Anton Corbijn Talk

- - Photographers

Daniel Boud (here) left a comment on my Anton Corbijn post with audio (here) of Anton talking about his work.

The highlight is his love of imperfection in photography and how, as someone who wants to achieve perfection, he needs to use techniques that force imperfection. He shoots handheld with leicas and likes to print full frame so you see everything that is not right with the image and that’s the perfect way to make a picture. Awesome.

Here’s an old interview that says the same thing (here)

NYC Photo Snobbery

Oddly, I found this yesterday in a book I’m reading and it’s very appropriate for the comments on the post from yesterday. The nut graph (love that editor term) is at the bottom but it’s a doozy.

From “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

… consider the effect of the first music recording, and invention that introduced a great deal of injustice. Our ability to reproduce and repeat performances allows me to listen on my laptop to hours of background music of the pianist Vladimir Horowitz (now extremely dead) performing Rachmaninoff’s Preludes, instead of to the local Russian émigré musician (still living), who is now reduced to giving piano lessons to generally untalented children for close to minimum wage. Horowitz, though dead, is putting the poor man out of business. I would rather listen to Vladimir Horowitz or Arthur Rubinstein for $10.99 a CD than pay $9.99 for one by some unknown (but very talented) graduate of the Julliard School or the Prague Conservatory. If you ask me why I select Horowitz, I will answer that it is because of the order, rhythm, or passion, when in fact there are probably a legion of people I have never heard about, and will never hear about–those who did not make it to the stage, but who might play just as well.

[...]

Furthermore, I believe that the big transition in social life came not with the gramophone, but when someone had the great but unjust idea to invent the alphabet, thus allowing us to store information and reproduce it. It accelerated further when another inventor had the even more dangerous and iniquitous notion of starting a printing press, thus promoting texts across boundaries and triggering what ultimately grew into a winner take-all ecology. Now, what was so unjust about the spread of books? The alphabet allowed stories and ideas to be replicated with high fidelity and without limit, without any additional expenditure of energy on the author’s part for the subsequent performances. He didn’t even have to be alive for them–death is often a good career move for an author. This implies that those who, for some reason, start getting some attention can quickly reach more minds than others and displace the competitors from the bookshelves. In the days of bards and troubadours, everyone had an audience. A storyteller, like a baker or a coppersmith, had a market, and the assurance that no one from far away could dislodge him from his territory. Today, a few take almost everything; the rest next to nothing.

By the same mechanism, the advent of the cinema displaced neighborhood actors, putting the small guys out of business. But there is a difference. In pursuits that have a technical component, like being a pianist or a brain surgeon, talent is easy to ascertain, with subjective opinion playing a relatively small part. The inequity comes when someone perceived as being marginally better gets the whole pie.

In the arts–say the cinema–things are far more vicious. What we call “talent” generally comes from success, rather than its opposite. A great deal of empiricism has been done on the subject, most notably by Art DeVany, and insightful and original thinker who single mindedly studied wild uncertainty in the movies. He showed that, sadly, much of what we ascribe to skills is an after-the-fact attribution. The movie makes the actor, he claims–and a large dose of nonliner luck makes the movie.

The success of movies depends severely on contagions (Egads, I had to look that word up: The spread of a behavior pattern, attitude, or emotion from person to person or group to group through suggestion, propaganda, rumor, or imitation). Such contagions do not just apply to the movies: they seem to affect a wide range of cultural products. It is hard for us to accept that people do not fall in love with works of art only for their own sake, but also in order to feel that they belong to a community. By imitating, we get closer to others–that is, other imitators. It fights solitude.

Crapshoot

- - Working

I seem to be getting a lot of these last minute shoots lately and I have to say it really puts a kink in my style. I’m more of a “sleep on it overnight and let it marinate a little” than, “see how fast I can make an assignment” type of photo editor.

The biggest problem (besides the fact we’re a magazine not a goddam newspaper) is 75% of the photographers I want to use are already unavailable. If that’s not enough the editor can’t seem to decide if it’s going to be a small or big feature so I’m left in the lurch on what kind of money to spend on this. The kicker is that the subject will be a moving target, traveling between two locations, none of which happens to be LA or NYC.

After reading the writers pitch I decide I want a photographer who can make a strong emotional portrait who is also a photojournalist for some of the fast paced stuff I foresee.

