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UPDATE: Goes to a search page after you sign up but everything works. You will get a confirmation email to respond to.
If you want to receive an email with posts in them as they go up you can subscribe here or over on the sidebar.
UPDATE: Goes to a search page after you sign up but everything works. You will get a confirmation email to respond to.
Bruce Kramer is the owner of Art Mix in Los Angeles, one of the top photographer agencies in the country. They’ve always been an editorial friendly shop handling several of the biggest names in this industry. When I heard that Bruce was opening a gallery in Brooklyn I had to ask him a few questions to see what was up.
Tell me about your new venture Bond Street Gallery?
I was visiting with a friend Robert DiScalfani who lives on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens and has lived in the area for over 10 years. We were walking around the neighborhood and came across a derelict yet beautiful building and both of us looked through the window and at the same moment said “this space would make a great gallery.” I had the idea of doing a gallery in the back of my mind so I cleaned out my bank account and stated this journey.
Over the last few years we started to receive emails regarding the images from the talent I represent at Art Mix and I had been making sales with very little effort and noticed a trend of younger people wanted a photo of their favorite celebrity and in general a much wider interest in photography.
I recruited Robert to be my partner, he’s been a working photographer for over 30 years who still does platinum prints in his own darkroom. We had the building restored, keeping it as original as possible. It’s a small 3 floor town house with a backyard–very much a different vibe than the large white boxes in Manhattan. Our vision for the space was to make it seem like you are visiting someone’s home or a photographers space where he might have his and others work hung around for inspiration.
The area in Brooklyn where it’s located is changing rapidly yet still has a sense of the past. Many new residents are restoring townhouses instead of buying new and we feel the area, in time would appreciate a gallery that had roots to the past but with a vision for the future.
I started to research photos of Coney Island and came across the work of Harold Feinstein a noted flower photographer who has published many books on subject. As a youth he would walk on the boardwalk in Coney Island with camera in hand and take pictures of one of the most culturally diverse areas in the country.
I continued to research photographs of Coney Island and came across many others who also had great imagery: Bruce Davidson, Bruce Gilden, Harold Roth and Sid Grossman to name a few. I contacted their galleries and I arranged to exhibit their work in the show.
We have plans to continue to exhibit work by forgotten and undiscovered talent from the New York area and around the world.
What skills can you bring over from running a successful photographer agency to running a gallery?
Having run a successful photography agency with varied talent I have developed a strong sense of what I consider to be good or even great photography and the ability to recognize talent.
Running a photo agency is very competitive as there are many agencies and photographers and less and less jobs available these days. I’m a firm believer in marketing and advertising which has really been the cornerstone of my business and I intend to bring that style to running the gallery. We are not expecting buyers to walk in off the street, we will go to them. While I’m new to the gallery world I’ve been in the photography business a long time and I’m getting a great response from established art photographers and galleries.
Do you think commercial and editorial photographers should sell their commissioned work as art?
For years photographers commissioned work has been selling in galleries. Penn, Avedon, Bailey, Newton, Outerbridge, Bourdin, both William and now Steven Klein. There have always been and there will continue to be commissioned photographers who are hired for their eye, lighting, sense of style and aesthetic. Even though the images were created to sell a product I feel they are no less art than the photographer who creates images on their own. In fact in some ways I feel the commissioned photographer has a harder job as they often have to work with other people’s ideas and parameters yet still be true to themselves.
How do you pick an exhibition for the gallery?
Picking to photographers to exhibit is not as easy as I thought it would be. I want to show work that speaks to me, that has soul and guts and I do feel I’m a good gauge of talent but I’m trying to view the photography from a non-commercial point of view. Photography was a medium many hobbyist got into and some of them were pretty good. The guy who sold me a car recently asked me what I did and when I told him about the gallery and he mentioned he use to take photos of jazz musicians. Well he certainly did: Miles, Dizzy, Lou Rawls, etc. Joe’s work has a raw quality to it that you no longer find.
I’m trying to dig a bit. I’ve contacted photographer clubs and have sent emails to their members. I’m also attracted to commercial photographers. Many do personal work to balance out the what they have to do to earn a living and I’ve come across some great work.
Do photographers need to decide between becoming an editorial, commercial or fine art photographer or can they be all three?
