Clint Clemens Interview

- - Photographers

Clint Clemens is a pioneer in the world of commercial photography. His book is a who’s who of high end automotive and commercial clients containing many memorable campaigns from the 80’s and 90’s. I had the chance to interview him a few weeks back and I think you will find his thoughts on the state of the industry fascinating.

APE: Let’s talk about the current state of photography. What do you think has happened to the industry recently?

Clint: The photography space, as you know, has been flooded with imagery because the barrier to entry for photography has dropped so dramatically. Previously, you had to know how to focus, you had to know how to expose, you had to know how to color correct. All that’s now gone, and it’s largely an automatic function. And, I think that there is an iTunes effect that’s happening in the market place. What iTunes did is they said, “Look, we’re going to sell data for a very small amount of money to a very large number of people.” And what that has done, is dropped the value of data in general. So if you’re selling photographs, which are generally in the form of data, the value is dropping because everybody’s expecting it to be less expensive.

APE: Ok, but in the high end commercial market that you are involved in, do you still see that sort of trend? I understand with stock photography that maybe the value was artificially inflated, because of the technical aspects of photography and I can see that dropping off a cliff. But with the higher end stuff, it seems that there’s so much more involved and there’s the need for some level of originality.

Clint: Well, yes there’s always going to be that but if you look at photography as a spectrum, it’s stock on one end and high end work on the other and there can’t be a complete disconnect between the two. One’s white and one’s black and there has to be shades of grey in the middle. So which is more dominant in forcing the shade? Is it the white area, which would be stock? Or is the black area that would be the high end photography?

My sense is that there’s always going to be a need for high end photography. High end marketing will always have a look and a desire and there will always be a drive to figure out what’s new. But what’s happening is the… how do you say this? The goal line is moving faster.

APE: Is it a trickle up effect?

Clint: Yeah, I would say it’s a bit of a trickle up effect. In the world of print publication, they were very planned and periodic events that took place. But what you’re seeing now is the change in the rapidity at which you need to be able to replace your imagery. When everyone has a camera and everyone is able to rapidly change and create new looks and companies need photography and they need to change more often due to the influence of the web, does that lead to an increase in value or a decrease in value of the imagery? My sense is that probably it leads to decrease in value of the imagery. Because the shelf life is, out of necessity, shorter.

killsbugsfast

APE: How did that effect your thinking on what you’re doing with your career?

Clint: In 2004, I saw a lot of this stuff coming and so I got involved in High Dynamic Range Imaging. But not so much for the pictorial display of the imaging, but its ability to do image based lighting and rendering. I was trying to figure out what was going to be the next great change in photography or imaging. And, with movement towards the web, people more and more, want their information interactively. So if you’re a photographer you need to understand how your component becomes interactive, because the still image, while it may have impact, has a lot shorter shelf live, if only because there’s more imagery out in the world.

So, I thought, “where is the next threshold of imaging?” And my sense was that it’s a combination of interactivity and CGI.

APE: You were shooting some location car photography weren’t you and CGI has revolutionized that industry hasn’t it?

Clint: Yes, exactly. So, in ’04 we started a company called goodstock.eu. And what that is, is back plates with the accompanying sphere High Dynamic Range Image.

So in other words, I looked at the world and said, “Everybody’s got a lot of back plates, but they can’t use any of it for rendering because you need to be able to use image based lighting with a wire frame.”

APE: So you started Good Stock, how’s that working out for you?

Clint: Oh, it’s great, we got into that and then started another company that’s connected to a real high end post-production house on the CGI end. And so that company then does the post-production of it. We take the High Dynamic Range Image with the client’s wire frame and render it.

APE: Nice.

Clint: Now, going beyond that I tried to figure out how to create a three-dimensional photograph? If you go to a website called modelsfrommars.com, that’s where we get into a lot of three-dimensional imaging.

APE: Is this scanning the environment?

Clint: Well, it’s scanning but also product visualization of which car photography with CGI is a branch of. So what’s happening is clients are demanding the more rapid pictorial representation of their product. In the case of a car client, for instance, they want to be able to visualize their car during the design phase. And then they also want to be able to have the brochure of images ready when the first car rolls off the production line.

APE: Right.

Clint: So how do you speed up the production process and then how do you wring cost out of the production process of photography? The only answer to that is CGI.

APE: So, is this only happening in car photography because of the cost?

Clint: Yes, because of the cost. We also do visualization in the marine industries. A boat is really expensive to build. But the true, accurate visualization of it for a client is really important. You get into textures of interiors, and some of the interiors of these high-end yachts, really, they’re quite elaborate.

But let’s back up to the bigger picture here. So what’s happening is that you have a world in which the supply of photography is much, much greater than it ever was. You’ve got the concept that data, because it’s ones and zeros and it’s not a physical asset, has less value. And that’s driven by what I call the iTunes blow-back effect. How do you sit at home and download music for 99 cents and then go to work and pay $5,000 for a data set?

APE: Yeah. I get it, it’s the same with newspapers, obviously. The written word, it’s all been rendered electronically now, virtually worthless. And the distribution is nearing zero as far as moving this stuff around or making copies.

Clint: Yeah, it is.

APE: So, basically, you looked at the world of photography and you thought, “What’s going to be the highest end?” or “What’s going to be the most technical?” and you went for it. You created these companies that can provide these services for car companies and anybody who can afford it. But it’s very much the tip of the spear, right? This is high-end stuff.

