Learn how Egyptian photographer Laura El-Tantawy covers conflict.
burn is an online feature for emerging photographers worldwide. burn is curated by magnum photographer david alan harvey.
Learn how Egyptian photographer Laura El-Tantawy covers conflict.
Check this out. No way you won’t get something out of this short preview of a longer conversation with Susan Welchman, a Photo Editor at NatGeo. This is a one time chat like I never had before with a colleague with whom I have collaborated on at least 10 major essays at NatGeoMagazine.
Patricia sings as her husband Ed plays in a nightly ritual in their home in Detroit. Photo by David Alan Harvey
Conversation with Patrica Lay-Dorsey
Author of Falling Into Place: Self Portraits
Detroit-based artist Patricia Lay-Dorsey was diagnosed with chronic progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 1988. Twenty years later she turned her camera on herself and began taking self-portraits with the intention of showing from the inside the day-to-day life of a person with a disability.
The photographs chronicle the struggles and achievements of the artist as she learns to accept the limitations of her body and celebrate her abilities rather than her disability. Taken together, the images build a compelling narrative about the artist’s daily life over five years that is inspiring, deeply moving and offers a fascinating insider perspective. The story highlights Lay-Dorsey’s energetic lifestyle, and unconventionally for a woman of her age, a love of Detroit electronic dance music which led its aficionados to bestow on her the nickname ‘Grandma Techno’.
Published by Ffotogallery in Cardiff, Wales and designed by award-winning book designer Victoria Forrest, the hardback book includes 50 colour images, an artist statement and biography, and texts by David Alan Harvey, Magnum photographer and Burn Magazine Editor, and David Drake, Director of Ffotogallery.
David Alan Harvey: Patricia, I think you are the first Burn commenter who has actually done a book on their own. Is that right as far as you know? Who else has done one?
Patricia Lay-Dorsey was born in 1942 in Washington, DC. She received her MSW from Smith College School for Social Work in 1966 and ten years later studied fine arts at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Patricia and Ed Dorsey have lived in the Detroit area since they married in 1966.
Patricia’s book of self-portraits, Falling Into Place, was published in November 2013 by Ffotogallery in Cardiff, Wales. It is available at the ICP bookstore in NYC and on Amazon globally. This award-winning project has had solo exhibits at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA and Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon, NY. It has been featured in Newsweek Japan and New Mobility Magazine, and online on Burn Magazine, the NY Times Lens blog, The Daily Mail (London), ABC News, CBS News and Slate Magazine’s Behold blog. Patricia is currently giving slide presentations and facilitating discussions about disability & creativity in universities, disability organizations, corporations and community groups.
BIOHILIA, a newly born NGO based in Argentina, is currently developing a set of programs with different Communities throughout the Country. The photographs featured in this essay are part of a developing work in progress that will keep growing through the next four months.
In particular, BIOPHILIA is supporting a diversified set of projects in the heart of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, Province of Jujuy, fostering the culture and economy of the Quechua people inhabiting the Andean Atiplano. BIOPHILIA is implementing a number of projects with a selection of local farmers that contribute in the development of a sustainable, local economy, taking into account the cultural and territorial values and reflecting such richness into their products. Traditional culture and rural economy are at the core of BIOPHILIA’s initiatives; in particular with the Samilantes Communities of Chalala and Huichaira, as well as with the vibrant and colorful community of Tilcara that shines through the Diablos, during the traditional Carnival.
With the same philosophy and criteria, BIOPHILIA is developing a sustainable program with the Guarani Community of Jasy Pora, in the Province of Misiones, up in the North East region bordering with Brazil. The main goal is to develop a flow of responsible Eco-Tourism, which is currently the main possible source of income for the Guarani people inhabiting this portion of the region.
Through BIOPHILIA Experience we will shape a comprehensive map of rural farmers, eco-projects and innovative initiatives that are contributing to foster a sustainable model of development, involving local communities and ethnic groups, reflecting the cultural values within each territory. BURN is BIOPHILIA’s main media partner. Starting from now, we will develop a variety of original formats and contents, and we will soon feature a dedicated BURN-Biophilia page. The journey began in Iguazù, on the border with Brazil, developing through the North Western region and then through a long trip descending the legendary Ruta 40. The itinerary stretches from the Argentinian Amazon to the surreal Andean Altiplano, all the way to the Austral South, in the heart of Patagonia.
Marco Vernaschi was born in Italy, 1973. He lives in Buenos Aires since 2005. Through 2006 and 2008 he worked in Bolivia, following the early stages of President Evo Morales’ new policy on coca crops and the fratricidal war among miners in Bolivia’s Altiplano. In 2005 he covered “The Bitter Taste of Salt” on the daily struggle of the Quechua salt-miners living in the northwestern salt flats of Argentina. In 2009 Marco began working with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, documenting the major illegal activities behind narco-terrorism. In the Project West Africa’s New Achilles’ Heel, Marco focused on cocaine trafficking, in Guinea Bissau, documenting how criminal networks led by Hezbollah and Al Qaeda control drug trafficking in Africa, giving insight on the aftermath of this phenomenon at a social and political level. Again for the Pulitzer Center, in 2009, Marco started an international campaign on maternal mortality, with the project Dying for Life, focusing on the dire situation of maternal health in the Sub-Saharan African region. In 2010 Marco worked at his third project with the Pulitzer Center documenting child sacrifice and organ trafficking in Uganda. His last work, Placebo, was exhibited in 2011 at the 54th Venice Biennale at the Italian Pavilion, in St. Petersburg at the Karl Bulla Historical Photography Foundation and at Rome’s MACRO-Testaccio, among other exhibitions.
Marco’s personal work has published in several major fine art magazines, including EYEMAZING, La Lettre de la Photographie, DIENACTH, GUP, etc. His documentary work has been featured worldwide by STERN, TIME Magazine, National Geographic, GEO, Newsweek, The New York Times and Sunday Times Magazine, among others. He has receives several award including World Press Photo 2010 (1st Prize – GN Stories), PGB Photo Award 2010 (Best Picture of the Year – Picture Story of the Year – 1st Prize), finalist on ASME Award 2011, Lens Culture International Exposure Award 2009 (1st Prize), nominee at ICP Infinity Award in Photojournalism 2010, SONY PHOTO AWARD 2010 ( finalist on Current Issue), finalist ODP Award for Human Values 2009 (Finalist)
BIOPHILIA is a newly born NGO, of which Marco Vernaschi is President and founder. The organization’s mid-term goal for 2014-15 is to work closely with a number of selected communities, local producers and farmers through Argentina, on a series of synergetic and diversified projects that will allow such communities to develop a solid, local economy. The model they have in mind, takes into account the cultural values of each region and ethnicity, the unique features of each territory and of course the demand in terms of global markets, which is important to make the project successful.
