Friday, March 28, 2008
I discovered this blog a couple of days ago. The writer remains anonymous (for obvious reasons) as he skewers with poison keyboard the (mostly) New York editorial photography industry. Lots of fun and full of insider humor. Enter at your own risk:
The latest copy of HMSA's community relations magazine Island Scene arrived with the usual pile of bills in todays mail along with this nice note from the 'zines Art Director/PE, Jonathan Tanji. I've been supplying Jonathan with editorial images for several years now. He is one of the few PE's I have worked with who ALWAYS takes the time to offer feedback about the images submitted for each assignment, ALWAYS offers a fair and decent editorial creative fee ( if you can really call editorial creative rates fair), ALWAYS calls if he has a plan to use the images in some secondary way such as publishing on the magazine's website, ALWAYS pays very promptly and ALWAYS offers a fair fee for such secondary use.
I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that all PE's, Art Directors and Publishers work this way. I have had to opportunity to work with several over the years that have been equally generous and great to deal with. They are the exception to the rule. Jonathan exemplifies the great qualities of an art buyer and I want to give him a tip of the hat for brightening my morning with his note and for his love of using photography displayed big on the page... full page/full bleed.
Otherwise, the morning has been filled with the tedious drudgery of running a business. Today's activities have included answering phone calls containing prerecorded messages offering me business lines of credit, extended automobile warranties, filing end of the year GET Tax forms, 1099 Form summaries (a month late I discovered when I went to fill them out this morning).
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I've been involved for quite some time in a debate with the Art Hash Harrier gals regarding the nature of commercial vs. fine art and the value/merit (or lack thereof) of each. The gals, hailing from backgrounds steeped in the academia of art, argue that a distinct line exists between the two, while I, an uneducated boob and self-taught cretin, see no such clear line of distinction. Still, the debate has inspired me to make a clear & concerted effort to further blur the lines between commerce & art by moving in a new direction & working to develop a new body of work that is more fine-art in direction but with "editorial" overtones & potential.
This new direction is motivated in part by the gals and in part by a competition announced two days ago by Rob Haggart's blog "A Photo Editor" (see previous entries for link). One of the greatest things about APE's competition is that it requires submission of new & fresh work. It has also exposed me to the work of many photographers with whom I was unfamiliar. I've spent a great deal of time looking at the work of these photographers and have come away remarkably inspired to return to making picture that please me as much as making images to please clients.
In the spirit of this new found motivation, I have begun stopping and taking a second look at sights that, in my usual distracted haze, I drive by sometimes twice daily... walking around and really looking at things... making the effort to make a photograph even though lighting conditions might not be ideal... really trying to make in interesting image no matter what the challenges or inadequacies of the conditions at that moment. The photograph uploaded with this entry is a scene I drive by daily, has always interested me, yet I have never taken the time to explore further. I was headed home in the early evening... the conditions were cloudy, the light very cyan. Still, I made several different pictures of the scene and spent part of this morning seeing what I could do with them in post-processing. This is one of the resulting images that I like very much.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Hawaii & the tropics do, in fact, experience seasons. Unlike areas in more temperate climate zones which experience four distinct seasons, here in the tropics it's more like two seasons... wet & dry (or dry & drier as has been the case on this island for the past several years). Still, the arrival of spring to the islands is a momentous occasion, especially in the upcountry region of Maui on the slopes of Haleakala, the world's largest volcano. High above the beach & jungle areas found at sea level, Upcountry experiences cooler temperatures & crisp air, rolling pastures and hills and incredible island wide views that unfold below. Spring in this part of Maui is heralded not only by longer days & lingering sunlight, but also by to annual blooming of the jacaranda trees and agapanthus flowers (commonly known as blue bells or blue lilies). The grasslands and meadows are green again after the renewing winter rains and all manner of flora & fauna grow with abandon before the summer dry period sets in.
From Pukalani & Makawao, both situated at approximately 1200 ft. above sea level, to Kula and Ulupalakua, the rural roadsides are lined with jacaranda trees filled with bright magenta blossoms. This is my favorite time of year to drive around this area of the island and it would be difficult to find anywhere in the world that is more beautiful in springtime.