I don’t think a decision can be made concisely. If you are the type of photographer that has a vision and you stick with it, perhaps adapt a bit to the right and left if need be, remain passionate, your work will stand out. I do believe photographers when starting out are not just working towards a pay check, It’s more about expressing themselves. Often somewhere down the road they lose direction and do as told and stop using the judgment that got them there. All photographers no matter how successful should always be challenging themselves, exploring and experimenting to keep there creative juices flowing. More and more I am seeing photographers successfully working in all areas without compromising. My hopes are I can take an art photographer and get them commercial work and get commercial photographers into the art world.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was intimidated by working down the hall from legendary Rolling Stone Director of Photography Jodi Peckman. She’s garnered every accolade the photo industry can hand out and her rolodex is the size of a parmesan cheese wheel.
As it turned out my fear was unfounded because she’s a real sweetheart who’s willing to chat at length about working as a photo editor as well as happy to debate the merits of working with any of photographers in this industry.
I thought I’d ask her a few questions:
1. People ask me all the time how I became a photo editor and I’d be willing to bet everyone’s story is different. What’s yours?
Wellllllll… I had a friend who was the assistant to the Art Director here and I used to visit her at work and hang around the office a lot. I was still in school at the time. The Art and Photo Directors got to know me and so I would help out returning film or any small stuff they wanted. At the same time I was also printing photos for the guitarist of the band The Police (he’s a photographer). The Photo Director (Laurie Kratochvil) asked me if I wanted a real job, so she sent me to a photo agency where they hired me to file photos. I ended up working there for quite sometime and eventually left to hang out with my brother who lived in Italy. When I returned Laurie asked me if I wanted to work at Rolling Stone on the Random Notes section. I said yes, and I’m still here.
2. You’ve been a Rolling Stone a long time and I know there’s huge advantages to working within a specific genre having spent my entire career working with outdoor sports and athletics but how do you stay excited and challenged by the subject matter?
The best part about working here is that really it’s not just a music magazine. The range of what we cover is pretty big. We’ve got movies, TV, internet, politics, sports, crime, foreign and national affairs, environment and more. So, I don’t really see it as one genre. That being said, I’ve had to reinvent the job many times over. Coming to the same office, same desk, same everything for this long can get pretty weird and repetitive. The people around here change so that’s good and new photographers crop up all the time. I’m a creature of habit, so staying put suits my lifestyle (I eat a hamburger almost everyday).
3. One of the biggest challenges for me as a Photography Director was hearing, “you can’t hire that photographer” or “we’re not going to run that photo” and not taking it personally. How do you deal with it?
When you’ve been someplace this long you don’t really hear that too often. I guess they figure I know the magazine pretty well by now and fortunately my opinion holds some weight.
4. Do you still look at promo cards? What about promo emails?
Don’t really look at them. Well, I look at them of course, when they come in, but they rarely relate to anything we do here. Seriously, I get photographers who shoot babies and food send stuff all the time. I try so hard to open all the emails, and there are hundreds, but it’s not always realistic. There’s just not enough time. I feel terrible about that and I always promise myself I’ll try harder.
5. I found I didn’t have enough work for even my core group of photographers let alone adding new ones to the list. Do you still add new photographers to your list of people to hire?
We do. Not too many cover shooters tho.
6. Any predictions on how the photography industry will look 5 years from now? How about the magazine industry?
Ahhhh, magazines and newspapers will be around forever. I’m not too good about predicting the future, I’m livin’ in the moment all the time.
These next two questions come from an aspiring Rock and Roll photographer and reader of my blog.
7. In music photography, more so than other kinds of photography, people are willing give away their work for free or in exchange for access. Even musicians ask for photos in return for access. Magazines and festivals also seem to be trading access for photos. An example is the SPIN correspondent program, (here) How do you make a living (or at least part of a living) in that kind of atmosphere?
They’re giving you better access so you should be able to make better pictures. Better pictures should lead to more work. I worked here for free and so do our interns. We end up hiring half the people who are interns.
8. What is the best way to for a photographer to get their foot in the door at Rolling Stone? What assignments should newcomers approach (i.e. festivals)?
Being a concert photographer is brutal. So much competition. Find something special you do well and different from the others and work on an interesting and unique portfolio.
9. I always loved seeing the contact sheets from a shoot for the first time and in many ways that was better then seeing something printed in the magazine. What’s your favorite part of being a Photography Director?
Well it isn’t opening the box of photos. I’m always too nervous. Looking at pictures is so interesting and inspiring, and I really like photographers. I meet interesting people all the time. It’s creative and I feel that I am a part of what makes Rolling Stone what it is and how it looks. I feel so so lucky to have fallen into this job.
