Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hump Day? Hump This...

It's Wednesday.... the last day of the month. How I loathe each month's end. Excise taxes from the previous month's business are due, there's a fine, high pile of bills to be paid, a smaller stack of checks to deposit, a flurry of calls to client accounting departments begging to be paid for work done & delivered months ago. There is a brief and fleeting moment of satisfaction almost bordering on heady elation when the checks are tallied up on the rusty old abacus and the balance sheet confirms that, indeed, the studio doors will remain open for another month. Then reality sets in as I open the checkbook and start writing those checks to the taxman, the electric company, the landlord... such is life in the glamorous world of the professional photographer.

I am in a mood to rant here for a moment. In fact, I have typed and deleted two vicious screeds already, one about a french client holding up payment, the other about the current state of the 24 hour news cycle here in the USofA. After proofreading them, I thought better of baring my fangs in public, at least here on this blog and dumped them. Perhaps another time, eh?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Making New Friends On the Road

London Schertzer is an amazing human being, an excellent photographer and all around cool gal who hails from the mountains of Colorado. London was at one time a photojournalist in the employ of Rueters and stationed in Turkey and Guatemala during her tenure with the bureau.

London first contacted me out of the blue nearly two years ago through where she had read several of my posting responding to queries about traveling to Bali. At the time, she was making preparations for a 3-4 month tour through South East Asia, with an extended stay in Bali. As fate would have it, I was planning to be in Bali about the same time as she. We were fortunate to hook up in the mountain village of Ubud where she spotted me as I dismounted a decrepit rented motorbike in front of the guest house where I was staying.

London and I immediately hit it off and spent a bit of time together drinking, dining and swapping photo biz lies. We have maintained contact ever since.

Below are several images London recently sent me from that trip. These images were all taken, I believe, in Cambodia during her visit to that country. As you can see, she is a Holga user and enthusiast. To see more of London's work, visit her website here.

On a side note, I spoke with London by phone earlier today (which prompted this blog entry). It seems she was reading my blog here and took interest in an earlier entry about photographer Chip Simons. In true London fashion, she emailed Chip after viewing his website, he responded and now they are having a dialog also. Well done London! Just goes to show you the value of the "internets" and all those millions of tubes when it comes to making connections of all kinds.

          All Photographs Above © London Schertzer/All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Product Shooting in the Studio This Week

All photos @2008 Tony Novak-Clifford

Lots of products for a resort retail shops campaign. Shoes, toys, spa goods, jewelry... Hot weather, hot lights, good tunes on the stereo & pretty decent results.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Overcoming the Fear

       "If I knew how to take a good photograph, I'd do it every time" -  Robert Doisneau

For the past several years... really, until quite recently, I have suffered from a form of photographer's stage fright. What I mean is - literally pulling out the camera in order to capture an image... even a personal image not intended for a client was an act that produced a very real and mild form of dread. Thinking about it now, I realize that this dread was an inner competition with myself. Would the picture be as good as what I was seeing in my head? Would it be as good as my last shot? Would I be disappointed with the results once I got the image back to the darkroom or computer to process it?  A lot of this fear has no doubt developed, in part, by my decision to immediately become a commercial photographer from the moment I first picked up a camera. Photography as a business is quite a competitive arena in the first place. Professional photographers are expected to produce, if not predictable, competent and technically well crafted images above and beyond what the average snapshooter makes. Add to that the pressure of delivering the goods, so to speak, each and every time out of the gate because your income depends on it, your client's budget and campaign depends upon it, the art buyer-photo editor-account executive depends on it and most of all, your reputation depends on it. There is a saying in this business is ... "'re only as good as your last shot...".

