Sunday, 27 September 2009
(Note to self - I have to gather much more information on shoots and work with assistants/collaborators that can shoot video and record sound, whilst changing a Hasselblad backs like the wind itself.)
Friday, 25 September 2009
This is not a war story—it’s a love story. Luis Sinco It’s about the unlikely friendship between James Blake Miller, a young Marine from the coal- mining mountains of Kentucky, and me, an accomplished photojournalist for one of the nation’s top newspapers. Ours is a story of fidelity, courage and kindness in the aftermath of war. How we overcame differences in age, geography, race, politics and culture to form a lasting bond. It’s about how he saved my life—and how I repaid the debt.
I was embedded with the Marines in November 2004 as they mounted a bloody assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja, Iraq. I followed Miller’s unit as they took cover from heavy fire inside an evacuated home. During a lull in the fighting, I transmitted images by satellite phone from the kitchen. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the house, and I headed to the action upstairs. Miller had barked orders into his radio, directing tanks to take out the insurgents who had us under attack.
In the brief calm that followed, I looked across the rooftop at Miller, realizing he had just saved my life—and the lives of many others. I raised my camera and snapped a picture of the young warrior, a cigarette dangling from his lips, his face smeared with grit and camouflage paint, blood trickling from a cut on his nose, his eyes exhausted, haunted, yet somehow determined.
The photo, immediately dubbed the “Marlboro Marine,” ended up on the front page of more than 160 newspapers. It evoked strong emotions around the world. Mothers wondered if the rugged young man was their son. Women wanted to marry him. Dan Rather waxed poetic about it on the evening news. Many recognized the “thousand-yard stare.” Even the Marine Corps command took notice, offering to give Miller a free pass to leave the combat zone.
The photo thrust me into the limelight, earning me a finalist spot for the Pulitzer Prize and invitations to speak at prestigious institutions. Ironically, I wanted nothing more than to leave the photo – and the war—behind. I resented how the image had been misinterpreted as a swaggering pro-war emblem. I had taken so many other photos in Iraq, but all anyone remembered was the “Marlboro Marine.”
My antipathy began to fade in the fall of 2005, when I learned that Miller, then barely 21, had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition serious enough to get him discharged from the military. Soon, at the urging of my editors, and the encouragement of my wife, I headed to Kentucky, hoping to do a quick follow-up story.
For me, it was a chance to set the record straight—to let the world know that the photo of Miller was not about “Kicking Butt in Fallouja” as the conservative New York Post had screamed on its front page. Despite my reluctance to get involved and the professional ethics that required me to remain objective, I found myself getting drawn into Miller’s crisis. After a particularly bad run of events, he fell into a deep depression and teetered on the brink of suicide. I had no choice: I had to put down my camera and pick up a young man in desperate straits. “If I had gone down in Fallouja, would you have carried me out?” I asked Miller. “Damn straight,” he responded. “Well, I think you’re hurt pretty badly and I want to help you,” I said.
That day I coaxed Miller into my car and drove him to a treatment center in Connecticut, all the while knowing that I could lose my job for crossing the line that’s supposed to remain between journalist and subject. Over the next 18 months, I came to understand how war alters lives—not only Miller’s, but also mine. Together, we have struggled to make sense of a world where it seems nothing has changed but us. We became brothers. We found healing.
Sunday, 20 September 2009
and uses this information to the hilt. He's the ultimate flatterer." - Elliott Erwitt
Van Gogh could have 'Repped' himself better.
I expect that like me, early on in his career Vince was often down the pub with a few mates waxing lyrical about why no one valued what he did and 'if only he had an agent all this nonsense would go away and he could concentrate on the real business of making pictures' etc.
And then when things were getting a bit maudlin and everyone was staring into their beer. There'd be the usual awkward moment, no one wanting to look at the obvious gap at the side of Vince's head where a ear should live. Then to break the tension someone would ask if anyone wanted another drink, and Vince would have to say "No, I've got one ear thanks"and everything would go a bit Reservoir Dogs, so to speak.
I only wonder why he didn't take the next step.
Not to clean off the other lobe (for the full aero effect), but rather, to consider marketing and repping himself. Obviously he was mad, but surely you'd be mad not to (Hah).
There's no point me repeating what Bree Seeley said here, and I detailed how far off the mark I was when I first started out in Pt I , all that remains are a few of the nuggets which (with the benefit of hindsight) I now see turned my career around, or kicked it off depending on your point of view.
It wasn't my fault that I didn't understand the role of the Agent or Rep(resentative) when I started out. My understanding of an agent was someone with a bunch of jobs each week and a roster of photographers with which to do them. I, like most of us, had worked from age sixteen and a lot of that had been for agencies doing unskilled minimum wage work. So when I started out on my own, I was still yet to make the transition to a self employed professional mind-set.
This is a bigger deal than it might at first sound. The first and biggest favour that a freelancer can do themselves is to consider all business relationships to be on some level; partnerships.
Even the relationship with the client should be perceived as symbiotic. Yes you're providing a service but the client is equally dependent on your product. Think of the photo-editor going to her Art Director and justifying her choice of photographer with the pictures you made. If you provided her with bad work then her judgment will be brought into question as well as your abilities.
Similarly the relationship with an agent or rep should be considered a collaboration.Put simply, a good agent is a great business partner that helps an artist to realise all the perceivable benefits of their product, both material and non-material. In doing so it is the partnership that enables each to sustain and grow both of their practices.
A bad agent is a parasite.