I have very little time to write. I am shooting. In the mode. In the zone. After all of the day to day things we must do constantly just to “maintain”, it is those moments when we can actually feel and shoot and live and breathe the work that are the most rewarding. I am on it now in Rio. Again.
I cannot remember ever coming back to the same “well” twice. Yet Rio has me again. For a totally different essay than (based on a true story). Not only a switch to black & white, but a whole different storyline….In the back of my mind , I am wondering if Rio is all of it, or only part of it. This I do not know yet. Beach Games has been on my mind for about a year. The double meaning will hopefully be obvious in the final result. Right now I am simply sketching and playing and absorbing “the games”….Doing little layouts and sequences in my mind, yet not quite ready to “go to the wall”with prints for another few weeks….And of course I could drop the whole idea entirely. I often drop projects where I have spent lots of time. I have no fear of rejecting weeks and weeks of work if I see it is not happening in the way I may have imagined.
I tell those I mentor and I tell myself, be ready to throw it all away at any time. Start over. I throw most of my work away. I only finish some thing , not everything. Never marry an idea until that point when you just know it is what you wanted to say.
Rio will be behind me in a few days. Ahhhh , the weather will be hard to leave! Freezing New York is out there ahead of me. Then off to Dubai to finished or not finish the essay I stared there last year at this time and was cut short because of the passing of my mother. The Burn team of Diego Orlando and Kaya Berne will be joining me in Dubai for a workshop associated with GPP and then I will shoot again for a couple of weeks and see IF Dubai becomes a tabloid/zine as is my intention for Beach Games.
Ok, that’s it. I must roll now into the one thing I know how to do. I must forget all else, and concentrate. A zen sort of concentration that is pure pleasure and somehow “work”at the same time.
THE place to be, whenever you can get there, and any way you can get there.
Daughters of the King, the Book
In my photographs, I have sought to avoid the common stereotypes frequently attributed to Orthodox Jews. I have attempted to show aspects of these women, their most spiritual ones, those that transcend their religion and its strict rules governing the sanctity of their bodies. I chose to delve into a deeper dimension of my subjects’ holiness–one of femininity accompanying every gesture, every moment of their daily lives as religious women. In my images, head coverings, long-sleeved dresses, modest skirts, and shoes ceased to be barriers to unwanted eyes, but instead became vessels, unveiling a deep, emotional access in the search for meaning as a woman.
“Daughters of the King” reveals the subtlest gestures of feminine beauty within moments of the daily lives of these women: The preparation for a wedding ceremony, the moment a mother and a daughter light candles before the beginning of Shabbat, or choosing a dress to wear for a particular occasion and combing their hair for an evening outing.
“Daughters of the King” began four years ago in New York in the streets of Crown Heights, the Lubavitch Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, continued within the Breslov and Dati Lumi communities in Israel and the Sephardic Jews of Paris the next year and carried onward to Morocco and Tunisia within the old Jewish community of Casablanca and the folkloristic community of religious women in Djerba.
“I do not choose the women I photograph. They choose me. These women have not only ‘lent me their stories,’ they have also opened my heart to my own spirituality, revealing to me what it means to be a true Bat Melech beyond the limits of religion.”
Daughters of The King will be showing in Rome at ETG until January 15, 2014
DAUGHTERS OF THE KING by Federica Valabrega - published by BurnBooks on November, 2013 in an edition of 1000 copies – dimension: 300mm x 200mm (12 ” x 8 “), 88 pages plus 24 pages booklet with texts in english and italian – - $ 40.00 – € 35,00 (excl. shipping)
Author: Federica Valabrega
Publisher: BurnBooks, 2013
Image Color Correction: Paolo Lecca
Book Design: Valeria Semenzato
Production manager: Diego Orlando for BurnBooks
Printing and Binding: Grafiche Antiga, Italy
DAUGHTERS OF THE KING can now be ordered here
Conversation with JR
David Alan Harvey: The reason I am interested in you is because you’re a pop star, yet you do good things for people. You have brought art to the streets for everyone to see. You use your photographs to cover up the roofs of substandard housing in Nairobi. Your pictures keep the rain out. You use your art for social causes. We share an enthusiasm for supporting other artists.
So anybody in the arts, whether they are a painter, sculpture, filmmaker, etc., those people have always interested me since I was a kid. And I am always especially interested in, ”when did the light come on?”.
Now I sort of know when the light came on for you. There were the riots in Paris, and I was in Arles when you pasted there in 2007. I didn’t know you at that time, and I guess not so many people did.
Since then you have obviously taken off, but when did the spark go off? Obviously you were spraying, you were a graffiti artist.
JR: Yeah, I was pasting even before the riots. I guess the moment when it became clear to myself and to the people that I wanted to be an artist was at the riots because everyone discovered my work through the media. So I did the cover of the New York Times in 2005, but there was not even my name, they didn’t even know who I was. So I am on the cover, walking in front of my pasting, but the caption was something like “a passerby walking in this really tense neighborhood in Paris”. They didn’t know who was doing that. So what happened after the riots is that during the riots all the media emailed me and said ‘look, no journalist can get in. We saw that you have your work in there, can you take photos for us?’ That was the first time that I actually got a job offer as a photographer, but at that moment I decided I would not accept it because I wanted to choose the subject of my photos.
DAH: You wanted to be completely pure with it.
JR: Exactly. That is what put me into the portrait scene.
DAH: Okay well let me back up even further than that. I know you want to be anonymous so you don’t have to be specific, but there must have been an age when you were a little kid, six years old, seven years old, ten years old, that you realized you needed to project your feelings somehow and it goes to graffiti art. What happened? When did the light go off?
JR: I mean I started graffiti really early, maybe twelve or thirteen, but I definitely had no idea that there was a job for being an artist. I really had no clue.
DAH: It was just something you had to do?
JR: Some of the kids were doing it in the neighborhood and it’s so great to have your name up there and then it became a challenge like who’s going to get up there and who’s going to get that one, and who’s going to have more balls. There was nothing like ‘Oh, look how beautiful these are or look at how they change people’…nothing like that. So, it is later on when I got evicted from my school in the suburbs that I had to go live with some cousins in Paris that I met some writers that were in a totally different game. They said ‘your letters are bullshit, we do letters like this’. It is like if you come from the countryside and you think you had it all right and then you get in the city and you meet the real dudes and you start right from the bottom, and those guys actually do crazy letters, and one of the crew I was affiliated with was a really legit one and the leader lived in my suburb, so that’s why they accepted me in Paris. But my writing was terrible.