10. If you never got a job at Rolling Stone what would you be doing right now?
I’ve run quite a few sporting event photos over the years but I’ve never really contemplated what goes into making one so I decided to join a friend shooting a week long sports event. My initial reaction after the first couple days is… ARE YOU FNG KIDDING ME. Where the hell did all these people with cameras come from? I shit you not, I saw soccer moms with 600mm Canon lenses. What the hell are you going to do with those photos? Put them in your scrapbook? There were literally thousands of people shooting pictures of every single person, place or thing you could imagine. I guess I’ve spent all my time sending people to events and buying stock photos but never attending to see what goes down. You photographers can certainly put up with a lot.
After my initial shock with the camera toting public I realized half these people are actually sporting press credentials representing all kinds of magazines, newspapers and even blogs. I’m all for shooting original pictures but if everyone is standing in the exact same spot shooting the exact same thing I’m not so sure I see the point.
The bottom line is, access is everything, which is not really news to anyone but reinforces the idea that bringing your personal vision to photography is the key to making it.
… living in big cities [is] invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters–you gain exposure to the envelope of serendipity.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan
One day sitting in my office on 6th avenue reading photo industry blogs while the phone rang off it’s hook and the books piled up outside my door and assignments that needed to be made were not being made I had a eureka moment. I was reading Andrew Hetherington’s blog *what’s the jackanory* and there was debate about why a photo editor did something and why a photographer let a photo editor do something and I thought, “Photo Editors need a blog, I’ll start one.” I owe him a debt of gratitude for that moment but that’s not why you’re reading about him here. He’s also been on my list of photographers to hire for many years so I’m not going to ignore him despite the fact that a few of you think photo industry blogging is a self-perpetuating back slapping machine.
Andrew (website here) is a top editorial photographer who lands commissions from magazines like GQ, ESPN and Details; and wins awards from CA, American Photography and PDN. Even though he spills his guts on his blog every week I thought you’d like to hear me ask him a few questions.
1. Can you tell me how you became known by Photo Editors and Art Directors as the cow with wall photographer and has it helped or hindered your career to be remembered so well for that one image?
I think it has been a great help. Its important to be remembered for something, right ? You know I didn’t realize this shot’s hidden potential early on, sometimes you are so close you don’t see what you really have. I didn’t think it had much of an edge but editors and art directors all started to react to it when I started showing the book around. I had it hidden down the back but then it quickly made its way to the front especially after PDN used it on the cover of the 30 issue in 2003. I used the image as part of a mailer that year and I still see it up on editors bulletin boards from time to time.
FYI, I am also refered to as the guy who photographs drunk Irish folk, barf, women’s bums, bloody noses, you know the funny quirky gross guy.
2. I’m sure it wasn’t a “eureka” moment but can you describe the chain of events that lead to you becoming a top editorial photographer?
My Dad was a lighting camera man (cinematographer) we were surrounded by gear growing up
I had no interest in moving pictures
Hated being in front of the camera which we often were
With my Dads encouragement I started dabbling with his Pentax slr
Joined the school camera club
Began to shoot the sports at school
Got to go to all the rugby games and be on the sideline
Got to all the parties too, score
Had a darkroom in my bedroom
Processed film in the bathroom
Discovered reticulation by accident !!
Had to decide what I wanted to do when I left school
Wasn’t terribly academic during my teens
Was more interested in music, fashion and my hair
Was accepted to Art School; a 1 year course in Commercial Photography
Didn’t learn much. It was the first time this school offered the curriculum
so it was a bit mickey mouse
Assisted photographers in Dublin
Began shooting on my own, fashion mostly
Did alright for a while
Got as far as I could go
Needed to figure out where I was going with my life
Got a green card in a lottery
Moved to New york, gave myself a year to see what happened
Was exposed to tons of amazing people and experiences who all had a profound effect on me and my photography
Fell in love
Started shooting again, mostly fashion
Did alright for a while
Realised I wasn’t going to be Steven Miesel
Got as far as I could go
Lost the passion for the fashion
Started to concentrate on what really excited me, environmental portraiture
Got a big break and was chosen for PDN 30 2003
Got the cover, yes the cow
Started to get really cool work with really cool people
Not taking any of it for granted
3. I’ve always had you on my list of photographers as someone who can take banal situations, make them interesting and also make a complete story out of it, not just one portrait. Can you tell me how you arrived at this style of photography? Also, does it bother you to be called to shoot subjects I think are dull?