I have posted an image I made a couple of years ago that remains a favorite. It was taken in Kula about this time of the year and shows a jacaranda tree in full bloom. While I confess to a small amount of photoshopping of the colors, I assure you that it was minimal and this is a fairly accurate depiction of that scene. This photograph reminds me of the paintings of friend and Maui artist Curtis Wilson Cost:
Curtis is know for painting upcountry scenes and I suppose that it would be difficult to photograph anything in that area of the island that wasn't reminiscent of his work.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Happy belated Easter to everyone.
On most days, my morning begins by awakening around 5:30-6:00 am, making coffee and then grabbing my laptop to check email and then a quick browse around the net to read my favorite forums & blogs before showering and heading off to the studio to take care of business. (Some of my favorite photography related blogs and forums are listed & linked in a previous post found below.)
This morning's entry hit me like a kick in the teeth. Rob blogs about a photographer who's career I have followed and who's images I have admired ever since I first read about him in PDN back in the early 90's, Chip Simons: http://www.chipsimons.com
In that PDN article, Chip, along with Mark Seliger (now chief staff photographer at Rolling Stone) and Karen Kuehn: http://www.karenkuehn.com were three up and coming New York photographers who were making a big splash at the time. We all know were Mark ended up and how well he has done within the industry. As mush as I love the work of all three of these individuals, it was Chip and the wacky, colorful playful images he was making that really caught my attention. Chip became known originally for making weird, POV, fish-eye portraits of dogs and other animals, usually lit by flashes gelled with psychedelic colors. Chip also used other unconventional lighting tools which included a small arsenal of gelled penlights... and almost always with a fish-eye perspective. In that PDN article was a hallucinogenic portrait by Chip of another one of my photo heros, Guy Bourdin.
Shortly after that article in PDN appeared, it seemed that Chip's work was everywhere. His stuff was fresh, playful, often less than flattering to the subject, but eye-catching nonetheless. His style has been copied by numerous admirers ever since. Chip apparently made his bones in NYC, enjoying a busy and profitable career... for a only a while as it turns out.
Feeling a need for space and with a perception that his value and place within the industry was secured, Chip packed up and fled the city for a farm in New Mexico. For a while, he continued to be in demand, continued to expand his visual vocabulary and continued to produce new styles of work. From what I gather from Chip's own statements in several articles & interviews published by and about him in recent years is that he became complacent, neglected to market himself with any consistency. Marital & financial troubles ensued, eventually leading to a nasty divorce and an empty bank account.
For numerous reasons, not the least of them being his physical distance from art buyers in NYC where his original market was developed, Chip has decided to abandon the rural life and head back to New York to start again from scratch. His comments in interviews these days are tinged with a bitterness and a degree of self-pity for the predicament he now finds him self in. Still, his comments are brutally frank & honest, serving as a cautionary tale to all of us who attempt the delicate balance of juggling career vs. lifestyle issues that affect all of us residing outside of the major marketplaces of our industry.
The story of Chip Simons isn't finished yet. I fully expect that we'll be hearing from him again, that he will successfully recreate himself and will again rise up within the ranks. Reading his tale this early morning while still suffering from caffeine deficiency left me depressed. By the time I made the 30 minute drive from home to my studio, I was inspired and motivated to work hard for as many more years as I possibly can, to step up my marketing and self-promotion efforts and to always try to find new and fresh ways to keep telling the same stories in photographs.
I've never met Chip. Just the same... he has been an inspiration to me over the years. I wish him the best of luck in re-establishing his career and repairing his psyche.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
I think it's important to break free of the daily routine every now and then to seek new perspectives and to remain alive, creatively speaking. Travel is my way "clearing the cobwebs" and recharging my batteries. Entering into new and unfamiliar, sometimes even uncomfortable situations forces your mind into a new state of alertness. New sights stimulate me to attempt to capture a bit of the essence of things newly encountered.
Nowhere on earth have I found to be more stimulating creatively than the "Island of the Gods", Bali, Indonesia. This tiny island of 2, 174 sq. mi. hosts 3.5 million residents and thousands of tourists from all over the world. Located in the Indian Ocean at the southern end of the Indonesian Archipelago, Bali is a tiny enclave of mostly Hindu worshipers surrounded by the world's largest muslim nation.
Once a backpackers & surfers paradise, Bali has recently begun making a move towards a more upscale resort destination. While you can still find very cheap accommodations, food, etc., you can now also surround yourself in luxurious pampering in world-class five star resorts & spas.