DAH: Ah, so how old were you when you went to Paris?
JR: I was seventeen.
DAH: Oh so that is a tough time.
JR: Yeah, and so basically, the moment I was in Paris I realized that there was a whole game for it. There were guys who were really good at it, and that is when I was like, oh I am meeting the best dudes, but I am not that great at it, so why don’t I document those guys.
DAH: So you started by just taking pictures of the guys who were rioting?
JR: Yeah. And then printing the photos and re-pasting them in the street. But really small. Really tiny.
DAH: Was it after the pasting in Arles?
JR: No that was 2001. I pasted my first poster when I was seventeen.
DAH: Really? Because you are thirty now right?
JR: Yeah, I’m thirty now. So I started thirteen years ago basically. Now I am working on a secret project that no one knows about.
DAH: I guess we had better keep your “secret project” a secret (laughing)…Save it for the next interview!!
Well let me ask you this…when did you suddenly go from underground, in trouble, getting arrested, obviously the government’s against you, you’re a bad boy, now you’re obviously a good boy and I want to ask you about that too. Is that a problem being a good boy?
You’re a famous pop artist now, is that a contradiction to the original JR?
JR: No, what I love about it is that I can be a good boy in New York and sometimes a good boy in France, but then when I did that I was arrested for that.
DAH: But you are a “good boy” in France now aren’t you?
JR: Yeah but we never got into a position to do that. I tried, even with my name to get the authorization to paste in the building; they wouldn’t give it to me. And so the funny thing is that, even when I was in China, I can have an exhibition in a museum and at the same time have problems with the outside, because for some people this is art and for other’s it’s silly crime, so we are talking about simple posters being a piece of art in a place and….
DAH: And a crime in another place?
JR: Yeah. Most of the places I go I start from scratch again. If I was only in New York, or only in France, I would have that feeling that everything seems easier, but because all those places I travel to, I start back from scratch, from people who don’t know my work or from police, who think: I don’t care who you are.
DAH: What about in Kibera or Cuba?
JR: Kibera we had no authorization. Cuba we had to do it through the Art Biennale but we had to finance everything, the best thing is Berlin for example. You know, I just did a project there and for most of it we actually didn’t get authorization. So we rented a huge crane and we just parked it wherever we wanted to. We know how to pretend we are legit, so if police came and looked at us, we looked really professional.
DAH: Listen, you are out there with the social media, you’re out there, you’re a celebrity, you’re a pop artist in a way, but you still keep the little extra part of original JR in there too. Is this correct?
JR: I have that thing where I am always in the grey zone, basically. That’s where I feel the most comfortable. In a place where you don’t know if it’s legal or illegal. Even Times Square that looks like the most legal thing ever, we didn’t have a paper from the city. They couldn’t give us official authorization saying that they agreed on that since there were insurance problems if people fell, etc. No one would take that responsibility. So basically Times Square Arts said you can go ahead but that everything was on our head because no one in the city would give us a paper covering your ass for what we were going to do.
DAH: I am used to photographers doing big things, but you’re out there on some other planet. I don’t see how you do all that stuff one after another. You take on Times Square and I think “Okay, that’s enough for two years of work and that’s that”. But then the next thing I know you’re in Berlin. How are you doing all that stuff? You have a team obviously…
JR: Well my favorite part is to be out pasting with my team, so we always travel altogether.
DAH: But how do you do all that stuff? You must have a military precision operation thing here. You’re a super organized guy.
JR: It’s a little of both. For example, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I sleep well.
DAH: Yeah, I was going to ask you if you ever sleep.
JR: Yes, I need to sleep for hours.
DAH: Do you have a personal life?
JR: I have one, it’s just that I travel a lot. The way I keep a close circle that is trained is that I have the same team that I’ve had for years. Those are the same guys that I did a project with 10 years ago in the suburbs. They are the same guys that I work with. We don’t need to call each other every day. They know which truck we need to rent when I get in a place. I never feel like I am arriving with new people…I am always with my team. We are like a family.
DAH: That I understand. I have some small version of that, but yours is on a huge level. Do you have an advance team who is going and lining all this stuff up?
JR: Sometimes they go to places and check it out before me, but I need to go and validate the walls.
DAH: Are you going yourself and making the deals with the official people or biz people, or is there somebody else?
JR: No, there are some people who do that here in New York, other guys in Berlin, other guys when it’s in France. And also, when I did the project in Rio, I worked with some people from Providencia. Now when I came back to Providencia I knew people there and we all stay very close. So depending on the city, I don’t need to send guys since I already have somebody there that knows how I work. And of course all the volunteers sometimes come and help, which is great. I have some guys who construct stuff and those guys don’t joke. You tell them I want a truck with that thing and that thing and he never calls you back and when you come it’s ready. They are the kind of guys that just make shit happen. There is a lot of this in the team where everybody takes these things personally and it becomes their part. And so we work a lot like that very closely. It’s like if I put a frame, and inside that frame everyone does their part. We have pasting guys who are willing to take risks, and have other who say “call me when you have an exhibition or legal war”, and other guys who I worked with in the suburbs have been in jail so they take the risks, to do their thing knowing that if they get arrested, it is everyone on their own basically because we have no paper, nothing.
DAH: Now I would imagine that you would get financing from various city’s or from various patrons of things.
JR: No, Times Square I financed myself. Paris, same thing.
DAH: You can do that just with your….
JR: The sales of the artwork.
DAH: Really? You do all that with that?
JR: I don’t have time to write forms or grants and no one on the team knows how to do it. Who would maybe be good at it? We don’t know. Most of the stuff we do is on the grey zone.
DAH: How do you get those big prints made in Nairobi?
JR: For example all the vinyl prints on the roof, we actually printed in Nairobi.
DAH: You printed it IN Nairobi?
JR: Yeah, because that is the cheapest way to work. That’s where they do all the banners for West Africa advertising and stuff like that. And now we covered another 4,000 square meters on top of what we did before and we just did it with help of the community. That’s like what you saw in Brazil, just continuity. So every year we come back and cover more.
DAH: And you just pick your social projects…I mean everything you do has some social relevance to it. I mean it may be in protest to something, something that you care about.
JR: The thing is, I am sure most of the people think I have legal authorization from the state when I actually have nothing. It’s like working in the favela. Providencia is the only favela where you cannot do any art projects, especially at the time when I went. There are no NGOs here are no contacts in there. When I went in there, there was just no way I could do it. I just met one woman, and that woman presented me to Mauricio, he was the key to everything. He was the guy who basically explained to every person (because I didn’t speak Portuguese) why I came and what the project was, because those people could do it. They were so good at it, so why wouldn’t it just be their project?