Clint: Here’s the overall concept. When you look at a marketplace and when you look at your business, you have to figure out, “How can I maintain a barrier to entry?” Barriers to entry can be cost, they can be complexity they can be access. I can’t photograph the president of the United States but some people can.

So, how do you build a wall around yourself? It used to be your ability to focus, process, expose, etc. and that whole wall has completely fallen down. So, that’s what everybody’s trying to figure out, and that’s why I went in this direction, because the barrier to entry is so high.

APE: Is this your main focus with the photography now? CGI and creating companies that can service the high end aspect of that.

Clint: Yeah. To the extent that I stay involved with them is lesser or greater depending on what it is. One of them requires hourly maintenance. I’ve done so many things in my life and my career and the fun part of it is to try to figure out, what’s happening next, because you see patterns from perspective. The longer you’re in an industry you begin to recognize that things are going to move in a certain direction.

Here’s the other thing that happens, and anybody in the high-end spectrum will tell you this, that an economy is not a constant, it moves up and down. I’ve probably been through seven or eight recessions now in my career and you always see cycles and you begin to see patterns that emerge from those. So the point of a recession is to wring inefficiency out of the system. OK now, it’s a blunt instrument, no doubt about it, but that’s the point of a recession. In a capitalist economy, it treats it like a wet towel and it wrings it as tight as it possibly can.

So every time you go into a recession, the business that comes out of it is much more efficient than it ever was. And the other thing that you notice is it never goes back to what it was. It never reverts back, it always moves forward.

What we’re seeing now in this recession are two major effects, we’re seeing inefficiency getting wrung out of the system. And we’re also seeing a fundamental transformation of imagery itself, which is the digital image. We’re starting to see the full impact of what’s going to happen here. When digital first came out, it was like, “Oh, this is great. We can make all kinds of stock pictures.” Well, now, guess what happened: stock is now worthless.

The other thing that happens, in an economy like this that all the high-end manufacturers get the rug pulled out from underneath them. They’re the first ones on the chopping block, all the high-end clients. And those are the only people that really had money to pay. So you’ve got to ask yourself, where is the profit in photography? And my sense is that the real profit in photography is coming through people that are essentially teaching.

It’s the blog posts, the people that are blogging constantly, who are able to sell space on their blog and all the rest of the sort of stuff that goes on. And that’s really where it is. Yes, there is occasional work that’s out there, but it’s never going to return to the real, high-end numbers that you saw before.

APE: I’m looking at some of your advertising work here. There’s still a barrier to entry to the work that you were doing. But now, are you telling me that you’re not taking pictures anymore?

Clint: No, no, no. I go out and shoot.

APE: For clients or just for pleasure?

Clint: Well, both. The client work has definitely slowed down. When you’re shooting for Chris Craft, Net Jets, Indian Motorcycle, all these guys got hammered. If that’s your client base, instead of shooting for them two, three times a year, you’re doing it once every 18 months or something.

But that’s fine. I have no problem with that. I’m having a really good time figuring out what’s coming next and working in the 3D space.

Chancellor and interpreter

APE: I want to talk to you about China, because the email that you sent, one thing that really stood out is how they honor photography culturally, it’s a big deal. And they have the status of a doctor there. Can you go into that a little bit?

Clint: Sure. You saw the photographs, right?

APE: Yeah.

Clint: Yeah. I mean, where in the Western world are you greeted like that as a photographer?

APE: [laughs] It’s pretty awesome, right?

Clint: It’s crazy, it’s a complete cultural 180 from what we see here.

APE: And why is that?

Clint: My sense is that there’s a cultural bias towards imagery, pictograms, murals, translation of heritage and culture through drawings, very detailed drawings, a sense of artistry in the line. There is a very high level honor of the photographic process way up into the cultural ministries.

Now, here’s the flip side of the equation. China, like everyone else, has a million people taking pictures. So, back to that same argument. If everybody has a camera or everybody has a pen and can write, where do you find the value?

APE: That’s interesting because they’re able to maintain this respect for photographers at the same time many of them are able to, you know, take pictures, take probably pretty decent photographs anymore.

Clint: Well, you know, taking a decent photograph is a moving definition. I mean, who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad? And what happens is with photographs is that the idea of what is current and communicates is always changing. It’s never really a static goal line. So, if somebody takes a bad picture in our eyes, is it really a bad picture if it communicates?

APE: Oh, boy that’s a whole conversation in itself.

Clint: The Chinese love taking pictures and the way they in which they view photographers is a very high art form. Whether you can sell it is another issue. Because the sale of an image is really a function of all those global forces, everybody’s got a camera, a million photographers in the world, and imagery is distributed electronically around the world in a heartbeat.

APE: So, if you already have the status, in the west, in China you’re somewhat of a superstar.

Clint: Absolutely. And some of that is due to the access to the money to buy the camera. There were probably 50,000 students from this art and design college and so, you know, there’s always a “college town” that’s attached to a school, right. So I’m walking around. First of all, everybody’s staring at me because I’m over six feet tall. And I’ve got light hair. But the other thing is, I said to my interpreter, “Why is everybody staring at me?” and she said, “You have a very expensive camera.” So, the mass of people, still haven’t seen really high end cameras when you get out into the country.

APE: It was like you’re driving a Ferrari around town or something.

Clint: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s like you’re on another planet.