Here are a few steps :
Educate yourself. You can do a lot worse than subscribing to somewhere like Photo District News and using their vast resources to do this, of especial interest should be their "People on the Move" section wherein you can track the players within the industry and with little amateur detective work get in touch. Likewise their "Who's shooting what" section, great for finding out who shot that great campaign perhaps because you want to assist that person or because your work is better and you want to get in touch with the creatives.
Be creative in your problems solving. Another way to educate yourself is to learn from someone whose work you admire and respect. If this person reps themselves successfully then you can learn a great deal. If not then consider an internship at an agency. You'll see first hand how the industry works from the other side, it continues to amaze me that so few aspiring photographers try this route and instead dive straight into the studios - go to the agency you'll be able to meet all of the photographers,their current assistants and their clients as well.
Bring more. When you get that meeting (though it might equally be a commissioned portrait) - be prepared, know about the person you're meeting and what they do. Everyone loves to be flattered to some extent. Everyone is vain and even the most hardened pro will wilt at another's genuine interest in their practice (but don't bullshit - only 'wrong people' love an ass-kisser).
Be prolific. Be disciplined. If you're not shooting,thinking,working everyday, then you're a part-timer and as such you should get another part time job because your approach to this one's not going to pay the rent on it's own.
Be reliable. You must be someone that solves problems for people. Not someone that adds to them. If a commissioning client finds that you always overcome, they will be more inclined to give work to you if only to make their lives a little easier. Not definitively but those extra jobs that you get because you're a rock, add up. Pretty soon you have a reputation. Try to take stuff out of the hands of the client - "I'll book that, leave it to me, I'll sort all those other things" not only does this mean you're empowered but also you're removing stress from somebody elses world. Again not a definitive answer but these little things add up to an holistic practice.
Use what you've got, (equally don't dwell on what you 'ain't got'). The phone is a very seductive tool and if you're butt-ugly, plump for it. I say this with some authority and I believe that the telephone sex industry revolves around this dynamic. So I heard.
Email can be a similarly deceptive tool and your correspondences should be considered (don't text speak - you will be thought of as a chimp), and subliminally allude to what you aspire to be (big,lots of staff or small and intimate).
Make the most of being small. Perhaps you heard? Size isn't everything. One person doesn't have the overheads that a big set-up has, small is personal, manouverable, quick to respond and efficient.
An agent won't have time to spend all of their attention on you. You do. And here's a thing, in fact you can afford to pay yourself a relatively high percentage of your turnover in order to spend your time on you. As you grow you can also afford to hire good people to do specific tasks that maximise your efficiencies rather than being saddled with full time staff that you have to pay during down times.
Having learned from the bottom up you will also understand the intimate workings of your practice and be able to spot possible problems early on in the future, again saving you money and making your business more efficient.
Think long, make a plan and see it through. One photographer that I worked for always made a list every Christmas of the things he'd achieved over the year and things he wanted to achieve over the coming year. I adopted this and find it very useful.
It's also a good way of seeing the positive things in what sometimes, on the surface, seemed a bad year. I'd add to it a longer plan for where you want to be in three years time as well and likewise how to get there. These plans tend to change and evolve but that's okay. It's all about disciplining yourself and setting in place a structure. No on else will do this for you, remember 'You are the boss'.
If Van Gogh had thought like this, then he wouldn't have donated an ear. That was very short-termist. Especially when we consider that at some point he'd probably need to wear glasses.
Stick to the plan Vince..... stick to the plan dude.
Part II ‘Van Gogh, may have had previous relationship baggage - see the whole ear in a letter thing’
The following is from a conversation between me and Bree Seeley.
Bree has been both an Editorial Director for, and agent with Magnum, as well as working with (amongst others) such names as Anton Corjbin, Jack Peirson and Pierre Et Gilles.
JW - Bree, one of the decisions that I came to make early one was to rep myself and to abuse friendships with people like you in order to learn how to do it ....
BS - ....repping oneself is a really sober decision. I swear, the information one gleans independently takes root in a significantly more meaningful way than being party to somebody eles's high talk.
The latter can be a sort of rush to be involved. For example; agent says they’re calling their old mates to do lunch/ cocktails to discuss the latest matters of glitzy third parties business which they’re hoping to land and, voila: you’re stoned on thinking that you're nearer the industry fire than you really all.
And frankly, the only item one can bet on, is that the wait staff will be up a tip after that meeting.
Actually being avid about tracking players involved in projects (magazines, web/multi media projects, books, exhibitions..) takes diligence at first, but soon becomes a natural reflex and addictive.
Learning the names and responsibilities of industry folks is like unravelling a sweater and soon you've got the whole thing uncovered. Give these practices a while and you find crossover names reoccurring. Soon you get it and mercy... you've garnered a lot of information and it doesn't feel like work anymore because you're no longer in the dark.
You'll have information that, combined with the wherewithal, will allow you to pursue the people you admire and/or projects you relish, and you’ll make an impression on its players, given that you've actually tracked individuals and 'know' their work. There's integrity in this method and a much respected depth of understanding.
Simply grafting yourself onto others and hoping that they'll following up with what seem like ‘the untouchables’ does not offer you a feel for how the projects or industry trades.
Relationships you as the artist make with the decision makers (Creative Directors, Art Directors, Picture Editors, Gallerists) can never be topped by facilitators or middle-people. The decision makers on creative or cultural projects are considered 'the artists' at their pop culture offices, where in fact they are 'remixers' (myself included - sigh). This crowd in-turn require you (the actual artist) to do the real work and for that they will always want as much contact with you as possible.
Agents know this and hence once you find yourself having secured a project, artists often awkwardly start wrestling with their agent who insists in remaining involved. For me this is where an agent earns their stripes. If they can stay out of the mix (more-or-less) and let the remixer and artist do their work, then they're okay by me.