Bali is a feast for the senses... I often describe the experience as walking around with a head full of acid... sensory overload. From the moment you set foot on the island, you are bombarded with unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds, tastes... most of them pleasant, some decidedly not. The island's small land mass and large population, combined with their traditional communal way of living means very little privacy once you leave your hotel and venture out. The Balinese and the immigrants from other parts of the country are aggressive business folks to say the least. Just walking down the street in the more populated areas where tourism thrives means navigating a gauntlet of vendors arms thrust in your face selling everything from foreign newspapers, to silver bangles, "magic" massage oils, music cd's, movie dvd's, transportation, ornate carvings of bone, horn & wood, sarongs & other local handicrafts. Should you desire any of these items, you will be forced into feverish negotiations with the seller on setting an acceptable price. As you enter into negotiations, every other vendor within eyesight will spot you as a "mark" and immediately surround you too, thrusting their wares at you, shouting to attract you attention. Add to that the very necessary awareness required to just negotiate sidewalks and roads in a very third-world country with crumbling infrastructure to avoid being run down in your tracks by an entire family riding on a tiny motor bike or falling thru a cracked sidewalk and into the open sewer waiting below and you get some small idea of the sensory overload that is to me, a part of Bali's charm.
As a photographer, the Bali experience is equal parts exhausting and creative stimulation. There is never any lack of exotic subject matter. Landscape photographers will be entralled with the rich, verdant rice terraces, sculpted into steep mountainsides and gorges over centuries, by the incredible variety of coastline... from sandy tropical beaches, to craggy sheer ocean cliffs, to beautiful, picturesque volcanos. Street photographers will find no shortage of amazing faces, solemn as well as colorful religious ceremonies and processions that seem to appear out of nowhere.
The picture accompanying this blog entry was taken a few years ago and only recently rediscovered as I was scanning old film archives in an effort to digitize & streamline the delivery process of future stock requests. My Balinese partner, friend and teacher of all things Balinese, Ida Bagus Adi, and I had ventured high into Bali's central mountains in search of a tiny remote village scheduled to be the only temple odalon (temple "birthday") ceremony scheduled during my stay. As we climbed high into the mountains of Tabanan, the roads became increasingly rough almost to the point that I feared Adi's van might break an axle if we continued in our quest. Adi assured me we would be fine and I settled back into an uneasy trust in the gods, as one must do when visiting their island. Before long, we spotted a tiny temple in a valley just below us, decorated in full ceremonial beauty with long red "penjor" flags guarding the temple gates, bright yellow & orange umbul-umbul umbrellas shading the shrines and a mass of human activity. The entire village was busy in making preparations to welcome their ancestral gods home for this all important annual birthday celebration. Quickly tying a sarong and temple sash around my waist (proper balinese dress is required for entry into all balinese temples) and grabbing a couple of cameras, I was welcomed heartily in true balinese fashion as all participants stopped their activities momentarily to see the newly arrived "tamu" (visitor), then went back to their preparations. Men were shinning and boiling small sucking pigs in large woks to prepare the ritual meal of lawar, women were tidying up the temple grounds, parading in and out carrying large, ornate and carefully designed offerings to place on the shrines, holy men were sitting in the shade of a large tarp as they chanted magic incantations, inscribed magical symbols on the leaves of frangipani flowers and blessed the accumulated paraphernalia rituali required to comfort of the gods and entice them into lingering long enough to bestow their blessings and absorb the essence of the offerings. The boy in the photo, dressed in his best, if a little soiled, ceremonial finery stands before a shrine where the colorfull stacks of fruit are artfully arranged as offerings.
I've just booked a flight for early May. I can't wait to return to Bali, recharge my batteries and return home once again with fresh, even for only a short time, eyes.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
It has been my experience over the years that photographers tend to be very closed mouthed about business practices, client information, fees, etc. Unless you were a member of one of the professional trade organizations like ASMP, PPofA, EP, or APA and had an active chapter operating in your area, there was little opportunity for frank talk among colleagues regarding business and other issues that affect our careers on a daily basis.
Here in Hawaii and on the island of Maui in particular, we photographers tend to play our cards very close to the chest. Perhaps it's a fear that, on a small island, there is a limited amount of work to be divided amongst us and we are afraid to divulge any information to others that might lead to giving anther photographer a lead to an art buyer they didn't already know about. I know also from experience, that we sometimes make deals with clients that are non-supportive of the industry in order to turn a fast buck.
