Inspired by Sarah Moon: 8 Week Portrait Class Student Work

This week we studied the work of Sarah Moon for inspiration. The students looked at Ms Moon’s work, analyzed it, found what they liked and used it for inspiration. The goal is not to copy the masters, it is to understand them and let that understanding inspire the work.

Some photographers may never use what they learn in their personal style, and others will let the influence become a part of their unique vision.

As the legendary jazz musician Clark Terry said; “Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate”. A time tested way of finding your own voice. Congrats to the photographers in the class. This is a very creative and beautiful set of images.

“Protectionism” is NOT The Way of Professional Photographers

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The “Protectionist” Attitude Among Photographers

Well, not all photographers, but a considerable few. Enough that they can make a lot of noise and bluster.
I don’t suffer that attitude well, never have. The whining about how there are too many photographers and how we should NOT be helping them enter the business or ‘feeding them dreams’ or whatever, is simply a lame, self-serving sort of sod that never sits well with the facts.

Here are Five Myths of Protectionism in Photography.

If we do not teach the young photographers entering the market, they will flounder and get out.
Wanna bet. You cannot keep people from doing what they want to do. Not yet, anyway. And many people want to be photographers. They crave the craft and live every moment thinking about making images. Not teaching them the correct way to enter the market, and compete fairly, is folly beyond imagination. They will enter anyway, and have more chance to screw it all up than if they KNOW what they are doing.

And when did we photographers become so, well, mean. I have no appetite for watching people flounder and fail. I love it when they succeed and win. Creating winners amongst us is exactly what we ALL should be doing. To turn from that path is petty… and pathetic as well.

Training more people will hurt the industry because it will create a glut.
Wrong. There is and has always been a glut. Simply stated, that argument doesn’t work because it is putting a false parameter on something that has no parameters. There is no finite amount of work to be divided equally among the anointed players. Each photographer gets the work they get. It is either enough to sustain them or not. Artificially stating that there is some sort of ceiling is not logical.

There isn’t enough work to go around.
Well, maybe not for you. Or her or that guy over there. But there is a lot of work to be had out there. We know and follow too many successful photographers to even think that there is not ‘enough’ work out there. And even if that were true, and it is not, who is to say that the same shooters who are working now wouldn’t have those jobs all to themselves. The market picks winners and losers, not artificial quotas and protected participants.

Prices are plummeting because of the influx of talented photographers.
Yeah… so? Why would photography escape market forces. I paid $2500 for my Mac Classic in 1986. In today’s dollars that would be about $9,000. Anyone complaining about computer prices? Or memory? Or music? A single song on a 45 RPM record was a buck (I say single cause the other side was likely crap). And today at Amazon that single song is.. a buck.

However, I will say this. In 1984 I was getting day rates of $1500 – $2000 and those day rates have not gone up in any significant way since. (No, I usually do not charge day rate these days, but many do and I am pointing out the stagnation, not the method.) Was it because of digital?

Hardly. It was because things were changing and lots of photographers were entering the market. The market I wanted to be involved in. I had the choice to do that or get a job that no one wanted. I briefly thought about being the conductor for the New York Philharmonic… but the competition for that single position was pretty stiff… So I opted for competing for a lot of jobs instead of just one.

If we could somehow keep the beginners out, there would be more work for us.
No. There would be more for the folks that are already working. If you are not working and blaming it on the newbies, you will still not be working when the newbies are actually thrown under the bus.
Talent always wins when it is bundled with good business skills, marketing plans and a driven, nothings gonna stop me mentality. Thinking that somehow shutting off the spigot would stop those for whom photography is a calling, not just something fun to do would make ones life easier is simply looking past the problem into the face of a cure that has no merit.

I tell photographers who are complaining about how tough it is and how they can’t get work because of all the other photographers out there to take a look at the real culprit. Look right there…

In the mirror.

Protectionism, unions, state licenses and such are simply ways to garner income and keep out the competition, whether or not the competition has the talent to actually compete.

A photographer told me on twitter once that he was comfortable and loving being a photographer, but didn’t want any more people in the business because it was cutting down on his ability to get work. They were “talentless hacks” or something like that.

So what he told me in essence is that his work is so lame that talentless hacks were beating him out at his game and he didn’t want to actually have to improve above the level of talentless hack himself.

That was simply sad. I thought his work was pretty good, and that he should be doing well. Unfortunately, people with that mindset are usually not excited by the mornings, driven to make new work, striving to become better and better with all they create. Instead they brood and whine and look for people to blame for their own intransigence.

I love working with new photographers. After forty years in the business, I know I have stuff that can help, knowledge from the trenches that can answer questions – or even cause questions to be answered in the new world we find ourselves.

Be a mentor. If you can help a struggling photographer, do so.

What you give is so much more powerful than what you hold back.