Agents will come and go but once you've made a solid relationship with a facilitator at the actual creative project you hope to work with (ad agency, magazine, publisher etc..) they will be calling you directly. That's just how it goes.
JW - Okay so I did all that but I’m still wanting to work with someone, what should I look out for?
BS - Well, some agents might require you to pay them a base salary instead of a commission basis. A quality agent will see you as two parts of a whole. The Ying and the Yang of getting this ‘making-a-creative-living-thing’ done. They “the business” and you the creative”, but the whole thing spins on where you get together.
Boundaries about work from clients predating an agent relationship need to be established very early, so that nobody assumes the road ahead. Here you need to work to an understanding that is fair (eg. i the client offers low-maintenance work with little or no production requirement - it remains yours for the next 24 months total, thereafter it’s subject to the agent usual percentage. OR, if their work is production heavy then the percentage may be lower for one year (but the agent gets all of the production mark-ups).
You're a creative. Think of a way to manage these clients with your new agent, that offers an incentive to be taken on by the agent and grow that business, but that rewards your previous ingenuity for sealing repeat business. You'll know in your guts when you've settled on a fair deal.
Likewise try to get your head around a reasonable clause should the relationship with the agent fail (your “pre-nup”). It should be one that allows you to both leave with what you entered the relationship with, as well as a fair sharing of the produce thereof.
Some shabby agents can also expect artists to foot the entire bill for promotion. Again you’re partners in this. so they need to be chipping in. Hey, I’ve heard of some agents with bloated rosters who expect to make a profit from promotions because they overcharge their artists. Run from these people.
Turnaround for payment must be in keeping with the turnaround of payment by clients. Any other way and trust will soon break down.
Best to know the outlets you want to work with and expect that the shared knowledge of an agent will have a sword sharpening effect. They may be front line, but all involved work shown to any outlet needs to be absolutely relevant. This goes back to my point earlier about trading on the details of a project, and getting it into your practice early. Bloody hell... between you and an agent there is no reason why this cannot be in check at all times
Don't take an agent on if you’re unable to handle criticism or get snakey with rejection. ‘Natch’, few of us have a love affair with being criticised but if you become badly behaved when you're being dealt it straight, then best find your own way.
I recommend not signing up with agencies with too many photographers. Again you'll know when the list looks too long for you. It’s okay to be aligned with an agent who has an artist similar to you, but you owe it to yourself to see and understand the real difference between you both. Otherwise you should not be surprised when you lose work to this person - whereas what you want, is to have a chance at some more work because a genre is established at the agency.
If you do commit to an agent, give it time. Expect nothing for 6-8 months. You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette. Quality relationships take some time. If the agent is taking steps with you everyday or every week then let the efforts ferment (in a whisky way, not a milk-in-the-sun way). If after 9 months you have little or no feedback and no nibbles, then give it another 3 months of working harder together. Find a second wind, make another plan again: together.
18 months of nothing is fair game for parting ways.
That's 18 looooong months if you didn’t think wisely about the partnership in the first place.
JW : But what about from the other side of the fence? What does a good agent look for or look to avoid?
A highly motivated photographer with a clear sense of purpose for their work. Hopefully it’s not only to become famous but also to do work of lasting merit...
Somebody who may not be a prolific producer (eg. 6000 frames a week) but who shoots through experimentation and makes efforts to develop as an artist (rather than an artist who talks about changing).
An artist with some genuine experience (doesn't have to be long history) in/of the industry. And so has some grasping of its realities.
A decent person. A professional outlook. Reasonable. Honest. Committed. Mature. No brutal track-record lurking in their previous business relationships.Clarity of vision.
May be working with a popular method but can be said to have a distinctive voice (without this, how can an agent be highly charged about their artist's value).
JW : Okaaaaay, so how come I’ve never met an agent to work with?
BS : Worth, you have bad hair, you’re a bit fat and frankly your social awkwardness is very off-putting. I don’t actually know how I know you.
JW : I’m like, probably not going to kiss you goodbye. Unless I should. I think I may have a coleslaw coming anyway.
Saturday, 19 September 2009
When I first started out or actually, mores to the point when I repeatedly failed to start out; I and the small clique of friends that called Crouch End our new home, held "getting an agent" as being the Holy Photographic Grail. The attainment of which, would grant us access to a world of constant work, a welcome revenue stream and exposure for our art, dare I say it, possibly even the coffee table trophy formally known as; “A book”.
A great deal of time was spent bemoaning our collective lack of success and condemning anyone who seemed to have grasped the challis.
We seethed at photographers who got out of college and only minutes later were shooting a big campaign and we knew it that it was down to their retched agents which we all agreed they only "got" because they had; cool hair and, kissed people on both cheeks. Two things that we knew set them apart from us and labeled them sell-outs and us as righteous, if perhaps a little nerdy.
We bad-vibed them. All of them, and their skinny jeans. And all their shiny, skinny, beautiful friends.
We knew there was no justice in the world of commerce. We knew that the best artists would starve in garrets or die of selenium poisoning. Though, away in the privacy of our own insecurities we would all deconstruct with a Becher-like obsession, the all-important concept of engaging in physical contact at that first portfolio meet.
I'm pleased to say that I've never lost this vaguely adolescent clumsiness and have now grown to accept it. So understanding that I would never have really cool hair or be able to pull off a convincing Euro air-kiss, I turned the focus of my attention away from the “getting” an agent and towards working out exactly what it was that they did and how. More importantly, if I might in fact be able to do it for myself.
As such when someone asks me now how to get an agent, I tell them three things;
1: to hang out with cooler people,
2: grow their hair and
3: shake hands like a Frenchman.