DAH: So then you go out and get your team together and you bring it back?
JR: Yes, exactly.
DAH: Well you are an artist with a sense of social responsibility. You said art was a great place for you to discuss all these social issues in kind of a free form. But you are doing more than a lot of journalistic photographers are doing. You don’t consider yourself that kind of photographer. You are an artist, but still, the issues are exactly the same.
JR: Now, I only understood that this year actually since I started using Instagram, I didn’t have social media a year and a half ago. I realized that if I put up a single photo people would think that was cool, but if I put up a whole story then suddenly people are touched and want to respond to that.
DAH: This is something you are just now realizing?
JR: Yeah, I didn’t understand the power of that before.
DAH: You’ve turned down the job as a journalist twice?
JR: Yeah, but I am not trying to do journalism.
DAH: I know you’re not, but you are making social change, which is what a lot of journalists are trying to do. I mean a lot of documentary photographers. Including me…I go to Kibera and I see the conditions there, and I’m thinking ‘Ok, I will take pictures here and hopefully if I publish it in magazines through Magnum I will effect some social change. Actually you in fact are going in as an artist and putting covers over the roofs so they don’t leak anymore. So that is a real social change, a real powerful and direct effect. So this is something you are realizing more and more. Is this something you are thinking about more and more?
JR: I am thinking about that fact that from the beginning. I realized when I go into this neighborhood and I have no contact there, I realized quickly that I wanted to have a real interaction with the people and as I was always into pasting, I knew I would implicate them, need their help but the thing is, how can that make sense for them? And they are the ones that will decide if it makes sense.
DAH: When you are in Kibera, they are the ones deciding?
JR: Exactly, and Liberia was the same thing. In Liberia there were just two of us and just guys with machetes around asking what the fuck are you guys doing here. You explain to them you want to paste a photo of a woman, and they don’t get it, but they are so curious because you don’t come from an NGO. So they are like ok what do you want to do? And I say we want to paste and they say okay you pay me and you can paste. I say no, I’m not going to rent a space from you. It’s not advertising. I say look, I’m not going to paste it if you tell me not to paste it, but if you tell me to paste it and you don’t like it and you want to scratch it in front of me, that is fine with me. So they ask why then do you even want to do it? I say I do it because it’s art. Basically the guys are so curious they say go ahead and do it, we don’t care. So they look and then when you try to do it, and remember that broken bridge, it was so hard because the bridge was broken, that they help you ended up having child soldiers helping to paste a woman that they may have raped during the conflict. But this would only happen to through that whole thing of you as an artist and trying to come into someplace and trying something with no insurance that you can actually do it. So when I travel, there is always a risk that I am going to be stopped before I even start, and that is the risk that most other people who travel don’t want to have. They don’t want to go there for nothing. All of those places that I went to, I had always in mind that there was a great percentage of chance that it wasn’t going to happen. Even in the favela, because I don’t have a paper.
DAH: Yeah, well you are in another world when you are in Kibera or in the favela. Okay, one last question because I know you have to go, your long term goal… you are going at such an incredible pace, you are 30 years old and you have already established a good solid 10 years of credibility already as an artist, so describe yourself right now.
I mean I’ve seen different descriptions that you’ve given, but right this minute, right now, how do you see yourself in the future? Street artist? Photographer? Same thing or more?
JR: I don’t think I’m a street artist anymore or photographer. I think I use those tools everyday. I love the artist title because you can do anything. I don’t have a direct goal or direct mission, except that if I fail tomorrow I want to fail inside my field. I don’t want to sell out basically. So I put those codes in since the beginning and I always did every one of my projects inside those codes that I fixed to myself, and I just wish that in the future, if I stop or if I fail that will be the best thing for me to have stayed true.
DAH: That’s a great message for emerging photographers. That’s the best thing. If you screw up, at least you did it.
JR: And as an artist you have the same rules to actually enter into rich homes in Copacabana and into the slums in Kibera. You have them so to do the same thing with your life. This building I live in I don’t pay rent, and it is beautiful, but if tomorrow I am back into a really small apartment, basically, I wouldn’t see that as failure. As you go and live to the complete extreme, you’d better be ready for it. So, of course I love my NYC studio, but if tomorrow I don’t have it anymore, I know that’s not failure. I don’t care, as long as I can express myself. When I was doing it 10 years ago, I didn’t feel that it was failure to just work in my little room and print my little photos. So I’m fine to go back to that, it wouldn’t be a failure.
DAH: I always felt the same way. Ready to go back to the street anytime. Anything but sell out.
JR: Exactly. It’s like people are so afraid to lose things, and so by being afraid to lose everything, they will do whatever. For example they will print the same thing over and over because it sells. I don’t care. Inside Out was the example. Two years ago I decided to give my techniques away. This is how you print and this is how you glue it. I am going to print for you and I am even going to pay for you if you want…all these people were like ‘wait, but if you give your techniques away, what’s left? Keep your copyrights’. I said ‘no I am going to give everything away I don’t care’. This has helped me more than has taken me down. Of course I have spent a lot of money in it, but I love the interaction. I meet so many people. I wouldn’t change that for anything. So, I think that all this is just a step that I am taking in the blind, and then I just react to it. And that is my way of working everyday. I am not planning stuff three years ahead. I know what I am going to do just this year, and after that I don’t know.
DAH: Inspiration for all. Thanks for your time JR. Great stuff….
Photograph of JR in his studio in New York by David Alan Harvey.
For those of you who will be in New York this coming Friday September 27th, I will be moderating a panel discussion along with BurnBooks editor Diego Orlando. on book publishing at the Photoville exhibition space in Dumbo. Photoville is an exhibition space right on the East River. I made this photo above while perusing the exhibitions of a wide variety of photographers set up in metal ship containers. A unique location and alternative way of looking at pictures to be sure.
Panelists set for the 45 minute presentation will include Chris Boot, CEO of Aperture; Chris Capozziello, self publishing photographer (featured on Burn with his essay The Distance Between Us); Olga Yatskevich founder of 10×10 Photobooks; and Nina Pollari, publishing projects specialist Kickstarter.
The open air freestyle nature of Photoville I think puts everyone in a relaxed informal atmosphere, and really takes advantage of the New York waterfront in a unique way.
Please come and hang. We look forward to meeting you.
Conversation with David Hobby
David Alan Harvey: You are a force in the social media/blog world. You have hit it very big with Strobist. We both started out as newspaper photographers.
David Hobby: I didn’t know that about you. Where did you start out?