Well Rob you never called so I guess there wasn’t much need for dull banality at Outside or Mens Journal. [SNAP! -Rob]
When I started out shooting in New York I always used a ton of gear, different cameras and lighting packages. I was all over the shop. As an assistant I had worked with so many different types of photographers that it took me a while to shake all their influences and hone my own style. At the time my personal work was more straightforward and as I transitioned from the fashion into portraiture I was looking for a way to shake my previous work habits; to be mobile, to be able to shoot indoors and outdoors at a moments notice, to be able to take advantage of whatever opportunity presented itself. Ambient light isn’t my thing, flash is, so I also wanted to keep that quick and simple too. I like a bit of quality though and amn’t a huge 35mm fan so in a nutshell I try for point and shoot mobility with a lit medium format aesthetic. I think this really frees me up (when there are no major assignment restraints) so I am not locked in to one or two set ups. I also wanted to be able to create the same quality of image whether I am on my own or whether I have one, two or three assistants. I love it when I get called to do a gig that calls for a set up portrait combined with elements of reportage.
Dull that doesn’t bother me at all and hey if there’s any travel involved I am down. To be honest I love pulling up in front of someone’s place in bum fuck no where, you never know whats waiting behind the door. Most of by favorite stuff is as a result of being out there somewhere; it may never make the magazine edit or even have anything to do with the assignment but one mans dull is another’s life altering experience. It can certainly be a bit hairy at times and the magic is not always a given but I do enjoy the challenge.
4. Are there any career choices you that you either regret or were the best decision you ever made?
I think the best decision I ever made was to start shooting for myself, to start doing what I wanted to do the way I wanted to do it, and not to worry about satisfying anyone else but myself.
No major career regrets to be honest, its usually the more obvious regret; when a shoot doesn’t work out as well as one had hoped or I miss a shot. Just makes me try even harder the next time.
5. If you were an insect what kind would you be and why?
I would be ‘grasshopper’
“Yet it is eyes which blind the man”…”Because a man can see, he does not look.”
– Master Po.
I still have so much to learn
TechCrunch reports (here)–then I received an email from one of the founders–on the launch of a new company called GumGum (here) that allows people to license images on a cost per impression basis. This is the way images are licensed in the print world so it only makes sense that they should go that way online. This is such a brilliant idea for photographers and very similar to one I was trying to work on after leaving NY, but never got anywhere with, so I’m glad someone beat me to the punch.
If you don’t want to pay the cpm the photographer is offering they give you the option to serve advertising either on the image or as a pre-roll to the image instead.
Either way the photographer gets paid. How’s that sound to you?
Watch the video here on how it works:
The cool thing is how easy it is for someone to license an image from you. It reminds me of what Apple did with music.
It’s just the beginning for this technology but I’d like to see widgets photographers can put on their site that will take me to a licensing area with only their images. Also, they’re really going to need powerful search and keywording technology similar to what Corbis and Getty use if they want to make the service worthwhile for publishers but that’s where I think using google to search for images and then gumgum.com to license could be a powerful combination for the future.
I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.
Teens appear to be willing to curtail illegal downloading when told they face fines or jail time.
This finding, among many in a survey published by Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) on Wednesday, is the basis for the software company’s new campaign to teach teens respect for intellectual property rights.
[...]Microsoft’s survey found that about half of the teenagers surveyed (49%) said they are not familiar with the rules and guidelines for downloading content from the Internet. Only 11% understood the rules well, and of those, 82% said downloading content illegally merits punishment. Among those unfamiliar with the law, only 57% supported punishment for intellectual property violations.
[...]Nevertheless, Microsoft wants to correct teens’ woeful ignorance. To do so, it has turned to Topics Education, a developer of custom curricula, to create a curriculum called “Intellectual Property Rights Education” for middle school and high school teachers. The Microsoft-sponsored curriculum consists of Web-based resources and case-study driven lesson plans that aim to engage students about intellectual property issues.
Read about it (here). Via, Slashdot.
I usually place photographers into one of three groupings according to how expensive I think they might be to work with. I’m not talking about the creative fee because that usually stays relatively the same for everyone. The expenses are where the total cost for a shoot can vary wildly.
Low budget photographers have little or no rental and digital fees, no assistant, will drive 500 miles to save a couple bucks on airfare or even make 3 connections and endure several hour layovers, eat cheap fast food, rent compact cars and sleep in dive hotels or sometimes a ditch.
The medium budget photographers have rental and digital fees but are usually flexible and just looking to not get stiffed. They fly coach but it needs to be on specific airlines where they can upgrade to first class or collect miles. They always have an assistant but might be willing to use a local, eat sushi, rent SUV’s and stay in a nice hotel.
The high budget photographers hire a grip truck, have a preferred retoucher on speed dial, they fly first class and always travel with their 1st/digi-tech and need a second from LA or NY and a third could possibly be a local if they absolutely have to. They always have catering on set and then eat room service, rent 2 SUV’s (one for the assistants and gear) and only stay in hotels from a list they approve and sometimes with a specific room request.