Not really. I’d say, come back, and we'll tell you how Van Gogh could have repped himself better.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Just as the development of Digital SLRs that capture movies heralded photographers applying their existing skills sets in new ways (You are at the very least making home movies aren't you?) so E Paper should be perceived by most of us as "the cart leading the horse" again.
Not directly identifiable but really interesting is the promise of Hyperphotography's shifting power, from the observer/photographer to the hitherto objectified subject and how this is going to effect what we do.
Toss into the mix Google Wave's insta-web and we suddenly have our photographed subjects discussing the pictures in which they are depicted, in real time.
Which kind of leads us to the fundamental re-structuring of how conventional Televisual media works as well . Doesn't it?
Monday, 14 September 2009
Second only to "What camera should I buy for my vacation?"
I'm not saying that one shouldn't pay for a degree. On a good course (the right course for you) there can be some clear and perceivable benefits to making the substantial financial investment. But a person can certainly put themselves into all of the situations in which they'd benefit from the positive aspects of a bricks and mortar education, without actually packing a bag.
I went to college because I thought it was my only way into the industry. I knew no one that made photographs for a living. Neither of my parents had gone to college, my Mother worked as a receptionist and my Father was a salesman. It was 1991 and my network of friends, family and colleagues didn't reach geographically or otherwise very far from our garden gate.
This was not the right reason to go to college.
Anyone reading this article and considering going to college today can't claim to have the same story.
Because you just met me for one. So unless you're my Mum (hello Mum) then you've probably already broken some ground in extending your network of contacts and reference points.
So where next?
Well, start by continuing to think in this fashion. For instance, there are actually very few people that work in the Photo industry that make photographs for a living. The job is just one aspect of an industry that runs the whole gamut, from framing prints, curating exhibitions, styling clothes/food/rooms, to location scouting, researching, production, representation, photo direction and art buying, right up to commissioning Picture Editor of the New York Times.
How do you find out about these opportunities? Well the job centre/employment office is rubbish for all of this stuff and frankly most Photography courses don't deal with it either. The ones that do deal with it tend to focus so much on the "How" that it tends to be to the detriment of the more important "Why?". You end up knowing how to do work a bunch of different cameras but no idea what to point them at.
One way is to carry a notebook (old skool I believe) or a phone that's up to the task and every time you see a picture that you like (no matter how bizarre the situation or outlet) to jot it down (I guess we could call this Augmenting our reality ^_^). Then in the splendid comfort of your own virtually snug, home-computing environment, work out who the hell made it? How? And for whom?
Here are some nuggets that might help you begin this process of reverse engineering:
Lets say it's a picture in a magazine. The name of the photographer should be with the picture somewhere, certainly in the case of an editorial story (as opposed to an advertisement), perhaps underneath, at the foot of the page or in the gutter (where the staples are).
This being the case then the picture was either;
- a) commissioned by the publication
- b) given by the subject
- c) sold by a photographer/their agency, or
- d) placed by an advertiser.
a) The Art Director or Creative Director are usually top of the pile at a magazine and top of the masthead (a column of contributors usually early on in the magazine) they're great to meet if you get chance but they will seldom micro manage the photo-commissioning, it's usually the Photo Editor that does this.
Photo Editors come in a variety of flavours, some publications have rafts of them, others get by with just one. Either way, this is the person that would commission you and it's the person you have to show your work to.
b) Publications will often not have enough of a budget to commission new photography. They will choose instead to buy/use stock photography, re-use -pictures from previously commissioned shoots that they've retained the rights to use or use press and publicity images.
Press and Publicity images are owned by the subject or their representatives and used to promote themselves or what they do.
Either the subject themselves,their publicity person or agent will commission you to make these pictures. And as they have a natural shelf life, this can become a source of regular income, as any Photographer doing mode l head-shots will tell you (or not).
c) Generating your own work is an essential part of what we do as creatives. If you want to be known as anything more than, a technician called in to facilitate somebody else's vision, then you have to demonstrate this with your own work. Entire business models are evolving that rely less and less on commissioned editorial work and instead seek to realise the benefits from self generated projects. Look at Magnum for instance and how their industry can no longer compete with the citizen eye-witness on their mobile phone. Instead their direction is more in large Art projects that are made after the initial news event and monetized through exhibitions and book deals. When you generate your own work then you can sell or license it.
d) Advertisers remain a large and profitable market for a lot of photographers. There are a number of ways that a client may wish to use or commission photography to sell and promote their product or services. These are usually fed through a creative/advertising agency and more specifically through the Art Buyer.
It is this person's job to h ave a comprehensive knowledge of the industry, so that when a designer (who normally hails from planet Zorg) comes to her desk and says that they need a, young/old/foreign/quaint/sexy/religious/colourful/retro/black and white (that thinks in colour) photographer to sell their new Haemorrhoid treatment - he or she will be able to pull together a bunch of absolu tely relevant photographers.
If you're stuck with a spare Christmas card approaching the festive period, then send it to an Art Buyer.
- Who wrote the course and when?
- What is the course Ethos and how is that embedded? (sum up the course in a sentence)
- Who is delivering the course?
- What work do they do? (you must at least respect aspects of their practice to be fair to them and you)
- Who are the alumni and what do they think? (also and essentially how long ago did they graduate, was it the same course and was it delivered by the same people?)
Saturday, 12 September 2009
The following are the ongoing notes from a live experiment trialing an adaptation of Cory Doctorow's business practices as a successful Science Fiction author.
THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED HERE.
Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the bestselling Tor Teens/HarperCollins UK novel LITTLE BROTHER. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London.