6 New Books I Have Ordered


From Amazon:
“W magazine is renowned for its avant-garde fashion stories, those elaborate confections of magic and mystery that have inspired and captivated readers for more than two decades. This volume gathers 10 of the most remarkable stories, each in its entirety, along with never-before-seen outtakes. Each story was the centerpiece of the issue it appeared in, and together they ride the razor’s edge between outrageously provocative and enchanting, from the bizarre (Steven Klein’s “One for the Ages”) to the alien (Tim Walker’s “Planet Tilda”) and whimsical (Paolo Roversi’s “Carnevale”). These and other stories by Klein, Walker, and Roversi, as well as Steven Meisel, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, and Alex Prager, are featured. A special code inside the book provides access to short films shot on the sets of the featured stories by Meisel, Walker, Klein, and Prager.”

Awesome book if you like new fashion photography.


From Amazon:
“How can a photographer of internationally known stars create iconic portraits that linger in the memory–especially since these actors have already been photographed and filmed millions of times? Vincent Peters–who has been working since 1995 for magazines such as Vogue and GQ and fashion brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent–relies entirely on the classic art of portrait photography for his pictures. Focusing on small gestures and subtle productions instead of prominent poses, he ensures that his subjects do not disappear into the backdrop and that their faces are the focal point. Emma Watson’s features are lent a tragic note with white makeup. Annie Lennox appears like a stern missionary in a suit and fedora. Photographs of stars such as David Beckham and Christian Bale are markedly masculine. Even more intimate are the images that Peters has taken in private surroundings, like when he accompanied Monica Bellucci during her second pregnancy. His sophisticated lighting has the most impact in his black-and-white photos, bestowing them with a breathtaking cinematic quality.”

Cinematic lighting, classic style of the 40′ – 50’s given new life with Vincent’s contemporary approach. I was not all that familiar with is work, and the book is expensive – but worth every nickel. Wow.


From Amazon:
“Moss’s magic has been captured by the world’s leading photographers, and this volume spans the entirety of her unparalleled career, from model to fashion designer, and muse to icon. Told through images that Moss has personally selected, KATE shows the influence of her collaborations with top photographers and artists over the last two decades, and clearly demonstrates why her career has had, and continues to have, such incredible longevity.

Photography by Arthur Elgort, Corinne Day, Craig McDean, David Sims, Hedi Slimane, Inez & Vinoodh, Juergen Teller, Mario Sorrenti, Mario Testino, Mert & Marcus, Nick Knight, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh, Roxanne Lowit, Steven Klein, Terry Richardson and others”

You see that list of photographers there, right? And the incredible Ms Moss?
This one is so full of ideas and brilliant photography that it addles the brain. Simply astounding.


From Amazon:
“This new collection of Peter Lindbergh’s photographs presents his work from the past ten years. The prolific fashion and portrait photographer is one of the leading commercial artists of our day. His special subject are women.”

Because Peter Lindbergh… duh. If you are not familiar with Peter’s work, and love fashion/beauty… well, you need this book.


From Amazon:
“Stephen Shore has had a significant influence on multiple generations of artists and photographers. Even for the youngest photographers working today, his work remains an ongoing and indisputable reference point. Stephen Shore: Survey includes over 250 images that span Shore’s impressive and productive career. The images range from 1969 to 2013, with series such as Early Works, Amarillo, New York City, American Surfaces and Uncommon Places, among others. Stephen Shore: Survey elucidates Shore’s contributions, as well as the historiographical interpretations of his work that have influenced photographic culture over the past four decades. The narrative of the catalogue is conceptualized around three particularly revealing aspects of Shore’s work, including his analysis of photographic and visual language, his topographical approach to the contemporary landscape and his significant use of color within a photographic context.”

Stephen Shore is an enigma to me. I both love and dislike his work… for sometimes the very same reason. He will challenge your beliefs in what makes a photograph as well as show you ways you have never thought about. Not an instant attraction, Shore takes a bit of time to digest. This is, in my opinion, some of his best photography.


An older book, and still available at a decent price. I loved this approach, and look forward to hopefully seeing another book on a select group of women by legendary photographer Peter Lindbergh (who we are studying next week for the 8 Week Portrait Class (see workshops tab).

Yeah… I done spent all my Christmas money. But then I love books, and books full of photographs… how can you beat that?

Distraction, Discontent and Distruption (Part One)

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Distractions, Discontent, and Disruption

The three “D’s” of the new daily discomforts. Wait, is that a fourth?

We are constantly being distracted from our work, made to feel discontent at every turn and facing disruption in our business like never before.

Distraction.?

Distraction comes from every side. From Facebook and email to the web and other forms of entertainment. It comes from politics and social events. It comes from the manufacturers of commercial culture who want us distracted and hooked on their latest gizmo/whachathingy.

And it is damned difficult to keep our heads down and do the work with all that clamoring for our attention. Go to this webinar and that web page – they have all the answers. Listen to this guru or that guru or some rockstar who has all the answers – they will help make it easier. All ya gotta do is pay attention.