Now, the budget needs to get worked out and normally, I would go all out to get the right photographer for the job because this story has legs and I don’t want to look like an ass if the writer lands the story of the year and my photos totally blow.

I’m gonna play it safe though because the CFO is watching me. It’s the beginning of the year and we’re still negotiating the page rates. If I can find someone I like who’s available in NYC that doesn’t need an assistant and massive equipment budget then I’ll fly them otherwise I’ll check my lists and see who I like at the starting or ending points.

Hope I don’t roll snake eyes.

Comments Welcome

- - The Future

A quick shout out to all the commenter’s who add their valuable insight and expertise to my posts. Your contribution to this process cannot be overstated. I visit many blogs daily where the comments amount to nice, wow and shut up asshole.

Your presence makes this website work.

Thanks: Mark Tucker, dude , Bruce DeBoer , Olivier Laude, myles, john mcd., Russell Kaye, Cameron Davidson, Bernd Gruber, Christopher Bush, Red, myles, The Jackanory, avs, John Loomis, Lewis, chris floyd, Mark Harmel, George Fulton, all the anon’s and many, many more…

The Best Photo Didn’t Win

- - Working

Sometimes, I feel satisfied knowing I assigned and then you shot the perfect image even though it’s not the one that will run in the magazine.

For whatever reason I was overruled because it didn’t fit the design or was similar in composition to other images in the issue or the overruling party didn’t feel the same way about it that I did. And so, it will never be seen by the millions of readers or enter into the permanent archive of published works.

Knowing that it exists is enough for me.

Kurt Markus told me recently over beers that satisfaction in photography comes from making the best image you can, printing it as well as you can and moving on to the next one.

When I make the final print order I sometimes include it anyway.

Retouching: The Head Pop

I’m all for a head pop or a leg or arm or whatever needs poppin’ as long as it’s from the same photo session who cares and really who can tell when the head in an image is replaced with a head from 5 min. later so you can get the correct facial expression.Retouching is so ubiquitous in photography anymore and really we’ve been doing it forever–I mean check this out (here), you will shit your pants when you see all the images that have been altered over the years–that I really don’t care about switching body parts to get a killer cover that will sell on the newsstand.

But, when you’re the New York Times Magazine and you have a photo alteration policy like this:

Photography and Images. Images in our pages that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way. No people or objects may be added, rearranged, reversed, distorted or removed from a scene (except for the recognized practice of cropping to omit extraneous outer portions). Adjustments of color or gray scale should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction, analogous to the “burning” and “dodging” that formerly took place in darkroom processing of images. Pictures of news situations must not be posed. In the cases of collages, montages, portraits, fashion or home design illustrations, fanciful contrived situations and demonstrations of how a device is used, our intervention should be unmistakable to the reader, and unmistakably free of intent to deceive. Captions and credits should further acknowledge our intervention if the slightest doubt is possible. The design director, a masthead editor or the news desk should be consulted on doubtful cases or proposals for exceptions. Source (here)

and then you clearly run a photo on Steve Nash on the cover (here) that is so perfect if you didn’t pop his head you popped the arm or leg or ball or all of the above:

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I’m going to call you out on it.

Finlay Mackay feel free to tell me I’m wrong and I’ll eat crow.

Correction: It appears I’m wrong about Finlay Mackay retouching the image of Steve Nash according to a commenter who I believe was on set when the image was taken.

Fact is I’m a bit jealous at how perfect it is and probably prone to arm and head and leg poppin’ my lazy ass self instead of getting Nash to do 200 goddam takes. My hat is off to you Finlay. Lucky for me my readers have provided a recipe for Crow that I may substitute with pigeon for convenience sake.

Photographer Spam

Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief at Wired posts a list of all the people who spammed him this month (here).

I’ve had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam (Cloudmark Desktop solves that nicely), it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.

A photographer who was caught explains himself in the comments.

So, I’m on this list. dan at onewordphotography.com. I’m a freelance photographer in Canada and I shoot a lot of travel stock. I have your email address and 7000 others by buying a list of what they call “image buyers” from a company called Agency Access. They tell me they get these lists by compiling them from questionnaires etc at trade shows and industry events.

and then there’s this nugget

Now, over the years, I have tried calling many of my intended targets but, when your market is magazine and book publishers all over the world and you have 7 to 10000 potential targets this can get expensive and impossibly time consuming. As well, the vast majority of creative buyers don’t even bother returning your phone call. I’ve tried individual emails which gets an even lower response. So, I started sending out stock list updates via a mass emailing and the response has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Yeah, spam wouldn’t exist if it didn’t work. That sucks.