So, China’s interesting, you really palpably feel the desire to get with the Western world in terms of capitalism and commerce. OK. Ten years ago, it was a very different place. And it’s moving dramatically, very quickly. And they want what we have. I mean, it’s plain and simple. And part of that is the gadgetry that they see all over the Internet. The kids see this stuff constantly, anytime they’re on the Internet. They’re rapidly moving into a consumer conscious society. And one of those things is the camera. So, you’re looking at a confluence of wanting to have a really, highly advanced technical object, and at the same time, a very high honor for the art form. So, it’s the second one that distinguishes China.

Every time you lift your camera to shoot something, there are people taking pictures of you.

APE: [laughs] Of you taking a picture?

Clint: Yeah. Go figure. It’s really weird. [laughs]

APE: This has just happened in the last few years, right? You are seeing a lot of your fellow photographers going over on the speaking circuit in China now?

Clint: Not too many, not too many. It all happens through the Culture Ministry.

APE: So they arrange everything, the Culture Ministry?

Clint: Yeah, and they pay for everything.

APE: And what about the language barrier? Do you just have a translator with you?

Clint: Yeah, you have a translator with you at all times. So what happens is I’ll speak for three hours. An hour and a half of that is content, the other half of that is translation. But it happens really well. The other thing is a lot of them speak English. Or they really want to speak English, and they’re learning it. This is a country that is bound and determined to catch up with the Western world. That’s what you really notice when you’re over there.

APE: And they will.

Clint: Yeah. The other thing that’s going to happen is, if we think there are a lot of people competing for photography space now, what’s going to happen when the Chinese enter the market and it’s a free-for-all? So what they’re doing is they’re building photographers, if you will. They’re educating photographers.

APE: Ok, wow that doesn’t sound good.

Clint: Well, it just gets more competitive. It gets more interesting. So we’re seeing a world that is devouring photography.

APE: Can’t get enough, yeah. And like you were saying, the people who are teaching or blogging about photography, they are going to see great success. There’s a lot of money to be made off of people who are just interested in the process, not necessarily buying photographs, right?

Clint: Bingo. So in other words, you will have great photographers out there. For instance, I looked at [redacted]’s site, excellent photography. There is no reason why 15 years ago he couldn’t have made a really good living as a photographer. Maybe he did, I don’t know. But you have to ask yourself, why is it that somebody of that caliber can’t or doesn’t choose to go into a lucrative career in photography.

APE: Yeah. Because it’s a pain in the ass. [laughs]

Clint: It’s a pain in the ass. It’s a hit-and-miss, you’re hanging by a thread all your life. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Now the competition I’m talking… I’m not sure the demand is there to satisfy the competition. So think about it. What’s happening is the world wants a lot of photography, but it doesn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. And you have this endless supply of photographers and as the quality of cameras has gone up, the resolution needed to reproduce photographs has gone down. So virtually every single camera is capable of taking that kind of image.

APE: Right, but you have seen seven different ups and downs in the world of photography and the economy and each one didn’t destroy the industry. It changed it. It changed the role of the photographer, it changed how they could make a living with photography but didn’t destroy it.

Clint: Each one introduced some level of greater efficiency into the system. So it’s the introduction of efficiency. Think of the economy that goes into its inflationary cycle, or into its expansion cycle, and you end up with a lot of bloated processes out there. Inefficiency. If all of a sudden the economy crashes, businesses still have to do business, but they need to get it done really efficiently. So instead of hiring a photographer, for instance, they’ll say, “Oh, this guy Joe Schmoe that works in the marketing department, he has a camera, he can go shoot it for us.” Or they say, “We’ve got this product that we’ve been designing in CAD. Why do we actually have to shoot it. Why don’t we just render it out?”

APE: Obviously there are new opportunities for photographers in teaching and writing about photography, but what about motion. I see that as photographers moving into a space that exists and being able to do it cheaper than other motion crews are able to.

Clint: That’s exactly what’s going to go on. So it’s the democratization of motion. What’s going to happen is exactly what happened to stock photography. But Motion has another layer that I don’t think you’re going to be able to automate. Essentially what we’re seeing is the automation of photography with all these new cameras. So Motion has two other layers. It has editing and it has the sound component. And, you can’t cut perfectly to a sound beat the way a human can.

APE: So there’s that nice barrier to entry you’re talking about that exists in Motion.

Clint: Bingo.

APE: So, it’s good for photographers to move into that.

Clint: Ah. Only if you edit and you know sound. You need to have all three, because shooting Motion in itself is going to be just like photography; it gets cheaper and cheaper and everybody’s got one. So it’s the other two components that are very important. Photographers need to look for those barriers to entry, it’s their only hope.

clemenssperry

Pharrell Williams Is Fine With Any Kind Of Art – As Long As It’s ‘Tasteful’

- - Blog News

“You just have to do what you really feel, whether it’s some really obscure or super-pop thing, you just have to make sure in the end that shit is tasteful. Nike is as pop as can be, but they do it tastefully. Apple is as pop as can be, but they do it tastefully. The Whopper is as pop as can be, but that s— is tasteful…We can’t allow the pop and commercial worlds to go to s—. We have a responsibility as artists on many different levels to change the way people see the world.”

via coverawards.com.