.....His novels are published by Tor Books and HarperCollins UK and simultaneously released on the Internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their re-use and sharing, a move that increases his sales by enlisting his readers to help promote his work. He has won the Locus and Sunburst Awards, and been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and British Science Fiction Awards.
Portrait session time 90 mins.
Travel cost : £40
Food : £20
Film : £15
Processing dev. only : £9
Broken equipment during session (sync cable) : £30
Time spent: 1 day
Low res. scanning : In house
High res. scanning : In house
Post production : In house
Time spent : 1/2 day
Photographs delivered to subject all CC licensed and simultaneously uploaded to http://www.archive.org.
Time spent : 1hr
Image annotated by subject and passed to subject's community via Flickr.
Image views as of 12th September 2009 via Flickr; 2,297
Image views as of 15th September,2009 via Flickr; 2,918
Image views as of 22nd September,2009 via Flickr; 4,103
Image views as of 13th October,2009 via Flickr; 5,436
(Directly perceivable) indirect income ; £0.00
There's a bunch happening will write up soon.
THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED HERE.
Friday, 11 September 2009
History is never antiquated, because humanity is always fundamentally the same. ~Walter Rauschenbusch
History is a vast early warning system. ~Norman Cousins
The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present. ~David Thelen
So what I'm not saying is that burning people is a good thing. Unless they're already dead and then that's okay.
If that's what you're into.
As opposed to planting.
Equally I'm not saying that I don't have a few contenders myself for the list of; "lightly toasted on one side just to teach them a lesson" category either.
What I am saying is; can we please move on from the "Photography is dead debate", when it's quite evident even to the most hardened cynic that the medium has never been more universally alive in terms of it's access and more democratic in terms of it's understanding. What we should be exciting about, is the potential for where this leads us.
Take a straw poll now of a few people's favourite painters, then ask which actual paintings they know. I imagine that anyone still reading at this point would be amongst people of a certain demographic that (with more refined tastes than my own ) might well refer to painters and paintings that I've perhaps never heard of. However, I bet that almost all of the people and paintings mentioned are post-renaissance. Picasso will be in there somewhere and Van Gogh no doubt, but I bet Rembrandt is too and perhaps Titian, I bet the Mona Lisa crops up and probably Scarlett Johansson (from which you should draw enormous comedy mileage).
Conversely, if the main names are Luís Borrassá, Andrea da Firenze and Simone Martini then dinner is on me.
There are a number of things that changed in painting between these two sets of people that are worth reflecting on for Photography right now;
- The way the pictures depicted their subject matter.
- The subject matter itself.
- The way that the artworks were read.
- The sources of funding for the Artists.
In depiction, there was a move away from single point perspective. There was literally a new depth to the images that allowed the reader/viewer to look into and around the picture. It reflected a more life-like and realistic experience more akin to the world that the viewer actually lived in. After all, people generally aren't flat.
Sounding familiar ? Maybe time to brush up on your Hyperphotography if not.
The subject matter itself changed because, for years painters had told the story of the Bible, as dictated by the Papacy to the illiterate masses. Through layers of sea-shell, egg whites and lamp black (amongst other ingredients) they told very clear stories in established and understandable formats.
With the rise in literacy, the translation of the Bible and the spread of individualism, people began to proclaim Christ as the head of the church and not the Pope. On a fundamental level, they began to question their sources of information as never before.
In fact it seems hard to believe to us today that the thought of a personal relationship with God (or as Plato described it, being without a Greek word for religion, Love,Knowledge and Truth), through direct prayer, was as alien for them as, lets say for instance, it would be today for us to ask a person depicted within a photograph, for their own version of events.
Completely ridiculous! In fact one might even go so far as to say; heretical.
Goodness. Can you actually imagine questioning the version of events, as dictated by a Professional Photographer and an actual Writer, which had been subsequently verified and published (by the newspaper/magazine or television), by actually asking the subject in the picture itself for their version ? There and then. On a completely personal level. Away from any perceivable editorial grasp?
Asbestos body suit anyone?
Although as Dan Brown proves to us so accurately, there were of course rebels who, although taking the money from their patrons, secretly stuck two fingers up to that establishment and painted their own coded versions of events. However, the paintings and the buildings that housed these works of art still came to embody the idea of God, just as they were meant to.
And they still do.
Ask any local village vicar/pastor/minister etc. how much money she raises to build wells for dying children in Africa, and she'll tell you it's a fraction of what she can raise in half the time by telling the local community that without a new roof, their church (building) will have to be demolished. It is surely the case that the language and intent of any religious teachings are lost in a society where the people that populate it, believe that those teachings are embodied in the modes of communication themselves. We just plain stopped hearing the wood for the trees, so to speak.
Can you really imagine, a world without the New York Times ? Or any other newspaper denting your lawn every weekend?
But anyway; this undermining of Papal authority didn't end there, as the new worlds and new markets were discovered, so the growing nations of Europe began to resent the high taxation that Rome siphoned off. The Church fractured and split.
It's reaction? A bloody big stick. Or actually in this case, a bonfire.
It's almost like, lets say (just for fun), if the Music industry decided to sue a few file sharers for absurdly huge sums of money that would be impossible for those people to ever pay, and in the full knowledge that the costs of doing so would never be recovered, in order to make examples of them.
Yes, clearly ridiculous.
Incidentally, the witch hunters themselves were a prosperous lot during this people, more than likely billing hourly.
My point is that when we look back at the similarly massive cultural and societal shifts that took place during this period we see that by trying ineffectually, to maintain the discipline and direction of it's Orthodoxy, the Papacy first in 1184 (followed by Isabella and her Spanish adaptation in 1478) established their inquisitions, they were really just plain failing to accept the next and looming business model. In fact it's been argued that (in a similar turn of religious events) when Catholic Mary Tudor (the first daughter of English Henry the Eight) persecuted the protestants she did more
So where exactly did all this, as interesting as it is, leave the Painters ?