As a result, many of us whom have chosen photography as a career operate in an information vacuum, unaware of the value of our work on the world-wide marketplace, unaware of standard use fees or even standard business practices. Many of us, myself included, have felt the fear when asked to provide an estimate or bid a job for a client, stuck in a mindset that the lowest bid always wins the assignment. One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that the lowest bidder does not always get the assignment, that there is no one else out there that will place real world value on your work other than yourself, that you can and should license & limit use for the work you produce for clients in accordance with their budgets, there are times when saying "No"is the only appropriate action to take and information/knowledge is power.
Ever since the dawn of the web based information age, the information & communications vacuum for photographers has been somewhat shattered. There are now numerous website forums where photographers can share information, ask questions of more seasoned professionals, learn about marketplace value, learn techniques and even develop relationships among colleagues. Organizations websites for ASMP, PPof A, APA & EP are incrediblt great resources for information on copyright registration, business practices, legalese, contracts, delivery memos and much more.
Below, I am posting some links to some of my favorite websites. I hope you find them informative & helpful also...
The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP): http://www.asmp.org
ASMP is the organization that originally began developing a set of guidelines and business practices for photographers. Even without joining the organization, you can find a wealth of information here. Take a few moments to browse thru their publications, white papers and position statements. ASMP has an active local Hawaii Chapter, centered in Honolulu.
Professional Photographers of America (PPofA or PPA): http://www.ppa.com
PPA is another educational in information sharing organization for photographers. Most of PPA's membership seems to be photographers working in the more consumer oriented niches of the industry. Wedding & Portrait Photographers make up the bulk of the membership though they do claim a large number of Commercial Photographer members also. There was at one time a local PPA chapter operating on Maui. I have no idea if it is still in existence.
Advertising Photographers of America (APA): http://www.apanational.com
APA is another educational and advocacy organization. It's membership is comprised mainly of photographers working in the commercial/advertising niche of the industry. There are several active regional chapters (none in Hawaii unfortunately) with their own membership website in addition to the national website linked above.
When talking about membership to national organizations of photographers, I should note that at one time, one of the great benefits of such a membership was access to discounted insurance rates (liability insurance, marine/equipment insurance, errors & omissions insurance, etc.) Not long after Hurricane Iniki hit the islands about 13 years ago, most of the insurance underwriters participating with these organizations pulled out of the State of Hawaii, leaving us to fend for ourselves when seeking coverage.
Other sites I like:
A Photo Editor Blog: http://aphotoeditor.com
Rob Haggert was the photo editor for Men's Journal and Outside Magazine. I recently found his blog and found it to be one of the most informative out there for photographers seeking editorial assignments. Rob candidly discusses issues ranging from getting your foot in the door, what makes a successful marketing campaign (from a PE's point of view), things he takes into consideration when handing out assignments, etc. Funny, sometimes shocking, always illuminating... check it out.
Photo District News Online: http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/index.jsp
PDN Online is just that... an online version of the magazine. There's some useful information here if you don't already subscribe to the print version of the magazine. There are also a couple of interactive forums where users can ask and answer questions relating to business, technology & equipment, etc.
There's everything here... newbies & amateurs, serious hobbyists, experienced professionals and everything in between. There are galleries for members to post their photos, new equipment reviews, industry news and a pretty good interactive forum, broken down to individual categories of interest for easy browsing.
Commercial Photographers International: http://www.mycpi.com
A site run by well know Commercial & Editorial Photographers Gary Gladstone & Jack Reznicki. This site requires membership for access. The good news is that membership is free. The site has a Creative Referral Directory for Art Buyers, Assistant Referrals Directory, Equipment Classifieds and lots more. There a very good interactive forum at this site also (membership required) where some real industry heavy weights check in from time to time, offering their help & wisdom.
Digital Truth Photo: http://www.digitaltruth.com
There's lots of resource information here, an interactive forum too. One of the best resources I've found at this site is the link to the "Massive Developing Chart", the world's largest and most complete film and paper processing guide for those of us that still like to get our hands wet in the darkroom. The MDC lists chemical & film processing guides for nearly every know film and developer known to man.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I have tried several forms of marketing over the years. Everything from Yellow Page Advertising to direct mail & creative directory listings. So far the most effective, not to mention cost effective methods of marketing for me have been direct mail, my website and the free phone book listing at www.workbook.com.