How do I know what category you’re in? By looking at your photography.
Many times I won’t even call photographers because I know they’re going to be high budget and the shoot just isn’t worth that kind of money (vagueness by the editor about the number of pages available or even if it will ever run is usually a good clue). Sometimes, I get myself in trouble and the low budget photographer is actually high budget. That can cause a lot of tension as I try and hack away at the expenses.
Some of the high or medium budget photographers will say “hey, why don’t you call me for shoots like that that one you did with *low budget* photographer I’ll be flexible” but once we get down to an estimate the expenses always seem end back up where I didn’t want them to be.
I’m not sure what the cost of a photographers plane ticket has to do with their level of photography but I assume it’s their willingness to say no.
Last Sunday the New York Times Magazine featured a brilliant photo portfolio of actors that appears to be the antidote to the Vanity Fair treatment. Shot entirely by Ryan McGinley, in a spare but cohesive style, it surprisingly holds together nicely for 28 pages. I think their attempt to wrestle the Hollywood photoshoot beast away from its recent hyper-produced overwrought incarnation is a welcome relief.
You may be surprised to see that they got Ryan past the actors handlers given his easily googled (here) colorful past (FYI, if you want to see how you appear to a publicist just google yourself and if you don’t have a section entitled celebrity, forget about it). It’s easier to get unconventional photographers through the gate with the younger actors and a big project like this can act to change the conversation from who the photographer is to who’s in the portfolio. It’s also about trust and Photo Directors like Kathy are usually given a long leash by the publicists for a long history of pairing actors with talented photographers.
Sometimes, I’ll get a shoot in and be disappointed with it but then I’ll show it around to the editors, the creative director and the other photo editors and everyone will like it and so I think “Ok, just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not a good shoot.” And, I chuck it in the file cabinet and forget about it.
Then the damnedest thing happens. The story is slated and we pull the film out and scan it in and they start to lay it out and then there’s, a problem. It’s not working in the layout for some reason. The reason is usually one of two things. Either the photos are all very similar and when put into a layout they all look like the same photo taken over and over. Or, there’s something important missing, the key part of the story or someone’s portrait or a photo to match the headline they wrote. The worst possible problem–this happens more than you may think–is there’s no opener. At least nothing that fits the traditional definition of an opener: an image that fits a spread, one and two thirds or single page that either has the power to stop readers in their tracks or represents the scope of the story in that single image. There are other ways to skin this cat but if the designer is unwilling to explore them I need to go find an opener and your photo credit went from display to the gutter.
Always shoot the opener first. You’re always better off if you only come back with the opener and nothing else.
Boda, Director of Photography at the WIB Agency has a 20 year career as an agent under his belt and in that time he’s worked with some very talented photographers at a few of the biggest agencies in town (NYC). He also has the good fortune to have one of the most memorable names in the business. I didn’t know about the move to WIB and he was telling me about it and I thought I’d ask him a few questions for everyone to read. I even found a couple photographers I like to add to my list (below).
1. Boda, you’ve been an agent for quite awhile now. Can you tell me how you got started in this business and why you’ve kept it up for so long?
When I first moved to NY, I met the Art Director Paula Greif and Director Peter Kagan, they were just editing the video of Chaka Khan and Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” I worked with them for about 2 years and always seemed to gravitate to the client, making sure that they were happy and they were getting what they wanted. From there I started at Art + Commerce assisting Jim Moffat with Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe and Steven Meisel. I knew then that my passion was making people happy, making sure things got done, and making sure that in the end everybody had what they needed and that nobody got hurt doing it. Paula Greif called me a “Gentlemen’s Agent” meaning one not to backstab or do anything malicious. Just a good guy trying to do good work with good people.
2. Tell me about your agency? How big is it (offices, number of agents, photographers)?
Our agency started in Paris about 13 years ago and then grew to Milan and London. A little over a year ago, it seemed only natural to open in NY, most of our artists had apartments in NY and Paris and were traveling often. In NY we have only 2 agents, our office is very minimalistic. We consider it to be a boutique, an agency that pays attention to the photographers. That when they call they talk to their agent, not the assistants. We want this to be our “Thing” a boutique, small, cozy and friendly.
3. You’ve got a top roster of what appears to be mostly European photographers. Do you find it difficult to convince clients to bring in someone from Europe to shoot in NYC?
We always tell our clients that travel should not be an issue, most of our photographers have places to stay when in NY and will fly themselves here at anytime. Dean Isidro, Mary Rozzi and Alexandre Weinberger live in NY and the same goes for them when they have to go to Europe.