What I've come to realize is that making images makes me happy and even more than that, it is no longer a job but a passion. Yes, I know that most photographers get their start in exactly the opposite way. I didn't and now most of the time, I come back with images that please me. Still, I struggle with attempting to anticipate what images might help further my career, increase my income, be recognized as artistic. The struggle has less urgency for me now. I've come to realize that as much as we learn, as much as we think we know, as much technical prowess we have developed, ever picture making opportunity is a brand new deal with it's own set of challenges and we do our best to figure it out on the fly and pray for a satisfactory result. Keeping that simple truth in mind has helped immensely in overcoming my fear. It's still there, but it no longer stops me from stopping, looking, capturing something. In terms of unassigned, personal work, there has been an even greater discovery in that what I think I had captured often tends to be completely different than what I had originally intended. It's as if my unconscious secretly takes over and operates the camera, revealing itself to me in quiet and subtle ways.

One of the goals of this blog is to be able to show work that is outside scope of what I can put up on my commercial website. As to whether or not anyone sees it is anybody's guess. Still, the effort is worthwhile in making me think about the images I make in a very different light and without the commercial pressures of the business end of photography. The blog, I have found, is also forcing me to create new content in order to have new images to post here. It is forcing me to reevaluate some of the things about photography that I previously took for granted. Whatever the motivating factors -  boredom, creative blocs, complacency - I am really enjoying what I'm doing now in a way that I never did before and this brings me great joy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Today's Music News

                         Mick Fleetwood Blues Band Tour Poster Shoot 
                                                                   photo by: William Pie
                             Mick Fleetwood Blues Band Tour Poster Shoot
                              photo by: William Pie

              Dave Murray/ Houston, Texas ©2003 Tony Novak-Clifford

I received a call a couple of days ago from good friend and Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray. Dave is just back from several weeks of touring with his band. So far, Maiden has played India, Oz and South America. The first dates of the tour in India resulted in severe intestinal distress for the band members... to much curry, eh? South America, according to Dave, saw huge crowds and mob scenes at all venues, hotels, airports, etc... almost to the point where things got a little scary. I had the opportunity to join the band on the "Give "em Ed 'Till They're Dead" tour in 2003 to photograph several dates in Texas. Frankly, I was amazed at how well behaved the crowds at these shows were, given the fact that the two warm up bands were Lemmy Killmister/MotorHead and Ronnie James Dio. Neither of these acts took any prisoners and I do admit to moments of sinking into fear when Maiden finally would take the stage and 7000+ pairs of arms attached to all black clad youths would raise clenched fists and begin chanting in unison. 

For this tour, the band has it's own chartered jet with frontman Bruce Dickenson piloting the band from date to date. Bruce is a licensed commercial pilot and flies, or did fly for British Airlines when off duty from the band. 

Dave's home for a few weeks before heading back to Texas to launch the USA leg of the tour... then off to conquer Europe. "Up the Irons" as they say in Maidenland. So far, Dave says the tour has been great and the traveling the most comfortable of any previous tour. He looks forward to seeing all the fans on future tour dates in the US and Europe.

Over the last 7 years or so I have also had the priviledge of work for and getting to know Mick Fleetwood, the iconic drummer of legendary band Fleetwood Mac. Mick, also a Maui resident, has his hands in many pies, from wine making to music making. In addition to his work with Fleetwood Mac, Mick has developed a love of music from the islands and during the last couple of years has put together the "Island Rumours Band" teaming up with some of hawaii's best musicians, including Lenny Castellanos on bass, falsetto queen Riatea Helm, Guitarists/Songwriters Willie K. & Eric Gilliam, Fleetwood Guitarist Rick Vito Gretchen (I can't remember your last name at the moment, sorry) on vocals, Lopaka Colon, the incredible percussionist from Henry Kapono's Band, and Maila Gibson, also on vocals. IRB debuted at Oahu's Crater fest last summer and have had a steady booking of corporate gigs ever since.