Their medium was becoming common place, circumvented and in the terms of it's previous purpose, made largely redundant. In fairness though, it could have been worse. Bible scribes had the printing press just itching to be invented around this time too. Can you honestly imagine how gutted they were when mass communication of their medium made their practice entirely irrelevant? I bet the painters heaved a huge sigh of relief knowing that their work was unique and immune to such degradation for ever.
Although the painter's patron of the Church didn't disappear over night, they (the painters) did find themselves looking for new ways to sustain their practices. With the increase in commerce and the corresponding decrease in monopolistic control by the Papacy, it was the nouveau riche merchants that went on to facilitate this.
What I'm also not saying with this analogy is that that every editorial photographer should now go and work for a Russian Oligarch, nor should they all go and form a new religious sect. What I am trying to say is that when we think of the great leaps and bounds to have taken place throughout Art History over the last five hundred years, it's difficult not to be inspired and amazed by the post renaissance artists. They still define who we are and how we see today.
Photography, will not , as Phillip Jones Griffiths questions (paraphrased from Ritchen After Photography) ‘...become a shooting star of the twenty first century, which came and went in a hundred years’, because there is in all probability a twenty first century Leonardo Da Vinci walking amongst us right now. In fact from his bedroom, his avatar is probably mixing hyperphotography, metavideo, news and music with vehicle design and Science Fiction literature, all in Second Life.
We just need to hope that he’s not getting sued for it.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
If someone asks me; what are the defining moments within Photography over the last hundred years then I feel confident giving them a list of things to think about.
Even though my intimate relationship with the subject has only spanned the last twenty of those years, I've done very little else. As such, my collateral knowledge (although not without holes) is substantial enough for me to provide reference points, overviews and directions for further research.
If someone asks me what themes dominate Photographic practice over the last ten years, then I'm confident enough to refer to both my own experiences and those of my close professional colleagues over that time. I'm able to draw on the knowledge invested in my bookshelves, where along with the books, videos and DVDs are plenty of articles and magazines that I've also read and kept along the way.
When someone wants more than this, then things change fundamentally.
It seems to me that acknowledging this fact is a defining characteristic of the people that will continue to drive and be relevant in debates that concern the biggest cultural shifts in Western society since the Renaissance and Reformation.
I can't help but think that to describe the current condition of the photographic/media industry as being "in flux" sort of plays it a bit short, so to speak.
Similarly discussions about whether or not wet darkroom techniques should form the cornerstone of a good and relevant photographic education, are the sorts of questions that I expect to see on a list with item number three being; Is the Internet just a phase? - discuss.
If someone asks me; what are the current thoughts and debates driving the photographic/media industry, this year/month/week and furthermore how do I listen to and follow the drivers of these debates ? Then I'd be lying to say that I knew.
Yes it's pretty much all that I think about. Yes, I am constantly and actively researching and trying to understand not only what the answers to those questions are but also, I'm trying desperately to understand the damn questions themselves.
What is a Photographer ?
What is their role, right now and what will it be in the future ?
What constitutes a sustainable practice for them now and looking forward?
And .. ... then I wonder if anyone else is asking these questions ?
.... and then I wonder if there's a community of people out there that might be sourcing and sharing material to try to comprehend this moment ?
When I find information relevant to these topics I post links to the websites, pod casts, web logs, news feeds, photo galleries, articles, practitioners etc and share them with people that form the community of learners, of which I am one.
This negates the sometimes hermetic environs of academia. Twitter and other methods of social media can constitute a more dynamic and outward facing type of research, especially to the student whose hitherto notion of it was cut'n paste Wikipedia.
Likewise as part of a structure of dynamic learning methods, it also serves to embed the framework of sustainable practices that are relevant wherever the medium takes us in the future. Right now Twitter enables me to follow the thoughts, processes and debates that other media practitioners are engaging in and from this come to a more thorough and global understanding of the commonalities. ... And there is also a keystroke combination that allows you to Tweet forward into the future... .....
As I write this, a tweet from TrendTracker has fed into my Tweetdeck stream it reads :
"Twitter changes everything http://j.mp/61pTE RT @jeanlucr @ggrosseck #socialmedia"
It probably does a better job than I just did of explaining why I Tweet.
Some great starting points for the virgin Twitterer (via Mashable via Twitter) :
- Twitter tutorials.
- Why are some posts prefixed with #Hashtags?
- What is ReTweeting RT and how do I do it ?
- Five great Twitter research tools.
- Seven ways to approach Twitter.
- Five ways to get your questions answered on Twitter.
- 18 Professors to follow on Twitter (19 if you include me obviously)
- The Journalist’s Guide to Twitter.
Friday, 4 September 2009
…The photograph should be more interesting or more beautiful than what was photographed.- Garry Winogrand
...In the end, maybe the correct language would be how the fact of putting four edges around a collection of information or facts transforms it. A photograph is not what was photographed, it’s something else. - Garry Winogrand
I am sometimes accused by my peers of printing my pictures too dark. All I can say is that it goes with the mood of melancholy that is induced by witnessing at close quarters such intractable situations of conflict and joylessness. - Don McCullin
Captain Kirk and Harry Potter walk into a bar....
I was going through more transcripts of my interviews today and I came across a conversation with Steve Pyke , he'd been talking about sitting at a diner by a window with William Egglestone when, after an unfathomably long pause, big Bill lazily looked out of the window and drawled very softly, "That's beautiful".