Clients *cough* Bullshit

- - Websites

Your list of clients.

Yeah, I know it’s padded. Not always, but I can tell when it is.

Sometimes, I call the client to see if they liked working with you and they have no idea who you are because it was a stock photo they bought from Getty… not a global advertising campaign that you shot for them.

The idea behind the list is lost if you use it to tell me about every single person you ever sold an image to. What’s the point of that?

Your Website ROCKS

- - Websites

If you’re using live books (here) or something similar the answer is probably yes. I like flash websites because the photos look great, they load in the background and it’s sort of become an industry standard. I suppose there’s a solution to the new problem of not being able to link to a specific portfolio or link around a crappy opener but if not Mr. Live Books needs to get off his ass and solve it.

I really don’t give a crap about your design or goddam logo or witty intro. I just want to look a photos. Fast. The more the better just make sure you have a proper portfolio so I can see if it’s worth my time poking around.

Think KISS in concert not the 4th of July fireworks display. Open HUGE.

Jason Fulford’s website (here) doesn’t follow any of these rules and it still totally rocks.

Doug Dubois Interview

- - Photographers

Alec Soth interviews photographer Doug Dubois (here) and posts it on Jorg Colberg’s blog Conscientious (say it 3 times fast). I found this part interesting:

Soth: You’ve also done a fair amount of editorial work. How do you mix that work into your overall practice?

DuBois: Editorial work keeps you on your toes and in shape – the unique stress and pressure of an assignment can offer up some real surprises. The hardest part is to maintain a sense of your own work and take appropriate risks in making a good photograph. You have very little time to work and no time to reflect or go at it again. Some of the best editorial work I’ve seen offer significant contributions to the photographers’ work. Larry Sultan, Mitch Epstein, Katy Grannan, etc., pull this off time and again. The frustrations come from the time limitations and other circumstances that you have to work around– and, of course, a bad edit or layout can defeat even the best efforts.

Your Website Sucks

- - Photographers

I can’t seem to get a photographer I like hired to shoot fashion, because every time I send a link to the fashion director she clicks and the opening image pops up and it’s this horrendous, pretentious, model-y shot that’s dripping with cheese.

The rest of the site is littered with solid gold shots but she can’t get past the fact that this photographer thinks the greatest shot they’ve ever taken, the shot that goes on the opener, blows.

Hiring A Photographer

- - Working

My greatest piece of advice for hiring photographers I learned the hard way. After many failed and boring and misdirected shoots I discovered an axiom I now adhere to. Never hire a photographer to shoot something that’s not already in their book. This is worth repeating.

Don’t hire photographers to shoot pictures they don’t already have the skills to take.

Don’t misinterpret this to mean you need kittens playing with yarn to get a job shooting kittens playing with yarn. And, don’t take it to mean we never try photographers out or take a chance on photographers. We do, just not with the big shoots.

It means I want to see the visual language in your other pictures that will make up my picture. It means playing to your strengths. It means attempting to match the perfect subject and photographer.

I can’t always do this but when I do, it works every time.

Subject

When an editor tells me they want better pictures in the magazine the first thing I say to them is, “get me better subjects.”

Creating compelling imagery with mundane subjects is best left to great artists. It’s nearly impossible.

When you’re starting out in this business if your friends, your family or where you live is not interesting go find something that is and take a goddam picture of it.

The subject always rules. I know this because when I’ve got a juicy subject for a story I can have the pick of any photographer I want to shoot it.

Peggy Sirota

- - Photographers

The amazing thing about working with Peggy Sirota is the amount of effort and the level of detail that goes into the preparation for a shoot. As soon as she signs on, the phone springs to life with calls about styling, grooming, props, locations and then Peggy calls to discuss ideas, then she calls the subject to discuss ideas, then she calls you back to talk it over again, then you talk to the agent, then the producer calls, then the office manager calls… it’s awesome.

I don’t think many people realize how much effort goes into consistently creating images that look like you just walked by and quickly snapped one (she calls them “elegant snapshots”).

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