Mick has also teamed up with longtime friend and bassist of Fleetwood Mac, the legendary John McVie, and Rick Vito to form the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band. Though the lineup changes from time to time with Lenny Castellanos subbing for John on bass for some dates. MFBB played it's first date in St. Louis a month or so ago and have several more mainland gigs in the works. This band is resurrecting the ball busting blues tunes of early FM member and guitarist Peter Green, dusting of classics like "Oh Well', " Rattlesnake Shake" and other songs from the catalog of what many musicophiles consider to be the glory days of Fleetwood Mac. Rick V. is a Peter Green devotee and has that dirty guitar tone Peter was famous for down pat. I got to attend a couple of the band's rehearsals a few months ago and was blown away by both the sound and the material. There are a couple of shots above from tour poster shoots showing me working with the band (note that old Sinar P2 4x5 in one of the photos). Those "behind the scenes shoot" pics were taken by tour manager William (Bill) Pie (pronounced PeeAYY not Pi). Thanks for the pics, Bill. Look for the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band coming sometime to a theater near you. Also, look for another Fleetwood Mac tour (the whole band) sometime in the near future.

Chicago will be performing at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center this friday night in the outdoor amphitheater. Show starts at 7pm. Jason Mraz returns to Maui and performs in the Castle Theater on May 1st at 7:30pm. Boz Scaggs along with the Matt Catingub Orchestra in the Castle Theater on May 12 at 7:30pm. There's a lot of other stuff happening at the MACC . You can check out the coming events at their website here

Let's Give a Big Hand To...

                    "Hand Jive" ©2007 Tony Novak-Clifford

The photoblog world has been on fire the last couple of days over at APE after Rob posted an entry about a photographer who sent him an email promo. After clicking on the promo link, Rob claims that the photographer was able to use web tracking software to identify him and then had the audacity to immediately contact him to proclaim that he had, in fact, been tracked. APE's thoughts on the matter amount to his being creeped out that the photographer had admitted tracking him down and making direct contact as a result of that tracking.
The ensuing comments (over 100 of them as of this afternoon)  pretty much run the gamut of the hand gestures posted above... everything from "screw you" to "you tell him"!  One thing can be said of photographers, we are an opinionated bunch.  Reading the posted comments and opinions in that thread was much akin to watching an episode of tabloid TV. We know that we shouldn't watch, but in reality, we can't tear ourselves away from that screen and in the process, lots of dirty laundry gets aired in public.  It was both a sublime and an ugly experience rolled into one.
I, myself, use tracking software to determine where the traffic to my website originates and to try and get some handle on whether or not that traffic might generate future assignment work or stock sales. The tracking I use is, however, rather basic and not sophisticated enough to provide me with actual IP addresses of those that visit my website. And.... never, ever, would I initiate contact with a potential client and inform them that I had tracked them down via the use of such tracking devices. I attempt to conceal my own web surfing by turning off my browser's cookies and by immediately deleting cookies left behind when logging into protected sights that require cookies to be enabled. I do this not so much to conceal my web activities as to cut down on the SPAM and email solicitations I receive.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Where Does the Time Go?

I had hoped to add more entries to the blog this week but life got in the way.  The upside - a small avalanche of assignment work has come thru the door. The last couple of days spent doing all the preproduction and first shots for a new advertising campaign for the Grand Wailea Resort Shops, an account I had several years ago and has just returned for more. More scouting and preproduction meetings were also held this week for a new Ulupalakua Winery campaign. Today was spent shooting cover and additional images for a music CD package and tomorrow I have a grip & grin assignment with the annual golf tournament benefiting the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. In between this flurry of activity, I've managed to squeeze in a little more personal shooting, the results to be posted here at a later date and a senior portrait for the daughter of an old friend. 

All of this work should keep me very busy until the day I get on the plane for my two week trip to Bali. That's good news as gas prices here climbed another .10 cents/gal overnight, the average price of regular gas now standing at $4.18/gal. With the continued work coming in, I just might be able to afford to fill up the tank every now & then. Thank god I purchased that ScionXB a couple of years ago or I'd really be crying about gas prices. At 30-35 miles/gallon, I'm not feeling the pain quite as severely as many here.