Steve recounted looking up and seeing all the elements of a perfectly distilled Egglestone moment come together for a fleeting instant. And then track away into oblivion. He went on to describe the feeling and the power ;
SP: ... it's kind of why I love Arbus, y'know, because she photographs the extraordinary and makes it kind of exist in an ordinary way ... then suddenly you walk out and everything you're looking at is an Arbus ..... she makes you see the world in a different way, and that's an amazing thing to be able to do.
And great photography has always done this. It hasn't always been the photographer's vision in the end. As translucent layers of editorial attention were heaped on the image. It was cropped , edited, sequenced and titled, away from the care and intent of the original witness. But nevertheless, photography has prescribed it's vision and in turn, effected ours.
But what now ?
In a world where instant global communication isn't something that only Captain Kirk can do, the vast majority of us have access to record and transmit our versions of events. Perhaps even the same events that a real actual "Pro. Photographer" also recorded.
I wonder, how does the power relationship change when our other witnesses to the event, also pitch their versions into the mix?
Not only do they change the edges of the frame that "our" photographer erected but they contextualise them and him too.
Of course photographers like Winogrand have always done this with their acerbic wit, and we as viewers have had to laugh at ourselves when they did so, but with Harry Potter the paradigm shifted. Well not actually because of J.K. Rowling, but when the characters in wizard photographs wave back at us (and they do), they're no longer objectified.
When our photographed subjects are active participants with their recorded version of events they challenge our photographer's view of the world. When Fred Ritchin talks about Hyperphotography, he describes the coming together of these elements into a pixelated non-linear structure. One in which we can click on any of the subjects to see and hear their version of events, perhaps even whizz out into space and get an overview of the whole smörgåsbord from Google Earth.
But, even as much as I hate myself for thinking it, I can't say I'm that thrilled frankly.
I mean, I'm not sure if this stripping away of the conventional layers of editorial control won't just reveal an amorphous mass of Joe Public. And he's an idiot. I hear him on talk radio ranting on endlessly with his small minded, self righteous bigotry and how - never minding the fact that we're a nation at war, someone should bloody well sort out the permit holders only parking on Peachtree Crescent or by God and all that's holy he'll write to his MP.
I mean , and again I'm not proud of it , but I know that I am actually a pretty lazy ass dude. I kind of rely on the integrity of professional journalists to explain their points of view to me and to be economically dependent on their reputation for the fairness and balance of that view. In much the same way that I avidly follow the work of some photographers whose vision constantly changes my way of seeing the world for the better.
So when the elevator girl in Robert Frank's Americans recently recognised herself and went on to tell her story; I'm not actually sure that it would necessarily have added that much at the time to Jack Kerouac's original introductory ode to her, I mean, to be fair, I'm not sure how long
would have held my attention ... ooh, nice shoes
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Having submitted a piece last week to the NYT, I had a heart murmur when I saw this in my email this morning;
"What have I done? I didn't manipulate it, honest.... at least nothing that I'd not do in the darkroom ....."
Then a tweetfest of other contributors saying they'd had the same thing.
Okay so it wasn't me. Fine.
I got off the toilet.
And I don't do hard news anyway, I just do portraits.
Eh? So, where exactly does that leave me ?
Apparently just here "...must always be clearly labeled as a photo illustration. This does not apply to portraits...."
Riiiiiight, excellent, but hold on. I actually make a bit of a point of doing minimal retouching of my work. I kind of prided myself in the fact that I document a meeting between myself and the subject, rather than have any sort of theatrically directed construct. Not that I don't think that sort of work's valid mind, I just don't do it very well.
And I also have some naive sense of obligation to try to be an honest witness.
Yes, I remove dust and scratches. Sometimes a pimple (if the subject asks me to) and once I smoothed some rough skin on a subject (she'd got a rash on the day of the shoot), and yes I do burn and dodge. And I did put some movement into an image once, just like I would have done in the darkroom ..... just a multiple exposure, but that's the way it was, that's how it felt, sort of fluid moment between words and gestures....
I interviewed Teru Kuwayama and Balazs Gardi on their work (an excerpt of which is below) and I asked Teru if the "other-worldliness" of his pictures detracted from the plight of the subjects. Were they too beautiful ?
TK "I don't make photographs with a preconceived notion of what it's supposed to look like. I use the particular tools that are comfortable to me and I select the images that are interesting to me and I select the places that are interesting to me and that's how these pieces come together, I mean in the same way,I don't craft or stylize my photographs any more than I craft the sound of my own voice, it's just you speak a language. It's the language that you were taught or it's the language that you grew up with, it's just your words, your diction and your particular accent that you were born with or taught and it's er.. just what comes out of your mouth when you speak and I'd say that it's the same way with photography"
JW So is it then the difference, if we can draw it, between documentary practice and reportage ?One is pertaining to be transparent whereas reportage has a voice, an identity at the other end of the camera. Would that be fair?
TK I don't know it seems like these words like Photojournalism, reportage, documentary photography .. seem to mean different things in different places ... we throw these words around and they seem to mean different things to different people, I don't know if they're that helpful to use ..
BG ....But I think the bottom line is that we are photographers. It's always the question how do you define yourself , y'know? Are you a documentary photographer or are you a photojournalist or are you an artist and I think you just create images and you know... my profession or my passion is to create images, and I like to take images that I've never seen before. I try to select images that are distinct from other images that I've seen before ...(from other photographers) .... that's all that matters. How you sequence it later on, or if you call it reportage, or.. that I think comes later and I don't think it matters at all to be honest.
So there it is. Maybe it doesn't matter so much what I'm called.
Just absolutely definitely not a photo illustrator. Please.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
At the beginning of the summer I interviewed Teru and Balazs Gardi, then with their help began putting things in place for the show to come over from the Amnesty International exhibition in Jersey, we're now just nailing down the venues and timings so more on that soon.