Meredith Would Like To Sublicense Your Works

- - Contracts, Magazines

I heard from an agent who sent me this clause from a “non-modifiable” agreement that Meredith Corporations pushes which basically says they can sell the images of photographers who shoot for them to third parties for anything they choose, including advertising. We’re curious if anyone has gotten it removed or if people are just saying eff-it and shooting for them anyway? After seeing this the agent declined the shoot.

b) Creator further hereby grants to Meredith a non-exclusive ongoing, unlimited, non-cancellable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use and sublicense the Works, including, but not limited to, the rights: i) to reproduce the Works or portions thereof in all forms, works and derivative works; ii) to edit, abridge, adapt, translate, or modify or alter the Works; and iii) to publish or authorize publication of the Works in any media now known or hereafter developed, throughout the World.
meredith

Generic Photography Ignored Online

- - The Future

Last week the NYTimes Bits blog reported on a study that website usability expert Jakob Nielsen conducted (here) that purported to show how generic/bad photography is ignored by people visiting websites. Well, duh. It’s amazing how much filler there is online… heck even in magazines these days, which I’m chalking up to the rise of inexpensive stock. People feel like they need a photo but aren’t willing to spend some money to get something decent (or don’t have a clue what good photography looks like). I believe very strongly that as the web space matures the need for high quality imagery will increase. This report confirms that.

“…the random or stock images on Web sites are completely ignored by users, add more clutter to the page and don’t necessarily help from a business standpoint.”

genericphoto

I always found it more interesting to discover beauty

- - Blog News

I have never understood models. I find it really hard to find beauty in that or to discover beauty because the beauty was so obvious. I always found it more interesting to discover beauty. With models I never knew what to do. It was uncomfortable for me that they were always so beautiful. I didn’t know what I could discover there that wasn’t so plainly obvious.

— Anton Corbijn, via NYTimes.com.

Hearst 8×10 Award Winners

- - Awards

2011 Award Recipients

2011 Honorable Mentions

Hearst Corporation today announced the winners of the second Hearst 8 X 10 Photography Biennial, an international competition that recognizes the work of talented young photographers—eight rising artists whose vision will shape the future of the creative media landscape, selected by 10 of the world’s foremost photographers, gallery owners and magazine professionals. The 2011 Hearst 8 X 10 Photography Biennial garnered more than 4,600 entries from across the U.S. as well as 70 other countries, five times the number of entries garnered in the 2009 inaugural competition.

[Note: copied straight from the press release]

Impressions from the PDN Photo Plus Expo 2010

- - From The Field

APE field reporter Jonathan Blaustein brings us his impressions from the PDN 2010 Photo Plus Expo.

Hola. This is the first of several stories I’ll be filing for A Photo Editor about the New York Photo Scene. Rob asked me to fly in to the City to cover the PDN Expo, so that’s where I’ll begin. For those of you who haven’t read my articles in the past, let me provide the barest of backstory. I’m a Taos, NM based artist/photographer/teacher, and write about photography as well. Though I’ve dabbled in some small-time, local, commercial work in the past, I would not consider myself a working professional.

I make conceptual images, most recently a series called “The Value of a Dollar,” that was featured in The New York Times last month, and I show the prints in galleries and museums. So please read this and subsequent pieces with that in mind. I’m no critic, and don’t profess to have a working knowledge of the inner facets of the industry. I’m just a dude from Jersey with opinions who used to live in New York, and now lives in a horse pasture at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Let’s call me a Reluctant Rancher.

So with dirt in my boots, I arrived at the Javits Center bright and early last Thursday for the opening of the PDN Expo. Though I must have been there at least once as a kid, I couldn’t believe how big the place was. Before I even made it in the door, I realized that this was going to be a much bigger deal than I had imagined. (And confusing as well. The building’s designers were not fans of intuitive planning. I got lost five times before I felt any sense of direction.)

PDN was kind enough to grant me a press pass so that I could sit in on the professional seminars and share my findings with you, the APE audience. So that’s where I began, at 9: 30 am, before the Expo floor had opened. My first visit was to a grant writing seminar, moderated by David Walker of PDN that featured Yukiko Yamagata from OSI, Justine Reyes, a friend and photographer, Ellen Liberatori from NYU, and photographer Brenda Anne Kenneally. I was pretty shocked to learn that 75% of grant applicants are summarily dismissed for failing to know what they are actually applying for. Apparently, simple professionalism is in short supply. The advice that I gleaned and will now pass on: do your homework. Know what an organization funds, read the paperwork, follow the rules, do what’s asked of you, be concise, sell yourself, and get a personal contact if possible. (92% of grant recipients have had prior contact.) Help them help you. And of course, the more organized you can be, the better.

After chatting briefly with Yukiko, who was gracious enough to meet with all the people who waited for her afterwards, I met up with Justine and we grabbed a quick bite before the next speaker. (They had a tasty pasta bar. Consider me impressed.) Fed and hydrated, we headed to the Keynote Address, which was delivered by a photographer named Chase Jarvis. It was Standing Room Only, and people seemed excited by his presentation. I tried to engage, as his ideas about interactive, interdisciplinary, collaborative process were certainly au courant… but I couldn’t do it. My Gen-X snark sensor was on Orange Alert, and I couldn’t help but see Mr. Jarvis as a Hipster Tony Robbins, bouncing around the stage in his shiny converse sneakers. My apoligies. But other people seemed to like it…

photo3From there, Justine and I headed up to the Expo floor for the first of many turns about the room. What can I say? Have you been there before? If so, you’ve probably got a sense of it. I felt quite the rube, though, and was temporarily awestruck by the bells, whistles, music, Sony BMX halfpipe, and gyrating models. (Yes, Nikon had a modeling stage where a super-hot Brazilian model danced for a throng of middle-aged photographers with big cameras. And she was apparently well-paid, because when I interviewed her, she refused to bite the hand that fed her. “Just a job,” she said.)

photo4The floor must have been two football fields long and one wide, and camera and accessory companies were everywhere. Canon and Nikon were the biggest, not surprisingly, and put on lectures throughout the day that were well attended. Olympus had the next biggest booth, I believe, and smaller companies of every sort were lined up in booths around the outside. I can’t even begin to name their services. Bags, printing companies, personalized USB flash drives, book makers, book sellers, paper trimmers, backdrop makers, popcorn shrimp, fried shrimp, I mean everything. And people were browsing, and people were buying.