The day has come to an end and it's time to fire up the Scion and make the trek up the volcano slope for home.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sign O' The Times


APE Self Promotion Winners Slideshow Up and Running

Okay... Rob Haggert at the "A Photo Editor" blog has finally gotten the slideshow of the Free Self-Promotion to work. You can see a full page version of the slideshow here. Over 1300 photographers submitted work to the promotion, only 297 made the cut. APE has further cut the slideshow to only one selected work per selected photographer. You can click on each photograph in the slideshow to get the photographer's name and website link.

Now it will be interesting to see if art buyers make use of this resource to find new talent and if any of the winners can eventually claim new assignments as a result of their participation. Even though I didn't make the final cut, I can claim that merely by participating and sending images to the competition, my website traffic is up by over 100% from previous averages.

There's some really inspiring work here and it is worthwhile to sit thru the entire show. It is also an interesting experiment in new ways of connecting talent & art buyers beyond the traditional uses of source books, direct mail promos, etc. Rob claims there will be more of these types of promos at his site in the future... and that he will be bringing in additional judges to make the final selects. Having seen what work was selected, I think I have a better idea of what sort of images to submit for future contests.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Today's Mailbag/ Department of Shameless Self-Promotion Redux

Today's mail contained no bills, (yippee!), minimal junk mail and the current issue of  Hana Hou Magazine, the inflight read of Hawaiian Airlines.  The spread above is a story on labyrinths that I shot for the issue (you'll note the back of one of the Art Hash Harrier gals in the bottom image). Also in this issue is a photo of mine of the owner of Maui Brewing Company in the Native Intelligence section of the magazine along with a nice portrait and blurb on the contributors page. A big mahalo to Kunio Hayashi,Director of Design for Hana Hou,  another AD that makes large and great use of photography. The labyrinth piece opens with a full bleed double page photo spread!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Expose Yourself

35mm Magazine is a locally produced & published 'zine that appeared on the local art scene a few months ago. I saw what I assume to be their first issue in the bohemian caffeine dispensary down the street from my studio a while back. A couple of weeks ago I received an invite from one of the Art Hash Harrier gals (it seems she will be writing columns or something for the mag in future issues) to attend a gathering at the new Paia Contemporary Art Gallery being held for the magazine.

First, a word about the gallery... this is a beautiful space right on the main drag of Hana Highway in Paia. Owned by abstract photographer Ken Briner & Argentina born painter Alejandro Goya, the gallery, in addition to these two artists is also showing the paintings and mixed media works of Brad Huck & Akira Iha. If you haven't been in yet, go check them out. The space is clean, white and minimal with an urban lofty feel to it. The work filling the walls is, at least in my opinion, some of the most interesting work being shown anywhere on the island. There wasn't a single painting of whales sailing thru space, no hula dancer photographs with applied photoshop® watercolor filters in the whole lot. What there was in abundance was lots of abstraction and vibrant color. Good luck guys... may your endeavor be successful and an inspiration for anyone wishing to produce something outside of the standard "condo decor" which is so prevalent in almost every commercial gallery on Maui.

OK... back to 35mm. Magazine...

Published by Cynthia Pegolo (how does she do it? The current issue contains 35 pages and only 9 advertisements to visibly support it.), 35mm is clean  and minimal in design and the current issue features work by 7 photographers (legendary surf photographer Erik Aeder being the only one I know or have heard of), 5 of them featured editorially. Overall, my impression of the featured work in this issue was mostly... well, let's just say underwhelming with a few notable exceptions. Just because you carried an 8x10 view camera into the forest (as one featured artist claims) doesn't necessarily define it as art. A story on Bali, a place I am intimately acquainted with and is perhaps, to my mind, one of the most photographic places in the world, was illustrated with amazingly lackluster images (the text was informative and mostly accurate). Still, I applaud the effort and most of all I applaud the focus on photography as craft & art medium.  In addition the the work of the features artists,  included in the current issue are tutorials on cyanotype printing & the making of photograms.