I just finished sending out about 250 new direct mail pieces at the end of last week, part two of my current campaign which includes a set of three cards each in a very cool folder. Each card contains one large image on one side, the other side containing all of my contact information and the URL of my website boldly printed. This series of cards included a food image, an editorial portrait of a well-known Hawaii chef and a lifestyle image from an award winning advertising campaign we did last year. The first phone call I get this morning is from a client saying that she "had to have" the food shot for use in a national advertising campaign in one of the prominent travel magazines. I won't divulge either the client or the magazine at this point as we are still negotiating the use license.
I will say that some form of marketing I consider to be essential in keeping your name and your best work in front of art buyers on a regular basis. Competition for assignments, both advertising and editorial, is stiff with new competitors entering the marketplace every month. Art buyers have notoriously short memories. Turnover in the advertising agencies and art departments is pretty regular and it takes a concerted effort to build and keep relationships with these client. Direct mail offers me a chance to regularly put my best new work in front of them, if even for a few moments. It provides me the opportunity to remind them of my existence and alert them to any new awards of other information on my work that may be of interest.
This year my marketing goal is to get out one direct mail piece every three months. This will be followed up by a brief phone call with an inquiry as to whether they received the piece and whether there may be any potential projects on the horizon that may be suitable for my work. I concentrate these mailings on clients and potential clients in Honolulu and the mainland (advertising agencies, publication art departments, public relations firms). There are a handful of local island clients that I do include in these mailings, but I have found that almost all of the major resort advertising is handled by agencies outside the island of Maui.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Thanks for stopping by.
Photography is a tough business. It's tough to make a living doing what you love in any case and photography as a business is no exception. Photography as a business in Hawaii is even tougher, especially for those of us without the personality & skill set to work in the largest segment of the photographic industry here in the islands... the wedding industry.
At the very start of my career as a photographer, I decided I wanted to see my work published in magazines. Weddings weren't my cup of tea so I chose the commercial route. I should also mention here that at that time, I had absolutely no experience, no equipment, no money, and barely knew how to load film (yes, I'm old... we used film back in those days) into a camera. I was 30 years old at the time. I had a couple of careers previously, working in both the mental health business and the music industry along with a whole bushel load of other McJobs that kept me fed and sheltered. I was unfulfilled to say the least.
It was just a short years after moving to Maui, mainly to be able to surf year round, that I met a guy who was to become my teacher & mentor. He was THE GUY when it came to local advertising photographers here on the island. His work was quite creative and seen everywhere. I had always admired the work of photographers, had always thought photography appeared to be a great way to make a living but for some reason, had never attempted to dabble with it myself. Anyway, I became...em, er, uh... friends with this guy for lack of a better word to describe our relationship which was quite complicated and seldom truly friendly. After getting to know him and having the opportunity to see him work, I remember thinking to myself "I could do this".
I also remember my wife breaking down in tears the day I brought home a used Canon A-1 bought from a sidewalk sale at the camera shop across from the restaurant where I was working at the time. The restaurant was about a week away from closing. I purchaed the camera for something like $90, came home and proudly announced that I was going to be a photographer. Of course, she thought (and rightly so based on experience) that I was off on another wild tangent that would loose my interest after a few months.
I love that old camera. I started shooting anything in sight. I also asked THE GUY if I could help him around his studio in exchange for some guidance. This was my first job as an assistant. I swept floors, set up lights, loaded film holders, kept wine glasses filled, anything to be around when the shooting action was taking place.
A few months later, I got up the nerve to show THE GUY some of my experiments with the camera and ask him for some direction and critique. This was the defining moment in my career. THE GUY looked at my first couple of pages of slides, quickly dropped them on the studio floor and slowly, dramatically began to grind his heel into the slides saying "hopeless... you're hopeless.." That was it! My first reaction was... "I'll show this guy..." . I set a goal for myself that very day. I had three years to learn, develop a body of work, a portfolio and some clients and be some sort of competition to THE GUY or move on. My entire career, it seems, was based on revenge. Not exactly a business model I would recommend to others contemplating photographic careers, but, hey... in the end it worked for me.
More than twenty years have now passed. THE GUY is no longer with us and I miss him. Photography has been a very rewarding as well as constantly challenging career. I can think of nothing I'd rather be doing. The camera has granted me access to places I would have never ventured otherwise, it has opened doors that would have otherwise remained shut and it has given my financial and spiritual sustenance over the years.