DAH: I worked with Rich Clarkson at the Topeka Capital-Journal right out of grad school. I was a U of Missouri photojournalism student.
DH: But you weren’t at A newspaper, you were kind of at THE prototypical photography newspaper.
DAH: Well, it was at the time, yes it was. That would be the only reason to go to Topeka, Kansas ha ha. I liked Topeka. First job out of school, a good job. That was the last time I was rich!!
DH: So it was Rich Clarkson and Jim Richardson? Wasn’t he there?
DAH: Jim Richardson was there, Chris Johns was there, Brian Lanker was there.
DH: Wow, a medium-sized paper with that staff?
DAH: Oh yeah, Clarkson built a real place “to be” for young photogs…Rich is my single best mentor for what followed in life.
DH: Now was there like a dud there too?
DAH: Not really. It was an elite little crew. All of us eager. Ready to of course get out of Topeka and head for Life or NatGeo. None of us figured Topeka was good for more than a couple of years. Clarkson knew that, and he wanted new blood every couple of years anyway.
DAH: I mean, the New York Times you didn’t have any control, or the Chicago Tribune…The big papers we knew were not really the place to be. I mean at the medium sized papers you did your own thing. Came up with ideas. Did the layout. Learned the whole process. Went deep into stories.
DH: I had that same experience. One year at the Patuxent Newspaper group (near Baltimore) I did a hundred and four cover stories. And a cover story was a stretch-tab, full-page cover and a minimum of four pages inside with no ads. I mean, your worry was that you’d come back with four pages worth of good stuff and they gave you eight pages.
DAH: Well that’s right, and at Topeka we were doing in-depth stories. I mean we were doing with the newspaper (and you were too) what Life magazine had done prior. There was no more Life magazine, but the newspapers became a great outlet.
DH: We were a magazine disguised as a newspaper. I loved that.
DAH: That’s right. And you had to produce on demand. You had to go out and make a picture today. Right now. You could talk about it all you want, but you had to come back with a picture. Now how do you think that translated into what you are doing now? Was there any part of the newspaper world that transferred into your blog?
DH: So many parts of what we were doing then transferred …and I’m talking about twenty or twenty five years ago…that was my peak experience in newspapers.
We were a newspaper unlike any other newspaper in the country. Sort of like the Galapagos Islands. We had evolved completely with our own ecosystem, and the best example I can give is that we had editorial and then design and production.
So, editorial were the word people, and designer/production were what made the paper look good and everything. Photography was under design and production, meaning we never answered to a word person. We talked to them as peers. I think every single newspaper should be set up that way, because you never had, “Oh well, that’s nice but do you have a horizontal for this space and actually we changed the story to be about this…” and that kind of stuff. We bumped heads as equals, and because of that the newspaper was a much better product.
We had our editorial meetings for every paper and every news cycle, which for us was weekly. And we had a section of fourteen papers, but that was just one of many little things that just by chance evolved differently. Well, not by chance, because the people who did the newspaper were willing to listen to the director of photography just as much as they would listen to the word editor of the paper.
DAH: Well, and that’s what we had with Rich. Do you know him?
DH: I’ve never meet him.
DH: I would bet he was a formidable person to be sitting across from.
DAH: Rich Clarkson was a tough guy to deal with. I am sure he says the same about me! But we had a similar situation. What I am trying to figure out is how you went from newspaper photographer, basically to Strobist, which led to all kinds of other things, which you’re involved in, including social media and blogs and everything else. What day did the light go off in your head that you were going to take lighting, which is a mystery to everybody, and take that out there, and turn that into an incredible business. When did the light go off? No pun intended.
DH: So that actually goes back to the early days at Patuxent still, because one of the other things we evolved differently was the idea that there was really no ceiling on what you could do. You know, at the bigger newspapers you’re actually part of a machine and we don’t want you to put too much time or resources into this; we just need to get this page out and this section out. Patuxent would actually give us the time to do things in ways that we hadn’t tried before, and more and more of that started including bringing lights to basketball games for instance. This was in 1990 or 1991.
DAH: You’re a super sports enthusiast?
DH: Well yeah, we each had to be jacks of all trades because it was a group of seven photographers and they shot for fourteen weekly papers. Some of those weekly papers were two hundred and fifty pages long stretched out, so we were busting.
DAH: Well I heard you say something the other night that I would like for you to say again somehow. And that was how lucky you felt to be a photographer.
DH: I don’t see it is a job so as much as a religion. And you don’t know that until maybe you leave newspapers and you realize how much of a religion that process was. But, I still have that dream like I am on an assignment, this is, you know, six years later, and I can’t get the camera out of the trunk fast enough. My hands just aren’t working and I realize that I am right back in newspaper photography. I said “we” about the Baltimore Sun for four or five years after I left.
DAH: But you felt lucky you were just being paid to go to the football games and such.
DH: Oh yeah. Eighteen years old, shooting high school football on Friday and college football on Saturday, and pro football on Sunday? I mean, how much would I have paid to do that? It’s not that you’re getting paid, but fast forward to 2005, 2006 at the Baltimore Sun, I was kind of getting comfortable in the position and it’s a completely different experience than working for what I think of as a tight-knit small paper.
I asked my DOP—Dudley Brooks, who was fairly fresh off of being a staff shooter at the Washington Post, so he is definitely like one of the guys director of photography—if he would mind if I would start blogging about how I lit some of my assignments and he thought that was cool. So he gave me verbal permission to do that, and I just started leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for guys that were twenty years behind me. I had no idea in the world that the amateurs would find it. I thought I was writing for maybe a thousand people tops. You know, late photojournalism students, early photojournalism career types.
DAH: Were you self-taught with lighting?
DH: I don’t think anybody is self-taught really. You hang out at the light table and ask, “How did you do that?” At the Orlando Sentinel, where I was interning in 1988, there was a guy named Tom Burton who was actually kind of into this stuff. When we would come back from a cool assignment, he would have us put a picture in a notebook on one side of a double-truck and on the other side of the double-truck you would write down how it was lit. That actually worked well for a while. Then somebody would take a picture of a dead frog on the road and on the other side it would have a diagram pointing, like, “dead frog on road” and then there was another diagram pointing “sun at ninety-three and a half degrees from you know, whatever.” So nobody wants to admit that they are really studying or learning from other people at these papers, but you’re doing it full-time.
DAH: Sure. And that’s what you do now. I was always kind of an available light guy and you’re Mr. Light and you have managed to turn that into an incredible business. What made that happen? Was lighting required at the paper or you just picked it up and it was just a natural thing for you?