It seemed to function pretty well as a marketplace. I interviewed a few photographers and enthusiasts, and they each said more or less the same thing. They love to come to the Expo to take a look at the new products, touch things and play, and then they always buy a few items they need. Photographer Richard Bram needed some paper, so he relished the opportunity to look firsthand, and then buy some. From the constant glint of credit card magnetic strips I saw flashing about, I’d say that many people do the same.

At one point on our circumnavigation, Justine got a tingle in her spider sense, and two minutes later we stood in front of Aperture’s booth. A very nice lady asked us if we had heard of Aperture, and wondered if we were aware of what they did. We let her know straight away that we were artists, and therefore fans. Shockingly, it turned out that the Aperture Representative, who was actively seeking new subscribers, was none other than Michelle Dunn Marsh, the Co-Publisher. And her fellow Co-Publisher, Dana Triwush, was standing beside her engaging with Expo-goers as well. That’s right. Aperture didn’t send interns. They brought out the big guns.

Luckily, in my capacity as APE correspondent, I was able to get an interview with Ms. Marsh, and she, Justine and I had a great conversation for 20 minutes. She was thoughtful and exceedingly smart, and shared the perspective that as artists, if we want to get a book published, which so many of us do, then we need to buy more books. Much as we want people to support our careers by buying prints or hiring us, she pointed out that publishers need support too. Especially non-profit publishers. Community was a buzzword for the day, and the week for that matter, but it was interesting to hear Ms. Marsh suggest that the community needs to support publishers to keep them healthy. I’m always open to a good idea, so I renewed my subscription on the spot. (I signed my name on an IPad with my index finger…it felt a little naughty, like eating cake for breakfast.)

She also made an interesting comparison between photography at the dawn of the super-DSLR, and the graphic design industry when the first Macintosh computers came to market. Technology shook that industry to the core as well, yet 20 years later, design is as important as ever, and professionals are doing just fine. So fear not, everything will sort itself out eventually.

Feeling like a good pretend-journalist for getting the scoop from Aperture, I headed back downstairs to the seminars to hear consultant Mary Virginia Swanson and publisher Darius Himes talk about their new book, Publish Your Photography Book. The presentation tracked the structure of the book, which is due out in February, and was as thorough as you can imagine. The two experts basically put their heads together and spent eight years amassing all the specific knowledge and information a photographer might need to get a book conceived, created, and marketed. (Most important: understand how your audience can be expanded beyond the photo world.) I’m not sure why we’re all so obsessed with having a book of our work. Posterity, I suppose. Something to outlast us, to collect dust when we’ve become dust. But everyone does seem to want one, myself included, and Ms. Swanson and Mr. Himes have created the ultimate resource to Get-R-Done. A Must Buy for 2011.

I bounced upstairs once again to meet photographer Chris Cappoziello, a friend from LOOKbetween, for a quick coffee, and to do one more lap around the insanity. I kept stepping in and out of the Expo to get a sense of the vibe. It was hopping, no doubt. Based upon the consumption I witnessed, we’re probably closer to the end of the economic drama than the beginning. And there were people at every booth, the sole exception I saw all day was a dude representing an upcoming photo festival in China. He had no one to talk to. Go figure.

The last lecture I attended was a fascinating panel talk about the future of magazine publishing moderated by the aforementioned Michelle Dunn Marsh of Aperture. She was joined by Sacha Lecca, photo editor at Rolling Stone, Whitney Johnson, picture editor at the New Yorker, Lisa Kereszi, an artist and editorial photographer who shoots for The New Yorker, and Gregg Hano, the VP Group Publisher of Bonnier Tech Group, which publishes American Photo and Popular Photography, among other magazines. Each presenter gave a 10 minute mini-lecture, and then they did a group discussion.

Tired as I was at the time, though properly caffeinated, I have to say they were a really interesting group. I learned a lot, and was engaged the entire two hours. Hard to believe. What can I share? Once again, I heard “Do your homework” again and again. Can there really be that many photographers out there who don’t get it? The editors stressed… know the content of the magazine you’re approaching, be polite, know people’s names, and get some human contact whenever possible. So there’s that. But I also learned, much as many people darkly suspect, no one gets a job from a bulk email. Pretty much never. So if you want to get your work seen, do the heavy lifting of networking and pavement pounding. And be honest with yourself about where your work will and won’t fit.