To them.

We have learned that we ‘must’ spend hours a day on Facebook, ‘connecting’ with our fans and followers and possible clients. We have to ‘pin’ and blog and tweet and twerk.

OK, we don’t really have to twerk. Seriously.

But we can spend so much time on the other crap that nothing of real value gets done.

Camera companies compete for our attention by dribbling out shiny new cameras with cutting edge features that we of course MUST have now, because our competitors have it. And it is awesome – that guru guy said it was, and there is a webinar that shows how lame last months new camera is compared to yesterdays new camera.

And a big time internet photographer just “Pinned” it… so it must be awesome.

Discontent.

We become unhappy with what we have, and what we don’t have becomes even more of a sore spot. Even to an open wound.
“When I get the Nicanon Mark 9, DE7000 X, I will finally be able to create my vision.”
But that never happens because as soon as you get it, Sonlympus comes out with a “Nicanon Killer” and some “awesome” internet guru has just declared it the most awesomest camera since last March.

We can sink into the pits of despair, the fire swamps of sadness, and simply believe that without this new or shiny or awesome thingy, we simply cannot continue on.

The funk continues when we read about a new photographer making a lot of waves, and getting a ton of attention. “Brooklynneshannadale Smith, 13, is shooting the new Audi campaign for a gazillion dollars after taking the commercial photography world by storm when her captivating, slightly misogynistic iPhone images on Instagram caught the eye of Dorkus McStoopeed, a big time ad agency owner in Manhattan…” (We call that a PR stunt. Learn to see them for what they are.)

And we try to measure this new work to our own, and try to figure out what the commercial world is really wanting anyway? We start to complain about clients, and the industry, and the totally screwed way it is going and how it is ruining the business… yadda – yadda – yadda.

Too many begin living their creative lives between distraction and discontent. They post memes on Facebook about how no one wants to pay them for their work. They go on forums and discuss how stupid and screwed up clients are. They fall farther and farther away from the center of their own world.

Photography.?

And while they are focused on all this negative distraction and discontent, along comes good old “Disruption”. It is quiet and insidious and if we are not vigilant, it will catch us looking away and – bang – we are watching our business from the sidelines.

Disruption.?

Things change. It all changes. Some changes took a long time to occur, like continental drift. Others took a small amount of time to change… like the time my Tower records went all CD over night on a weekend. No more vinyl – overnight.

Photography has seen plenty of disruption before. The invention of the Brownie camera that allowed anyone to make a photograph. The addition of meters in cameras, faster ISO films, auto-focus, and digital are the highlights.

Now we are seeing disruption in the publication industry that is affecting the commercial photography business as well. Things are changing. Print magazines are flooded with promotions from thousands of photographers. There is a glut of shooters it seems.

But there are also more ways to find work. From web sites to web magazines, Kindle books to iBooks to eBooks, there are more and more ways to create images for publication. Kickstarter projects, self assigned projects, galleries and print sales.

Disruption can be bad for some, but it always opens doors for others.

Seven years ago there was no such thing as an App Developer. Disruption changed that, and tens of thousands of new jobs opened up where none existed before.

Ten years ago a photographer who wanted to do their own high quality coffee table book had to first find a publisher, then negotiate and get a lawyer and lots of crappola to just get to the point of getting it to print.

Today, a photographer can produce their own coffee table book and offer it for sale on Amazon – reaching millions and millions of people worldwide.
“Local” may not mean what it meant 20 years ago.

Solutions?

  • Maybe, but I am not going to offer you the tired old “get off Facebook” stuff you get everywhere, I will simply offer some ideas:
  • Self Assignments: Personal work is the key to keeping creative and moving forward. If you do not have a personal project, start one as soon as possible.
  • Create a schedule for your work. Follow that schedule. Call it your creativity plan or productivity mantra or whatever. Instead of being distracted by all the silliness all day, find a great time to go on, engage, have fun and then be done with it.
  • Find a disruptive agent and make some effort to understand it, what it means for your work and how you can use it to advantage. Instagram is a disruptor… what can you do with it to help your work get known and seen? Or is it not worth the effort for you?
  • Analyze the distractions you see around you. Are you sure the camera companies have your best interests at heart? Are you sure the gurus with millions of followers have your best interest at heart. (Some do, some don’t… look carefully and you can tell who does.)
  • Stop comparing your work to others. Period. Follow YOUR vision, follow YOUR style, follow YOUR path to image creation.
  • Become insulated against the distractions and discontent that is so pervasive on the internet and social media. Remember that most of those discontented, unhappy ‘photographers’ have not been in the trenches, they are simply spouting what they read other people say.

At the end of the day, you are your own advocate, your own critic, your own worst enemy.

And identifying the distractions, discontents, and disruptions around you is important for us all. Once identified, they are easier to leave behind, ignore or actively engage.