DH: I have this theory about adding light or shooting available light. My theory is that for instance, you see somebody who says “I’m just an available light photographer… I’m a purist.” Well nobody is really a purist. Heisler said that you’re a purist if you’re fifty thousand feet up in the air with a Leica, a fifty mil and tri-x, shooting straight down so they don’t know you’re there.
But, for those of us who do things the way we do, you hear a photographer say “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist…” I hear, “I’m scared shitless of using light so I’m going to do this instead.” Well, for me it was kind of the other way around. I’ve always been a weaker photographer when it came to just having patience and waiting, and that interpersonal and that social stuff, so for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it. So my weaknesses were almost certainly your strengths.
DAH: Yeah, and well nothing changes a picture as much as lighting. I use lights. Clarkson made me use lights. So so glad he made me!!!
DH: That’s true.
DAH: And you can be in a terrible situation and make it interesting with lights, which you prove all the time.
DH: Right, or I could wait and just be a better photojournalist, but I have the time nor the ability to do that.
DAH: That’s right, if you’re bringing your own lights you can turn anything into an interesting picture situation.
DH: Short answer is I am running around my back hand, and my back hand is a weakness in the more classic photojournalism skills.
DAH: Strobist started in what year?
DH: I started writing it in March of 2006. I wrote most of Lighting 101 with the flu, which explains a lot of the grammar and such that you see. I was on a lot of the good drugs at the time. And literally, I was writing about five or six articles a day. As soon as I started writing that module I knew pretty much everything I wanted to say. It’s like I was writing to myself as a twenty year old. That was exactly the compass point. Sort of like, man, if I could go back and grab you now and show you this, you would have a completely different career.
So I wrote maybe thirty articles over the course of March. I took the first article and backdated it to February and then waited until April to launch, so when I first started telling people about it I would at least have what looked like three months of archives. I figured looked a little better than just this asshole who put twenty articles down in a month and said “Hey, take a look at this.” So that was it. It was on.
DAH: Were you always a businessperson? I mean you’re a natural entrepreneur. You’ve got amazing positive energy. I watched you meet people. You’re enthusiastic with every person you meet. That’s obviously in your genes, but I mean energy and positivity I think are your hallmarks. Plus you know how to do something that people want to learn how to do and you’ve monetized it. That’s pretty damn good.
DH: So, I think people see the world differently. We see different systems. For example, I’ve watched you, and you really see the way that people interact with each other and the way people interact with their environment and you see that in a compositionally profound way. I suspect that you actually see those pictures in your head before they are happening and you’re just kind of waiting for them to happen.
I see ecosystems and connections, and not necessarily just with photography, but with just about anything. So for me, I can see thing A and thing B and then thing C off in the distance and my brain just starts to say “wait a minute, if this and this and this happen…” And I start to visualize the D, the E, the F and the G that don’t exist yet, and I’m looking to find those things and put them together. I compose ecosystems sort of the way that you compose dynamic moment pictures.
DAH: And you’re able to diagram them and put them down on a piece of paper and explain them to other people.
DH: Yeah, I can’t not see that. And I literally do physically write down diagrams. I am big on multiple positive feedback loops, whether it is money or whether it is creating something that does something really cool for the community, or the combination of those things. It might not be a paying job for me, but I know that this will create the energy that will make something else happen and a better paying job will come than I would have gotten if I just didn’t do anything and waited for a job that might have been to shoot Bobby’s Bar Mitzvah or something.
I’m not interested in just sitting around and waiting for whatever job may come in. I think in the same way that you don’t just sit around aimlessly and wait for something to happen. You see things converging and then you try to get to be in a position where you can take advantage of all those things while they converge. That is exactly what I am doing but more from an ecosystem kind of way.
DAH: So yeah, the elements are all there and you just put it together.
DH: It’s the same skill.
DAH: You compose the ecosystem and make it digestible for people.
DH: So, I’m composing ecosystems in the way dynamic photographers compose pictures. I’ve never had that analogy before in my head, but I think that’s exactly it.
DAH: I think that’s it, too. It’s amazing. I always knew that lighting was a struggle for most photographers, and now even more than ever, but I never thought of lighting as a base for another whole thing, and you saw that.
DH: Well no, I didn’t see it as a base for any kind of a business. When I started Strobist it was purely altruistic, just get all this stuff out, and I’m going to help people the same way that guys helped me when I was a young photographer. Guys like John Ashley in particular, at the first paper I worked at. And all of that co-photographic help that happened at Patuxent and then later at the Baltimore Sun.
I think the secret was I didn’t start it trying to be a business. I started it with a really true compass point and that made it grow so ridiculously quickly because of the combination of the compass point and the need that was out there. And then once it grew into what would be bigger than any photo magazine in the world if it were a print magazine… and it has no major expenses associated with it really, because it is all built on Google. You’d be pretty much an idiot not to make that into a business.
DAH: And you did that and now you have another business that tells other people how to do your business. So you created a business out of this need, seeing these different ecosystems, and now you’ve turned that even into another business, right?
DH: Well, I’ve taught a blogging and social media class for three years here at Gulf Photo Plus. I don’t think of that as being a business, I really only came over to teach lighting for Mohamed Somji, and he’s like “well what else are you interested in doing?” I thought that there was a need for people, especially for photographers in a time of digital. You know you can be that one-person vertical, you can have the whole shooting and curation and publication kind of thing. So as photographers we can kind of own the entire operation if you think about it that way. So the operation should be able to actually produce income for you and allow you to be sustainable.
So I’ve done a blogging and social media class. Then last year I did a digital business models class, which for me was an eye opener because I hadn’t really sat down and articulated the way that I think about things. I started drawing these flow charts and they would literally be as tight as I could make them, but the sheet of paper would be 11×14 and Im writing all these tiny letters and pointing arrows to these boxes and such. That was an eye opener for me. It kind of articulated the way that I think about it going forward
DAH: It seemed to me that you could hire yourself out, and you probably do, as a consultant to other people wanting social media to create their business. I was noticing half of your class yesterday and that’s the picture I got.
DH: Well, it’s funny. I’ve always considered myself a photographer, and I think that teaching lighting is sort of one derivative up from that. What I started to realize when Strobist was expanding was the same forces that were killing us as photographers, that everybody had a camera and everybody would be happy to take pictures to be published. That was putting real pressure on long-time people who had been doing this for a living.. Then taking a step back (which we call a derivative in math) and that is its own audience and its own market.
So, I saw that and developed that with Strobist. But with the digital business models, I think I am still trying to keep that as pure as possible. Because if you start doing that for money there gets to be a suspicion that there is an ulterior motive, like you just want to consult to make $20,000 this week. So, everything that I had done up to this point, in terms of taking ideas that will marry two different things going on and marry them in a way that is really synergistic and accretive, has been just to do it because its the right thing to do.