4. Juggling a photographers schedule with fashion clients seems like it would be awfully stressful. Do you have any special techniques that keep everyone happy?
It is just what I do, I love to keep people happy, I don’t get stressed ever. Everything will always get done if you just breathe and do one thing at a time, lists are very important. You will never, ever hear me say to a client or photographer the phrase, “I AM SO CRAZY,BUSY,INSANE” I am so sick of hearing agents say that, the truth is if you are well organized it will all get done. And there are never EMERGENCIES, yes a belt or a lipstick may be forgotton or Salmon wasn’t delivered at lunchtime, but really, nobody is being rushed in an ambulance to the hospital.
5. What’s the best way for an emerging photographer to get on your radar for potential representation someday?
I love links to their work, I love seeing all work, personal, editorial, catalog, advertising. The more the better. If I like their work then I will always meet with them, but they better be a good person and have a genuine nice personality, because that is who I surround myself with.
As a follow up to the Clay Stang consultation I decided to talk with Derek Shapton from Toronto who’s not only on my list as the “go to” for that town but has transcended the local market to become a photographer people will fly to them.
1. I first discovered you in the American Photography annual. How do the awards and publications you’ve gotten help you market your work?
I think awards and annuals are as effective, if not more effective, than any other type of marketing out there. Mailers and bulk email tend to be thrown away or deleted, but awards annuals and juried books are very special in that they’re the only promotional vehicle that’s actually anticipated and even sought out by potential clients. Nobody looks forward to another stupid mailer, but everyone looks forward to the CA Photography Annual! The downside is that they’re unpredictable. I’ve served as a judge for a several awards shows and I can attest to the fact that brilliant work can sometimes be left out of the final selection for very strange reasons. You can’t always count on being included, so it’s hard to carefully plan an annual
marketing campaign around them. I think they work best as a supplement to more traditional promotion — although I know several photographers for whom awards are the only promotional venture they bother with, and they seem to do quite well by them.
2. Can you tell me how you managed to transcend just being the go to guy in Toronto, Canada to become a top North American editorial and commercial photographer?
I think there were numerous factors that came together at around the same time. My entry into the American market was coincident with the rise of the Internet as a communication medium — it really has made the world a smaller place and opened people’s eyes to the richness of talent in geographic areas they might not otherwise have been aware of. The buildup to the dotcom bubble of the late 90’s meant that there was a lot of speculative money being invested in all kinds of bizarre ways — companies nobody had ever heard of were suddenly spending a lot on advertising and marketing, and there were seemingly hundreds of magazines starting up — in North America, at least, it made for a major spike in demand for commissioned photography. Th Canadian dollar was approaching an all-time low in relation to the US dollar, and it was suddenly very economical to work with talented artists outside of the US. And last but not least, the kind of work I gravitated towards — a naturalistic, quasi-documentary, “low-impact”
approach — suddenly became quite popular, possibly as a reaction to some of the more egregious, gimmicky excesses of the mid-90’s (cross processing? Hosemaster? Anyone remember the Hosemaster?). It was a combination of hard work and effort combined with a certain amount of right-place-at-the-right-time.
3. I’ve always had you on my list of photographers as someone with a dry sense of humor, vibrant colors and strong documentary skills. Can you tell me how you arrived at this somewhat odd combination of styles?
I’m very interested in many different kinds of photography, but I’m a terrible mimic. I’m always trying to figure out how other people do things, but it never really works out the way I expect, and so I guess I eventually arrived at something of a hybrid look — definitely influenced and informed by certain types of approaches but not quite nailing any of them on the head. I also think that the way I work — a minimal, “documentary” approach, for lack of a better term — kind of leaves a lot of things out there for the world to see; my feelings about my subjects, for example, tend to come across quite clearly, and I’d like to think that this makes for a certain
emotional content and sense of empathy that’s perhaps a bit lacking in other people’s work. As for the bright colors, I’m not sure what’s going on there. Maybe somethings wrong with my monitors?
4. Are there any career choices you that you either regret or were the best decision you ever made?
Biting the bullet when I wasn’t sure it was worth it and going to the time, effort, and expense of getting a US work visa is something I’m really glad I did. Buying a PC instead of a Mac as my very first computer was probably a mistake.
5. If you were an insect what kind would you be and why?
I’m tempted to say dung beetle, because I sometimes feel (particularly when I’m retouching) that I spend much of my time aimlessly pushing crap around, but I think I’ll pick a Monarch butterfly because they migrate 3000 miles twice a year, and I really like traveling.