35mm Magazine is holding a Photo Contest.   Click on the link to the left for submission guidelines. Artists may send up to three individual entries, there is no entry fee and first prize is a full spread & 1/4 page ad in a future issue. Second place wins a full spread and $100 gift certificate from Maui Digital Imaging in Lahaina. Here's a chance to expose yourself, potentially see your work published, there's no rights grab so typical of most photography contests and it costs nothing other that a postage stamp or a little time uploading images via the web. I eagerly await the contest results and hope they publish a large number of the submissions that don't make it across the prize finish line. OK... there you have it. Get off your ass, grab that crusty old Nikormat and Expose Yourself.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fun Time Begins...

                                      Faded Dream Clings to Memory  ©2008 Tony Novak-Clifford

I am a late comer to photography, as I mentioned in my opening post at the inception of this blog. While I've been at it now for the past 20 years, I'm old... I picked up my first real camera at age 30. With no formal training, no previous art school classes and only the foggiest notion of what might be entailed in the business of photography, I plunged head first into developing the skills to make a living in the commercial and editorial arenas. All in all, I have spent the entire time since learning to & producing images that I could sell for my daily bread, marketing myself, developing industry contacts... yes even teaching for a short time. So far, this has worked out well on the commercial end of things. What I now begin to realize is, in the process of developing the technical skills to get the job done, how limiting this experience has been in terms of exploring the artistic side of my subconscious. Instead of making images simply for the sake of making them, somewhere in the back of my mind was always a little voice asking "where or to whom can I sell this?" or "how can it be applied to my business marketing scheme?"

OK... the commercial & editorial work has been generous and supported me to the point where I'm almost comfortable. I have a very nice and well equipped studio, loving family,  a plot of rice field in Bali, a comfortable home here on Maui and a couple of dollars in the bank. And even though the near-term economic prospects have me a little bit nervous,  good assignments continue to come in...

What I'm getting at here is that for the first time in my life, I am not only open to, but actively "playing"... shooting images for no good reason... or at least no good economically viable reason. And... after shooting them, I bring them back and process them... tweaking them in various ways and finding results that I find interesting.

The upside to this playing is that I hope it begins spilling over into my other work in certain ways. My enthusiasm for image making is at an all time high at the moment and the continued pursuit of this new journey will hopefully sustain that enthusiasm. At the very least, I am ending up with a new body of work, completely different from anything I've done before. I hesitate to label it "artistic" as that is such a loaded descriptive and so often used to convince others that a sow's ear is really a silk purse.

Maybe this new work is crap. Who knows? I will show it to others eventually in order to solicit their feedback, but for the moment, I'm simply jazzed & revved up at the prospect of the next image and having confidence & freedom to now push my craft a little further.

The image above resulted in my poking around the Paia Mill last evening as I drove home. Some further post work produced the finished image.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Results Are In...

The selected photo entries in the Free Promotion at have been posted at the Flickr site. You have to create an account at Yahoo if you don't already have one. Once you have logged in, you can see the pool of entries that made the cut (550 images in all) here.

I didn't make the cut... oh well. Still, there is some really inspiring work that was selected and some top name talent that did get their work in. Congratulations to all participants and selected entrants!

Out of the Weeds...

It's been a busy week so far. Yesterday was spent hunkered down before this fine blue screen editing several hundred images from three different assignments all shot last week. Last thursday was spent at the newly reopened Ritz Carlton Resort in Kapalua making corporate executive portraits in several different locations on the property. While scouting prior to the shoot, I had the opportunity to see first hand, first time the beautiful remodel work, done to the lobby, several of the "residences" suites, including the presidential suite, the pool area...
Prior to the remodel, the hotel was nice, quite tattered and well-worn judging from my last stay there about a year ago. The new hotel is much more in keeping with the tropical nature of it's environment, the new art work much more in a hawaiian vein as opposed to the ship wreck & sea battle painting common to other Ritz hotels I have stayed at. Overall the place was quite nice.
One of the portraits we had to shoot was of Executive Chef JoJo Vasquez, a charming, very good looking man who has changed my perceptions about the food prepared in hotel kitchens. While we searched for an area to make his portrait, I made several test shots of him in several different areas of the Banyan Tree restaurant where he presides. One of these test shots I presumed was unacceptable after previewing it on the LCD viewfinder of my Nikon. I saved the image but moved on to a place I thought more suitable. Yesterday, I came across that test shot which I now think is the best of the lot... or at least the most interesting. That image appears at the top of this entry and just goes to show how feeble the camera LCD preview really is when it comes to making final decisions about captured images. I'm sure glad I didn't trash that one before moving on! I love the way that the window in the background divides the space.