My reward is seeing it happen, and creating a relationship between two different parties, or a three-way, very strong relationship. I’ve been thrilled with how receptive the guys at Fuji have been to a couple of ideas I had that I know no other camera manufacturer would consider. And these guys at Fuji just stop and listen to you and they think, “wow, that could really work.” I mean, they are a company of 400 people. On the other hand, if you’re Nikon, you can’t turn the battleship.
DAH: How big is your company?
DH: My company, counting me? One.
DAH: You’re a team of one?
DH: Yeah, I am. Meetings are always really easy. We have consensus on everything. When stupid stuff happens you know exactly who to blame. You know, I’m both the pointy-haired manager and Dilbert.
DAH: That’s amazing. Well, you obviously have got many skills.
DH: You’ve got to learn them if you don’t have them. If you’re chief cook and bottle washer you’ve got to learn to wash bottles and cook and everything.
DAH: Did you ever look at having two or three people help you with this stuff? Or you just don’t need it?
DH: Yeah, my wife looks at that a lot, I think.
DAH: Well so your wife is on your team?
DH: Well, we are a team but she’s not really involved in Strobist or anything like that.
DAH: What about on the business side?
DH: No, and she’s actually offered. She would be way more organized, because my weaknesses are organizational weaknesses. Like my desk is super messy, etc.
DAH: Yeah, well you are obviously highly organized in…
DAH: Yeah, I am like that too. My office is a total mess, but I can actually go from point A to point B.
DH: Exactly. And I think if you are internally, like mentally, organized, it allows you to be physically just a total wreck and total mess. Google Calendar saved my life actually. I couldn’t go without Google Calendar.
DAH: No, in that way we are very similar. Obviously I get from point A to point B, but the people around me are saying “well how could you possibly do that because your office is such a mess”…”how do you find anything in here?”.
DH: I think once every six months or so, my wife invites a bunch of people over to the house sufficient that I feel pressured into cleaning the entire office. And I think she does that by design, which I appreciate. But, I feel that my business could be significantly bigger, but rather than do that I consistently make decisions not to make it bigger, not to have to hire a person to do that. I try to maintain an equilibrium between being happy as a photographer, having a successful business and maintaining enough of my life to have been a good dad and husband.
DAH: How many children?
DH: I’ve got a boy of twelve and a girl who is 15, and my goal is to not miss soccer games.
DAH: Do you make the soccer games? When I look at you online you seem to be everywhere all the time. How do you do that? You appear to be all over the place.
DH: I really try to maintain through the Saturdays in May and November and such when the soccer seasons are really in full force. Good luck getting me to go someplace. In fact, literally right now, my daughter is performing in a high school play for the first time (a musical). And that just killed me because the Gulf Photo Plus dates were set far enough in advance, and that was a variable that popped up, so it was tough. A lot of Skyping back and forth and making sure when the DVD comes out we get to watch it together first.
DAH: Well you are a fascinating guy. You’re certainly a teacher for me. I never did any lighting classes until I met you in Mexico and I thought “well I could try that”, and the first time I did it I filled up a room of about 100 people in New York, but I don’t know how to teach it the way you teach it.
DH: That’s funny, I was looking at some of your pictures and they were either in Mexico or Brazil and you were doing something that I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else do in a neat way. Like some of the Cuba stuff, you’re always walking down the road with an M6 and a Vivitar 2500, just to kind of kiss things. And that was cool, and I get that, but the thing that I saw which I thought was really smart was you had a speed light on automatic mode… like old school automatic. Not TTL. And you had a camera that was pretty far away from it, kind of working at a 90 degree angle. And you had an assistant who was smart enough to have that light where people could see.
DAH: Well I lit the whole hip hop story.
DH: Yeah, thats exactly what it was. Well the beauty was that the light stand was intelligent, and he or she is walking around in a way where the flash could see everything you need to see—it’s lighting from a 90-degree angle.
DAH: Yeah, she learned how I thought and moved. Every once in a while I would give her a look… you know, get a little bit over here… and she would figure out where to be.
DH: And the beauty is that you’re building an ambient exposure that is probably a stop underexposed and you’ve got the flash going off with a flash exposure at about a stop underexposed, and they are married together to make this motion and cross light, and you can see every face you want to see in the frame. At first I thought, “well that’s brilliant, he doesn’t have a wireless TTL, he doesn’t have this off camera cord, he’s not using high technology.” And if your flash is coming out a little hot you just close down your aperture a little bit and that fixes it… you open up your shutter speed and you’re back in business.
DAH: That’s right. Well, the thing is, while I was in high school I worked in a portrait studio so I learned basic lighting, and when the studio would close down at the end of the day I said “hey, can I play in here”… so I learned basic lighting really early on. It made me a better available light photographer. I think by learning what you know how to do with lighting… if you decide to go available light, you will know how to work available light a lot better.
DH: I think painters see light better than photographers do because they have to invent it whole cloth. I mean, you look at Edward Hopper, and see that that guy could light. Edward Hopper was Gregory Crewdson before Gregory Crewdson was Gregory Crewdson.
DAH: That’s right, Gregory Crewdson is totally derivative of Hopper. Exactly. He says so.
DH: And God bless him for working on the scale of a Hollywood budget, but Hopper could do that with a paint brush and his brain. And then to replicate that you have to have a hundred thousand dollar budget for a picture, which to me is fantastic.
DAH: That’s exactly right. Well listen, we both have to get moving here, but much appreciated. You are a fascinating guy, and again your energy is absolutely infectious. That’s your greatest asset besides being able to put all these ecosystems together.
Conversation with Joe McNally
David Alan Harvey: You and I met because we were in an educational environment, and here we are twenty-five years later in Dubai for a workshop, and still in an educational environment and yet earning our living as photographers. Gulf Photo Plus has brought us together again.
Well Joe, I know some things about you. I know you are great at lighting. I know you like to stand up on top of tall buildings!!I know you are a great guy.
But I want to ask you a couple of questions that I don’t know. I don’t know exactly how you got started in photography or exactly where you got started in photography.
Joe McNally: It was accidental, as these things happen. I knew I wanted to be a journalist and so when I was in school I was literally forced to take a photography class in addition to my writing classes. I borrowed my dad’s old range finder camera. It was called a Beauty Light 3 and I did a couple of classes, and it worked for me.
DAH: In conjunction with your writing? Was it going to be supplemental to your writing?
JMcN: At that point I really decided I wanted to be a photographer, which as you know, back in the day, photographers weren’t really allowed to write anything for anybody (newspapers and what not) generally speaking. So, I stayed in school and I did a master’s in photojournalism.