I also heard the word IPad at least 300 times in two hours. IPad IPad IPad… IPad. Steve Jobs appears to have come to the rescue of the publication industry, because the panel seemed to belive that the tablet device was perfect for delivering content, and more of it. (ie., 6 photos on the IPad to supplement 1 in paper, complete with a link to video.) It can generate income, and complement a paper edition as well. The also discussed the fact that websites are seen by a certain audience as valid an incarnation of the brand as the paper copy. (ie, younger readers.) There was definitely a sense that wraparound marketing is here to stay, and will help build up the viability of these companies so they can hire more photographers. Workshops, contests, Fashion Photo Fantasy Camps, events, higher subscription fees, IPad apps, and of course, paper copies, all converging into one businessmodel stew. As Mr. Hano said, “Right now I would consider any way to monetize anything.”

When the panel wrapped, after nine hours of listening, learning, talking and zigzagging around the Javits Center, I headed back out into the city proper. I stopped by a couple of exceedingly crowded openings in Chelsea, which was kind of like being packed into a subway car with a bunch of obnoxious rich people, so I couldn’t see the art. From there, I went to a Review Santa Fe Alumni party in the Meat Packing district, which was very cool, and then headed home with sore feet and a tired brain. (Subway drama ensued… I’ll spare you, but there were a lot of rats involved.)

photo2I hit the PDN bash the following night with my friend Cori Chandler-Pepelnjak, after stopping by the Blurb/Hey Hot Shot party at a Pop-up store in Soho. (Picture white leather sofas, white shag carpet, and red wine. Lots of books, 22 year old kids, free beer, and pretty much everyone seemed to agree that Blurb is doing a great job at the moment.) But back to the Bash, which was held on the Intrepid aircraft carrier on the Hudson River. When Cori and I arrived, we followed the crowd and ended up on the top deck, with airplanes in the foreground and the NYC skyline to the East. Insane Photo Op. But of course then we felt like idiots when we couldn’t find the actual party. (Downstairs, duh.)

Inside, I got to catch up with Andrew Owen and Jenna Pirog, who run the LOOK3 photo fesitval, and put on the LOOKbetween event in Virginia that I chronicled for APE back in June. They were fired up for LOOK3 this June, and I was grateful for the opportunity to thank them in person for their hospitality. Since Summer, I’ve really kept up the friendships that I made over the beer and bonfires, and I know that was their intent. The reality is that curating conversation is a skill, or perhaps an art, and Andrew and Jenna did a killer job bringing people together.

I sifted through the crowd of Industry types for a while, and then decided to call it a night. It was the kind of event where everybody seemed to know everybody, and I didn’t. So at that point, far too beat to really work the room, I headed off into the Megalopolis. Really, I can’t imagine a more dense experience, as far as information gathering goes. Between the Expo floor, the seminars, and even the portfolio reviews, PDN really offers photographers a chance to absorb a year’s worth of knowledge in a few days. I’m still sorting things out a week later, and feel rather fortunate that I had the chance to attend.

Ask Anything – Questions from Parsons Students

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

QUESTIONS:
Teen Vogue Director of Photography, Jennifer Pastore and Aoife Wasser, freelance creative director are teaching a senior seminar class at Parsons in the BFA Photography program. The class deals primarily with the business side of the photography industry and the students wanted to ask “Ask Anything” questions (Note: we would love to have comments from the readers as well). Here they are:

Is it necessary to assist to become a photographer in the fashion industry?

If you want to learn from the best in the business and experience how a professional photo shoot should be, it is best to assist. There are a few photographers who are successful without assisting (Suzanne adds: I can only think of a handful and I have been in this business since 1985).

What creates longevity in a successful career?

Honesty and keeping creative. A great personality with talent will keep you working for years!

What do creative/photography directors and gallerists look for when hiring someone for a project – editorial/advertising/exhibition. What questions should you ask when someone is buying your work or contracting you for a job.

Two different worlds- gallery- you have to try and meet with the curators and get a show. They are looking for work that people will want to add to their collections, work for walls. Agencies- images that are in line with the assignment they need to shoot to sell a clients product. Editorial- images that can tell a story and sell magazines.

What is the best kind of portfolio to show your work, printed book or Ipad?

These days it is three ways: virtual (page-flip.com); printed on beautiful paper- Blurb style is not the way to go. iPad is awesome for those meetings where space is limited and a place to show new work. Plus with the iPad you will always have your portfolio with you as you never know when the opportunity comes up to show your work- on the subway, airplane, restaurants……

How do you initiate contact with publications, agents, and galleries to send them your work?

The very best way would be to call the person, state that you are going to send them a link to your portfolio (hence why the virtual portfolio is awesome) DO NOT ask them to write anything down say that you are going to send them an email (make sure you have their e-mail address prior- Agency Access is a great place to get all this info- worth the yearly subscription fee).

How and when do I get photographer agency representation?

You have to research them to make sure you are a good fit and just like above send a personalized e-mail with your work.

What steps do you recommend to someone who is interested in starting a gallery/non-profit art space?

I recommend trying to get grants and maybe research corporations that are a part of an ethical group. The Ethical Corporation in Londan is the best place to start. They have a LinkedIn group: The Responsible Business Group

What are some sources in applying for grants?

You can hire grant writers- Mary Virginia Swanson is the best person to consult for fine art photography

Is blogging and online representation an important part of branding yourself?

Branding is the total brand of your identity (Like a logo, a look that is consistent through out all that you do). Adding blogs and social aspects could be considered as media placement, which is part of your marketing spectrum and your brand (your name, visuals must be consistent on these mediums), blogging in wordpress is a solution to get better google placement. Most blogs are read by other photographers- buyers are just so busy (but Art Directors will read when they have time). Then there are on-line source books like Photoserve, LeBook, Workbook, ASMP find a photographer… get placed in as many areas as you can for free.