Friday afternoon was spent high on the volcano slopes of Mt. Haleakala at a private residence where the assignment was to capture images of an insane swimming pool. The pool is completely done in small, irridescent glass times and truly glitters like a jewel in the late afternoon sun. The day was magnificent... crisp blue skies, fluffy white clouds and lovely warm light. The assignment was to capture to pool and tile details for the tile manufacturer's advertising. The pool image above is from the edit.

So... I'm almost caught up now... I just have to deliver a couple of image discs to eager clients and then onto the next assignment.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy...

The weather cleared and we were able to complete yesterday's assignment.  Had another corporate portrait sitting early this morning, then stacks of editing to complete from shoots from the past two days. I also managed to squeeze in a couple of hours devoted to updating my website here.

Now... off to the high mountain slopes to shoot an insane swimming pool for catalog shots for a glass tile manufacturer based in California. So far, the weather has been beautiful today. Let's hope it stays that way until I get the shots.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bad Moon on the Horizon...?

Hawaii, it now appears, is entering stormy seas economically speaking... Last week, the largest single land holder on the island of Molokai announced that it was ceasing all operations, laying off all employees and shutting down it's two resorts, ranch, and small shopping village. This week, Aloha Airlines, one of the two longest operating interisland flight services in Hawaii, stopped all passenger flight services. Today I hear on the news that another mainland air service, ATA, has shut down also. ATA was a major discount airline that provided service to Maui and the rest of the state from several mainland cities. I'm hearing from friends that this spring break/easter holiday (traditionally one of the busiest times statewide for the tourism industry) was exceptionally weak. Does this mean that a major economic downturn is on the horizon? Only time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, interisland flight airfares have already doubled and more overnight, gas prices, while holding steady for the past couple of weeks here on Maui, still hover just a few cents below the $4.00/gallon mark, food prices have been rising steadily for several months...

For me... this potential downturn means I really need to step up my marketing and I need to do it in the most cost effective manner possible. Does that mean resorting to email blasts to potential art buyers? I have mixed feelings about this approach. While certainly the most affordable solution (not to mention "green" method as no use of paper is involved), I fear that recipients find email spam more annoying than direct mail pieces. A secondary concern is that (and maybe this is changing in the new, modern, electronic world) we work to produce images that are primarily destined for the printed page. A direct mail piece is a tangible page that you can hold in your hand and can potentially showcase your work as it is intended to be viewed.

The above image is a new direct mail piece I was working on yesterday as part of my ongoing annual campaign. I am certainly no photoshop expert, having barely the skills to be considered dangerous. Neither am I a graphic designer. I am a big fan of design & designers. I firmly believe that good design can elevate imagery and visa versa. Great design when combined with great imagery can become something greater than the sum of it's parts.

In these uncertain times, cost effectiveness becomes a major consideration in almost every undertaking. My feeble attempts at self-design ended up being something I think may be useable. I must admit that I also enjoyed the process of putting the thing together. I have made attempts at this sort of thing before, but this is the first time I've ended up with something I think is good enough to send out. Now... to resolve this issue of how to distribute it.

It's raining steadily here this morning. I have an assignments to shoot outdoor environmental portraits of eight corporate executives at a major resort on the upper west side of the island. I'm waiting to hear if the shoot is still a go...