I consider myself a pretty good people manager but it took me a long time to become one. I’ve always been good at working with photographers but it took quite a bit of work to become good at managing the people under me and I only really figured it out in the last year or so.
The greatest piece of advice I ever read (out of 20 or so business books) goes something like this: Taking someone else’s idea and increasing the quality by 5% occurs at the price of a 50% decrease in their commitment to execution (here’s a recent explaination on the Harvard Business blog).
This is a huge problem in the publishing industry. Everyone tries to “add value” to everything: stories, photos, ideas, line-ups, headlines, cutlines, pull-quotes, captions, typefaces, colors and hairlines. If you’ve ever worked with an editor who makes slight modifications to every single effing thing that comes through the door then you know what I’m talking about. Your desire to execute is deflated because you no longer own anything thanks to the misguided idea that the readers will somehow notice a slight improvement in quality. They don’t. Half the readers were bought by the newsstand director anyways.
Photo editors know all too well of this phenomena that I call “shuffling the deck” where someone will come along and rearrange the photos and change singles into half’s and half’s into spreads all in the name of somehow improving the story. It’s not better, It’s different.
Some of my greatest accomplishments as a photo editor are a direct result of me doing nothing. See if you’ve got the sack to admit that.
If you want to make the magazine better do your job as well as you can and keep your mitts off mine.
Mary Virginia Swanson
Fluid Vision Inc.
Louisa J. Curtis
Karen DSilva Creative Services
Kate and Company
Baraz/Epstein – Phototherapists
We Heart Creative
Mercury Lab – Beth Taubner
Zoe Whishaw (UK based)
Pedro + Jackie
Crusade For Art
Thanks to Ken Cavanagh for this list.
I’m pleased to report the consultation session with Clay went really well and I learned a few things about the business that I had no idea about. I think we really did help Clay but as Leslie said in her answers to my questions earlier it’s up to him to make the changes and implement the ideas that were discussed. If you’re a really busy photographer, working hard every day, it almost seems crazy to hire a consultant because they will only give you more work to do.
Here’s the mp3 for those of you who want to listen to the session and get an idea what it’s like.
Here’s the direct link to the audio:
Consultation with Clay and Leslie
For those of you who don’t want to listen to the 55 min. session here are the highlights:
It was a huge relief to find out that these sessions don’t have a lot in common with an Oprah show or Tony Robbins lecture. I was afraid that we would sit around and blow smoke up his ass and then he would walk down the street staring at his navel and get clobbered by a NYC bound bus. We discussed what we liked about Clays work and then what we didn’t like and ways to improve and then we hugged it out (kidding).
First off, filling out a questionnaire like the one Leslie gave Clay is such a good exercise for all photographers and not dissimilar to creating a business plan. Don’t forget you’re running a business. Identifying specific clients you want to target and your dream job gives you targets and goals to work towards.
Clay described his dream job as something that already happened (time for a new one) and was very general about his target markets which Leslie pointed out as a common mistake with photographers. I do think it’s really important for everyone to go after a specific jobs and agencies and magazines and not just throw yourself into the “I take pictures for a living” market.
Leslie talked about the best way to do that, which is to find the people who already hire photographers like you. That seems so intuitive to me but I’ve never really thought of it that way. Why go around pimpin’ your style to people who aren’t interested in it. Find creatives, art directors, photo editors and art buyers who like your aesthetic and target them with your marketing material. The best way to find them is the contests like PDN Photography Annual, SPD (society of publication designers), Communication Arts, The Kelly awards, Graphis and Lurzer’s Archive. In a follow up email Leslie says to find projects that make your brain think “I would have LOVED to have worked on that project” and note that “I could have shot that” is not enough. You need to feel that real creative/vision connection.
We talked a bit about some of the problems Clay was having, much of which stems from his specific style of photography. He was feeling pressure to change the style and to use more digital to accommodate the tastes of his local market. Also, Clay has a bit of a dark sense of humor which turned off a few potential clients in his area. The key for him solving these issues is to look for clients outside of his local area and find more that are in tune with the way he wants to shoot. Ok, I know, that sounds like duh, who wouldn’t want clients all over the world but I think he’s at a major crossroad in his career that many photographers face, “Do I change my style to accommodate the local clients that make me money or do I go and look for new clients that like what I’m doing” not an easy decision and certainly one that can lead to disaster if those new clients never materialize. I honestly think Clay can make the jump but it’s gonna take some time and serious effort.