Stock photography – is this a good source of income and how does one go about selling their images?

It used to be but with the inception of Flickr and royalty free it has been a harder industry to make the living that folks were used to 10 years ago with 6 figure income- now you have to diversify and market in multiple areas. Ellen Boughn (stock consultant) has a 30 minute consult as a great way to understand all the options.

Is it essential to have extra skills like, video training etc…, to keep up with new media demands?

It is becoming more and more important as clients are asking photographers for still and motion to cut costs.

To Summarize:
Dear Students, you are our industry’s future. Please put your heart into your career and shoot what feeds your soul.

Call To Action:
Get an internship, get your site looking professional, network and be a good person and business person!

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

The Paywall Goes Up And The Money…

- - The Future

doesn’t go down!?

In a paywall experiment everyone is watching, this summer Murdoch owned papers The Times and The Sunday Times of London started charging for web access. In a press release yesterday New Corp. said they had gained 105,000 paying customers because of this. According to the NYTimes (here) website visitation was expected to drop 90% once the walls went up but according to Nielsen that number only fell by 42% (1.78 million).

Tech blog GigaOm further parses the numbers to reveal that out of 105,000 paying customers only 50% are subscribers which the writer paints as a failure: “after four months of selling its new paywall system, News Corp. has only managed to convince a little over one-and-a-half percent of its readers to pay something for the newspapers’ content — and has only been able to convert half of that already tiny figure into actual monthly subscribers.”

TechCrunch picks up the failure story and does some quick back-of-the-napkin math to show why it’s not actually true:

Basically, those 50,000 monthly subscribers are paying $12.80 a month, or $640,000 a month total. Let’s say the other 55,000 pay-as-you-read crowd is generating another $160,000 a month in subscription revenues (I am being generous here and assuming two days a month per person at $1.60 per day). That comes to $800,000 a month, or $9.6 million a year in online subscription revenues.

What did they give up in online advertising revenues? At 41 million estimated pageviews a month, assuming a $5 CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions), that was only $200,000 a month in online advertising revenues.

[…]Depending on the actual CPM, financially they are doing at least two to four times better than they were before. And that is with only about 1.5 percent of their former readers becoming paying subscribers.

In the end this strategy will work for many publications, because the CPM’s will go up under a paywall. Advertisers want to reach engaged readers and there’s no better test of engagement than making someone pay for access. The problem all along has been the cost of making the leap both in increased infrastructure and temporary loss of advertising and subscribers. Media companies and their nearly retired owners aren’t about to take any chances.

OutreachEP – Frequently Asked Questions

- - Blog News

Remember, you are in this to make a living, that is the definition of “professional”, so you need to make decisions based on staying in business for the long term. It might be exciting to be paid to make a living doing what you love to do, but that doesn’t free you from the desire, or the obligation, to actually MAKE A LIVING. This message is at the heart of the OutreachEP program.

via OutreachEP – Frequently Asked Questions.

PhotoExpo 2010 – Portfolio Reviews

- - Events, Portfolio

As a follow up to my post entitled Pay For Meetings?, where I looked at the NYC FotoWorks portfolio reviews taking place at the same time as the trade show, I asked a few photographers who attended to give us their feedback:

Terence Patrick:

Thanks for the post a few weeks ago on the NYCFotoWorks portfolio review. I would not have heard about it otherwise. I’m really glad I went and even though I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted, the feedback from those I did see was tremendous. An assignment offer was given on the spot and lots of great contacts were made. For an event of its size, it was very well run. Totally worth every dime I spent!

Kevin Steele:

I didn’t pull the trigger to do the reviews until 2 weeks before, when I realized that a possible assignment was not going to happen the same week. I was still able to get a deal on airfare from the west coast and I have a cousin and a place to stay in the city. I felt the timing was right to get feedback as well as get my work out there after recent awards and a year in which my book has changed almost completely as I focused on where I want to be next. I compared both the juried NYCFotoworks and the PDN/Palm Springs reviews at PhotoPlus Expo and decided to do a set of of 14 editors/5 ABs on Thurs/Friday at Sandbox studios with NYCFotoworks and then the Saturday with 5 more at the event at Photo Plus Expo. $990 + $250.

I made my selections and have to say I was pretty happy with who I was able to see at both events. I prefer how NYCFotoworks handled the registration and selection process although I wish I knew the final schedule sooner. There were some cancellations and rescheduling and I was able to secure an agency AB when a magazine PE could not make it which was better for me. But one reschedule caught me as I did not make note of the change and was out on a break, missing my time slot. During the events I also met with a rep and an agency AB who wanted to see my book in the hallway outside of the schedule. And an artist adviser was on site at Sandbox for free 20 minute consults (smart for her as a great way to market herself). I did not go in expecting to find work – having launched a direction this year I wanted expert advice and critical feedback on my work, my edit, my style, my strengths and weaknesses. I was really surprised that some of the most helpful sessions came unexpectedly, from those reviewers who were near the bottom of my preference list. And that some of those on the top of my list did not provide a critical level I expected. But all in all it was well worth it – it did result in a magazine request for an image to run and one AB said I made her day after she saw an image and realized I was the one she could pitch for a client meeting the next week for a 2011 project.