The thrust of the interview was about hyperphotography and the issues that they deal with at the frontline of distribution, funding and sustainable practices As soon as I edit it, I'll put that up here along with some exclusive excerpts from their quicktime movie pieces.
Among military planners, there's an aphorism that states: "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics."
The daily mechanics of photographing in a "war zone" don't have much to do with photography—mostly it's about getting from point A to point B without getting your head cut off, then finding a signal and an outlet.
For what it's worth, here's some advice for first timers heading out to the badlands.
Wear Your Seat Belt
I get questions on a daily basis from journalists heading for Afghanistan—most of them are about body armor—but it's the traffic that's most likely to kill you. The stretch of Islamist insurgency that arcs from Southern Philippines to Somalia hasn't produced exceptional snipers, but it's home to some of the most lethal drivers on Earth. On my last trip to Pakistan, I flipped a car four times within 72 hours of arrival. My bulletproof vest is still wrapped in plastic somewhere in Islamabad.
Learn How To Say "Hello" and "Thank You" and To Count To Ten
Most tourists wouldn't go to France or Italy without packing a phrasebook, but a surprising number of photographers set off to Iraq or Afghanistan without learning how to make the most basic conversation. I recently found myself explaining to an "experienced war photographer" that Afghans don't speak Arabic.
Stop Looking For the "Front Line"—It's a Mirage
The awkwardly named "global war on terror" might be the undeclared World War III of the 21st century, but it doesn't play out like WWI and WWII, and counterinsurgency isn't done in trenches. In modern military parlance, the "battlefield" has been replaced by the "battlespace," an all-encompassing realm that includes not just the landscape, but also the "hearts and minds" of a "human terrain," and the airwaves and webspace across which an "information war" is being waged.
Equip Yourself With the Right Gear
War zone propeller-heads can talk endlessly about their toys, so here, in bullet points, are a few tips:
• Avoid the faux-commando stuff - An entire paramilitary equipment industry has emerged, selling "special operator" products ranging from "tactical flashlights" to mercenary-chic cargo trousers. Private military contractors love this overpriced war-schwag, but since you are not a highly paid, heavily armed, former Navy SEAL, it's probably best that you avoid dressing up like one. When you're on the side of the road, getting shaken down for your money and/or your ID, you really don't want to pull it out of a camouflage passport holder that says "Operation Iraqi Freedom" all over it. (It won't make you especially popular in the airport in Paris or Dubai either).
• Bring plastic (not your credit cards) - In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, you will encounter an unimaginable variety of dirt, dust, sand and, in the rare event of rain, mud that falls from the sky. These abrasive, corrosive, gear-choking forces are probably more destructive than any known insurgent militia, and they will eat you and your expensive toys alive. Zipties, ziplock bags, crazy glue and plastic packing tape will help you patch it together. Skip the army-navy outfitter, and go to Home Depot and the 99-cent store.
• Pack your go bag - AKA, your grab bag, jump bag, snatch bag, bug-out bag, etc. Since you're out there looking for trouble, be prepared to find it. Your go bag is the essential kit, packed in advance, that you head for the door with when things get hectic. Beyond your go bag, keep an ultra-light bare-bones survival pack—and keep it strapped to your body. When things go bang, you may be semi-conscious, crawling out of a destroyed building or a wrecked vehicle, and even your go bag may go sideways. Military bases and hotels with foreign guests are natural magnets for missiles and explosives, so expecting to be blown out of bed is not necessarily an irrational thought. Similarly, you are exceptionally vulnerable when traveling by road, and in the event of an accident or an ambush that you are lucky enough to survive, you won't get a time-out to collect your stuff.
Embedding Has Both Perks and Consequences
For better, and for worse, the military has provided training wheels for rookies. On the upside, embedding takes care of the serious logistical challenges of transportation, shelter, security and food and water. There's not a lot of bed-and-breakfasts to be found in Fallujah or Kandahar, so that's not a small consideration. On the downside, embedded reporters operate on a very short leash with ever-increasing restrictions from their military handlers. Independent reporting is critical for getting an accurate view from these places, but it's dangerous, difficult, expensive, and it's being done less and less by the international press. Embedding provides a particular but extremely limited view of the battlespace. You can spend an entire deployment embedded with the US Marines in Diyala or Helmand, but don't fool yourself that you know anything about Iraq or Afghanistan—what you've seen is the inside of an armored bubble.
Read. Think. Ask questions - and triple check before you start believing.
Some suggested reading:
Descent into Chaos - Ahmed Rashid
The Gamble - Tom Ricks
29 Articles - David Kilcullen
War and Anti-War - Alvin and Heidi Toffler
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell - John Crawford
Five years ago, while I was working in Iraq, I teamed up with my brother, a web developer, to launch a web-based data-sharing network of people who do inadvisable things in sketchy places. When you have a bizarre question that no travel agent can answer, try our site, lightstalkers.org. Someone out there will have advice for you—heed it at your own peril.
Teru Kuwayama has made more than 15 trips to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir, traveling both independently, and as an embedded reporter with US and NATO military forces, as well as Afghan, Pakistani, and Indian armed forces. In 2009 he received the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor award for his work in Pakistan, and a fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association.
He is a 2009-2010 Knight Fellow at Stanford University, a contributor to Time, Newsweek and Outside magazines, and a contract photographer for Central Asia Institute, a non-profit organization that builds schools for children in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He is also the co-founder of Lightstalkers.org, a web-based network of media, military, and aid and development personnel, and the curator of Battlespaceonline.org, a traveling exhibition of photographs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.