Something Leslie pointed out that I really found interesting was that photographers should use general naming categories on their website. I was really surprised to hear Leslie explain (she has a linguistics background) how people attach meaning to words and when your meaning doesn’t match theirs they get offended. Wow. This is big for me because I’m always saying to people “why are you putting those lifestyle photos in with the portraits and why are you calling those photos portraits when they’re clearly not.” That’s smart. Avoid that conflict of meaning.
Next we got into the actual website and Clay had a few problems with his navigation that we discussed and that he didn’t know weren’t working properly. He admitted to throwing a few random photos into the portfolios to demonstrate his ability to shoot other styles which we both pointed out as a mistake and somewhat of a distraction. If you’re going to demonstrate several styles of photography (not advised) then they all need to be complete bodies of work. I’m not really going to hire someone to shoot a style based on 3 or 4 images.
One more thing Leslie said that I found interesting was that some photos just don’t look good on the web and you should keep them off your website. I think it’s really smart to think in terms of what looks good and not, what am I trying to demonstrate or what jobs am I trying to show off.
Well, I hope everyone finds this useful, interesting and informative there’s certainly more advice in the audio of the session. I really want to thank Clay and Leslie for participating in this very public forum, I know I learned a few things from it.
Here are the questions Leslie asked Clay to answer before the consultation:
What do you see as your target market(s)?
Commercial and Editorial. Unfortunately PSA’s because there is no money. In Canada the market is fairly conservative and safe, it’s been a difficult fit. My reps are finding it very difficult to convince AD’s that throw a Honda car in the background and you got a great advertisement using my style/look. You really have to spell it out for them.
As for Editorial, I’ve found it difficult to break into, again being in Canada, there is not a ton of options, and those that do exist are fairly conservative.
I have been trying to make contacts at US mags, but I constantly hear that budgets are becoming smaller and it’s really hard to justify flying me out to shoot something when there is already someone there.
Which 3 images are your favorites, and why?
At first I went into explaining each of them, but soon found out there is similarities to all of them; story telling. Each image tells a story, and the viewer is compelled to either try and figure it out, or make up their own (I hope). I’m really drawn to photographers like Roger Ballen, Gregory Crewdson, Taryn Simon, and Nadav Kander. I’m also drawn to the disconnect of the subject matter, however this style is what’s killing me (besides PSA’s). It’s a tough sell. I think that’s why I also really respect the listed photographers, they’ve all been able to express their voice and have been really successful without having to compromise their vision.
How do you self-define your work? (for example “I shoot people in their environments, using mostly natural light and do not use digital manipulation”)
Most of my work is people in environments, with artificial light, sometimes a mix of natural and artificial. I rarely use digital manipulation, however I’ve been experimenting with it more and more to try and keep up with the market.
Describe, in detail, your dream project.
Pretty much any Nadav Kander job. It’s funny, my dream job (the only reason it wasn’t is because it was a freebie) happened a few years ago for the Alberta Ballet. I was given carte blanche, and everything was in sync and just came together. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of hard work but what I had imagined had organically come together. The same year Nadav did a similar campaign for the London Ballet, and at the IPA show my images took first place and his was second. I was floored, it was the biggest compliment.
What else are you doing for your marketing? (Mailers, emails, etc.?)
I’m terrible for marketing. I came from a small market and a lot of the people in the industry are my friends, so it was easy. Since I’ve moved to Toronto I’ve been doing mostly email promos, which I think, the same as mailers, are only successful if they are seen. I’m not a big fan of traditional marketing – but I’m told it works (especially by my reps). The main objective is to get people to your site or call in you book. That image has to be pretty amazing to get a PE or AD to take a minute out of their busy schedule, let alone take a look at your work. Also the industry is changing with Youtube, Facebook, etc. and there is a number of ways to get your name out there. Enter a contest that gets you a free photo consultation – that seems to be pretty good exposure.
How do you select your targets?
Mostly award shows and PE’s and AD’s at magazines. I try and find people that I respect and hope that we’ll have a similar aesthetic and either call them or email them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Because I don’t have an American or European rep, I feel that I’m pretty limited to the fairly conservative Canadian market. My biggest fear is that I find the older I get and the more responsibilities I have, the more safe my work is getting. To be honest, I feel like I’m starting to get somewhat confused because I’m starting to feel that I’m going to have to change my look in order to get work or continue to struggle. So my approach, is changing to conform with my industry.
Why did you choose to be a photographer?
To be honest, I wanted to be a sculptor or a furniture designer but thought photography would be an easier way to make a living. A close family member has been very successful in photography, so I thought it would be an easy transition for me. In the city I was living in it was fairly easy. I worked my butt off and struggled to find my own voice but photography just came naturally. Now it’s all I do, all I think about and it’s my life. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.