that’s really technique-based. It’s not like vision.

Heisler was a big influence on me. He could do anything. He was shooting still-life objects and portraits and all kinds of stuff. He did this great photo essay on the Olympics with this amazing portrait of Louganis diving off the high-dive, in infrared four-by-five. I’m like, “Oh, that’s amazing shit.” I was just like, “Wow, this is great!” So that’s where my head was. My head was in New York. My head was on this work.

I built this portfolio up and started to take my portfolio around. It was a custom box, with loose prints, all black and white. You dropped it off, you waited around, you picked it up, you took it somewhere else, because I only had one. So I went to Metropolis Magazine, the design studio that did it was Helene Silverstein and Jeff Christensen, because they didn’t have an in-house art department. They had a studio called Hello Studio, which was awesome, cause when they answered the phone they’d say, “hello studio.” Which always cracked me up.

What I’d do is I ‘d go to the newsstands, to look at magazines and figure out where my work could fit, which I think is very important for a photographer to do. So I would drop off my book. Then ride my bike over to the Cuban restaurant that I used to live at, then I went home and the red message light was beeping on my phone. I picked up the message. And it was Jeff, at Metropolis. He said, “This is Jeffery, you dropped you book off here a few hours ago, I have a couple of assignment for you.”

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Dan Winters Interview – Part 1

- - Photographers

danwintersDan Winters is one of the most recognizable, awarded and sought-after editorial photographers in the world. I’ve worked with him a number of times, even visited his studio in Austin, but it wasn’t until I got the chance to interview him that I fully understood what makes him tick as a photographer. I think you will really enjoy reading what he had to say.

Rob: So how are things with you? Busy as ever I’m sure.

Dan: I feel like the greatest gift I’ve had, is the fact that in 26 years, I’ve never not been busy. Honestly, I think the key to that has been, treat every assignment as if it’s your first one, you know? I think there is a misconception, especially that students have and I really make a point when I speak at schools to talk about the fact that you never really arrive. You are always working towards something but you never stop. I think there is this crazy idea that you get somewhere and then everything is cool.

Rob: OK, so can we go back to the beginning? I really want to hear how you got started in photography.

Dan: The first exposure I had to it was when I was in 4-H club, I was 9 or 10. We had an instructor who was a military photographer during Vietnam, and he was really passionate about it. He had a full darkroom set up at his house, so he headed the photography project.

Once I graduated from high school, I started going to a junior college that had and still continues to have the same instructor, John Gray, who was incredibly influential to me and several other guys like Matt Mahurin. I still go out to my old alma mater, Moorpark College, and give lectures and I talk to him all the time. He’s still a mentor. He studied under all the people who started the New Bauhaus School in Chicago. You know, Moholy-Nage and Manray, Siskind, Callahan; they were all in Chicago at the Art Institute. And John studied under them. And so, he brought that to educating which, you know, is lacking in institutions that teach photography.

So early on, I started to just devour everything I could about early photography and early processes. John’s a talented photographer but knows his life’s calling is to educate and to inspire. So when I was at Moorpark, that was huge for me. That was like, you know, the floodgates opened and it was just profound. Then I went to Munich, and went to film art school at the University of Munich film department.

Rob: Wait, why did you go study film?

Dan: I was really interested in photojournalism, and documentary photography, which was what I was doing early on. And, for some reason I wanted to study documentary film. And they had this legendary department. Herzog was on the board, and Fassbinder, at one point when he was still alive, was on the board. It was this great thing I’d read about. I’d studied German in high school and in college, and I thought it would be this great adventure. I was doing carpentry while I was going to junior college and I saved a bunch of money but school didn’t cost anything. Material cost but if you get accepted into a German school you don’t have to pay for it because tuition at state universities is free.

I actually felt what was inspirational to me about Germany was a little bit romanticized. I had this idea that I would go over to a foreign country and study. And I’d read Hemingway, and I’d read Orwell, “Down and Out in Paris and London” and “A Moveable Feast, ” which are about them living on nothing in a foreign city, a little bro’ thing, with them. I was doing odd jobs, and I shot some stuff for the “Deutsche Zeitung,” which is the German version of “The New York Times, ” some freelance stuff. I was hustling.

I started to realize that this has been an incredible experience, but I’ve – I don’t want to say I’ve thrown away the last year and a half of my life – but certainly I could have probably been moving in the direction that I wanted to be moving more rapidly if I hadn’t gone. But, now I look back on it, and it was invaluable to me to have that experience. I think living abroad for anybody especially Americans because you tend to grow up a little bit myopically, is a great experience. So, anyway, I didn’t finish school there. I went for about a year, a little under a year and a half, I guess. Then I came back and I got hired by a local paper. It was a 35,000 daily.

Rob: And this is in California? Where?

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Kareem Black – Shoot What You Love

- - Photographers

2009 was a tough year for me but it was also one of the best years I ever had creatively, because I was forced to reevaluate what I thought was important.

Through one of the toughest years I ever had, I made a ton of great new work, got a brand new portfolio that’s getting me new work now.

See his work (here).

Also, watch (abstract marketing).

Cass Bird – Wrangler Campaign

- - Photographers

From Creative Review (here):

Fred & Farid ad agency in Paris has created a striking series of images featuring stunt men and women in its latest campaign for Wrangler.

The ads feature Hollywood stunt people performing daredevil acts including jumping from windows, being set on fire, and falling through panes of glass. The performances were all captured by photographer Cass Bird, and together form a striking set of advertising images.

Cass has a great sense of humor and you can see in that video why everyone loves working with her. That along with a great body of work is solid gold.

MOTION FLYING MAN

more:
http://www.stunt-campaign.com/
http://www.wrangler-europe.com/we-are-animals/