Fifteen or less minutes (as changeovers were every fifteen minutes) at Sandbox was too short. On Friday evening I had 5 sessions that were back-to-back. What I appreciated were the reviewers who would ask why I was there and what I wanted and then would flip through the book very quickly, close it, open it again and go more slowly, sometimes making a third pass even slower. The sessions at Photo Plus Expo (on Saturday) were 20 minutes and seemed to be less hurried – both in that the extra 25% helps as well so a little overage was OK and everyone was cleared from the room before the next review session. That is in contrast to NYC Fotoworks where I was more than once in the awkward position of standing at my next reviewer’s table while the photographer from the last session was still wrapping up.

This is the first time I have done these “speed dating” sessions. I will usually block a week to visit a city and get appointments (LA, SF, NY). The last time I was in NY I had ten agency AB and editorial PE meetings in five days – and that took a good part of two weeks of preparation: calls, emails and more emails, and a lot of dead time “on call” and leaving voicemails during the visit week.

As a result of all of this I have had face time with an incredible number of editors, reps and agencies that have seen my work now and I can follow up with a level of familiarity that would not have been there otherwise. Some images are now axed from the book, the sequence edited and my direction affirmed while a future personal project has been inspired from one of the reviewer’s prompts.

Brian Stevenson:

I had some apprehension about the review events value to me before I went. It’s not inexpensive and since I don’t live in NY it was a big commitment for me to make the trip. But, I felt like if I made the decision to go, I should do everything I could to make the most of it. I ended up purchasing a pretty significant package of reviews and I balanced my reviewer requests fairly evenly between editors, art buyers, and agents.

The list of attending reviewers was pretty impressive. I signed up early and I ended up being scheduled with most of the people I really wanted to see. When the two day event began, there were also opportunities for me and all other photographers to meet with both photography consultant Colleen Vreeland and a representative from Corbis without incurring any additional costs. I signed up for both additional sessions.

I did my homework before the event. I read everything I could find about the people I was meeting with. I made lists of the art buyers’ most relevant clients. I checked everyone’s resumes on LinkedIn to find out where they’d been before they arrived at the jobs they hold now. I looked at recent copies of the editors’ respective publications. And I looked at the work of all of the photographers who are represented by the agents. I think I was as prepared as I could have been and I think it made me more confident going into the reviews.

Each scheduled meeting was 15 minutes long and the organizers of the event did a pretty good job of making sure the transitions occurred on time. Things got a little backed up throughout the first day (mostly because a couple of the reviewers arrived late) but it didn’t result in anyone being denied meetings. There were one or two reviewers who neglected to show up at all but in those instances, I believe the organizers did everything they could to reschedule photographers with other reviewers. All in all I’d say the event was well run.

I hadn’t attended a review event like this before and I was concerned that reviewers might be so overwhelmed with the number of people they were seeing that they might become disengaged after a few reviews. But, my schedule on both days was pretty spread out and the people I met with seemed genuinely invested in the process throughout the day. I received a lot of positive feedback about my work as well as some valuable suggestions regarding the editing of my portfolio. The agent meetings were helpful to me, not because I expected anyone to sign me to their roster, but because I was able to discuss some specific questions I had about tightening up bids and writing treatments for commercial jobs. I think the 15 minute review times were appropriate since they’re about on par with what I think most photographers can expect in meetings they set up on their own outside of events like these.

I met with a lot of people in the two day period. I doubt I could have arranged to see half the number of people on my own and if I had it would have taken days or weeks of repeated phone calls and emails to make happen. I also would have had to spend more time in New York (I love NY but, of course, it costs a fortune to be there) and I’d have had to do a lot of running around to see everyone. My time is worth more to me than the money I would have saved by trying to set up so many meetings on my own and, again, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to arrange meetings at all with some of the people I saw at the event. I made some great contacts and I enjoyed the process.

Update: Jasmine DeFoore gives us portfolio review do’s and dont’s from the PDN/Palm Springs Review (here).

Photography Agent Job Opening

- - Blog News

Vaughan Hannigan is looking to add a senior photography agent in the New York office.

  • proven track record and history with US commercial, entertainment and editorial clients
  • established client roster along with a drive to sell/promote, international client roster a plus
  • experienced in negotiating, estimating and producing a project from start to finish
  • self starter, as well as a team player with a passion for photography
  • 2 years experience as a photography agent

Please send resumes to thea@vh-artists.com

Go Vote

- - The Future

From Seth Godin’s Blog:

This year, fewer than 40% of voting age Americans will actually vote.

A serious glitch in self-marketing, I think.

If you don’t vote because you’re trying to teach politicians a lesson, you’re tragically misguided in your strategy. The very politicians you’re trying to send a message to don’t want you to vote. Since 1960, voting turnouts in mid-term elections are down significantly, and there’s one reason: because of TV advertising.

Political TV advertising is designed to do only one thing: suppress the turnout of the opponent’s supporters. If the TV ads can turn you off enough not to vote (“they’re all bums”) then their strategy has succeeded.

The astonishing thing is that voters haven’t figured this out. As the scumminess and nastiness of campaigning and governing has escalated and the flakiness of candidates appears to have escalated as well, we’ve largely abdicated the high ground and permitted selfish partisans on both sides to hijack the system.

Voting is free. It’s fairly fast. It doesn’t make you responsible for the outcome, but it sure has an impact on what we have to live with going forward. The only thing that would make it better is free snacks.

Even if you’re disgusted, vote. Vote for your least unfavorite choice. But go vote.