DAH: Where was that?
JMcN: At Syracuse University. And then I came straight to New York City and my first very grand job in journalism was being a copy boy at the New York Daily News in 1976.
DAH: Oh, that would be an education!
JMcN: I ran Breslin’s copy when he was writing letters to the “Son of Sam”. You know, Pete Hamill was writing at the time.
DAH: Oh really? The classic.
JMcN: I used to take the one star, which came around about seven or eight o’clock at night. Tomorrow’s newspaper..tonight.. and I would go to the third floor press room. I would take fifty papers, put them on my shoulder…
I would not go back to the newsroom…I would continue down the stairs and go across to Louis East and then I would just start putting the papers out on the bar because all the editors were in Louie’s and they had phones, so they would phone in their corrections for the two star from the bar.
DAH: That was back when journalism was journalism.
JMcN: Yeah, it was pretty gritty back then.
DAH: Well okay, did you work for a newspaper? Did you shoot pictures for a newspaper after that?
JMcN: Well, I got fired by the Daily News three years in. I was a studio apprentice. I had made it to being what they called a “boy” in the studio. I was running Versamats and processing film for the photographers, captioning, etc. And I learned a lot about the business.
There was a great New York press photographer name Danny Farrell who took me under his wing. He said “Kid, you have any eye…I don’t think you’re going to make it here, but let me show you a few things”. Danny is a great man. He is 82 now…I just did his portrait.
You know, the Daily News kicked me out the door and I ended up stringing for the AP, UPI and the New York Times. That became kind of a full time gig for about two years.
DAH: How old are you are that point?
JMcN: Lets see, that would be late ’70s, so I am kind of in my late twenties at that point. I was born in ’52. And then, all of a sudden, I got this offer of the strangest job you can imagine. I became a staff photographer at ABC television in New York.
JMcN: And that was what introduced me to the world of color and light, because I had been a straight up black and white street shooter prior to that, and my boss at ABC looked at me and said:”We shoot Kodachrome. And we light a lot of stuff”. I was thinking at the time ‘I don’t even know how to plug in a set of lights!’. So thankfully, it was a job that routinely expected failure, and I routinely delivered.
As a still photographer for a television network you’re always the caboose of the operation, the last consideration…they are always doing TV first and foremost and you have to try to squeeze your way in to a set, like a television-movie set or maybe on a news set, shooting the anchors. Or shooting Monday night football. And the interesting part about the job, the things that kind of made me think about technique and be a little bit faster on my feet than I had been before is that I had to shoot everything in color and black & white.
DAH: You had to do both. Now these pictures are going as publicity pictures?
JMcN: Publicity pictures, releases to magazines, covers of television magazines, you name it. On the average week I would shoot sports…I would go down to Washington and shoot Frank Reynolds at the Washington Bureau, and then I would come back up and shoot Susan Lucci on “All My Children”. So it was fast paced, and it really got my feet under me in terms of color.
DAH: So you had two cameras… a black & white and a color camera.
DAH: Sounds like my worst nightmare.
JMcN: Yeah, sometimes I would have four cameras at a political convention…I did the Reagan campaign, I did the political conventions and such because they would send me out. I would have four cameras and sometimes I would be juggling three ISO’s or what we used to call ASA.
DAH: So when I see you working now and I was listening to you yesterday talking to your students, and I see you working with your assistants…I mean you’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind. But I guess obviously you are used to it. You grew up multitasking.
JMcN: Yeah, kind of. For whatever strange reason I always allude to the fact that I got raised Irish-Catholic, and editors found out about that and so they knew I was intensely conversant about the whole idea of suffering. Being raised the way I was…if a day passes without some largely undeserved measure of suffering, it’s not a day worth living.
DAH: No good deed goes unpunished.
JMcN: Exactly. And then, if you know how to use lights even a little bit, editors sometimes will zero in on you and say “Okay, that guy is lights”. So, I ended up doing a lot of big production work for whatever weird reason. I did these big gigs for Life …They threw something at me once, a hundred and forty seven jazz musicians all at once. Largest group of jazz musicians ever assembled. It was a riff on Art Kane’s photo, “A Great Day in Harlem”.
DAH: Yeah, I remember that.
JMcN: And my boss at Life was a big jazz fan. And so he engineered this massively expensive thing where all these jazz guys came in to New York to recreate that photograph. We even found the kid who was sitting on the stoop in the original Kane photo, and was probably ten or eleven years old at that time. We found him as an adult and had him into the picture as well.
And one of the great honors of my career during that assignment was that they brought in G0rdon Parks to shoot the original scene on the street, and I got to assist Gordon.
DAH: Wow! Were you with Gordon up at Eddie Adams when he was there?
DAH: Yeah, because we were all with Gordon there at one point because he came up there for two or three years at one point.
JMcN: Well, that was the great thing about the early days of Eddie’s, because Carl Mydans would come up and Eisie was there. Eisie would go the podium and lecture, remembering f/stops of pictures he had shot about forty or fifty years ago. The guy was just extraordinary. And that I think is why we still remain educators, because we grew up being mentored.
DAH: We grew up being mentored and then I think we started also teaching at the same time we were being mentored. I mean, both things were happening simultaneously I think.
Okay, it would be great to talk about the good ole days. They weren’t all that great, there were some negative things about the good ole days, but we both picked up the sense of an extended family that we have with each other. It’s amazing. I am seeing Heisler and you and Burnett here for example. And plus meeting a lot of new people, but neither one of us seems to be the type to dwell on the good-ole-days. I mean we are in the new days, and you’ve got young photographers, and people who want to move forward in the business, and here you are as the mentor. How do you account for that? What is that? What is that about for you, personally?
JMcN: For me it is a way to give back, to kind of return that educational base that I sprang from. That is certainly it. It is also part of the mix as a photographer. I always tell photographers now, if they ask, you have to have a lot of lines on the water if you’re going to survive. You shoot for sure, but we also teach, we lecture, publish books, do a blog, the whole social media thing…you have to be as broad based as you possibly can.
For example, I’ve got a couple of young assistants in my studio, and I say look, you’re future is very vibrant…a lot of people are saying doomsday stuff right now, but I think the future is vibrant, it’s just going to be very different from mine. Talk about multitasking! They have to be good on the web, they are going to have to know video, audio, all that stuff. They’ll have to be kind of their own multifaceted entertainment-information package. They are going to have to bring lots of skills to the party. We learned how to do one thing well, and that was how to tell a good story with a camera in our hands.
DAH: Right. Yeah, I never worried too much about the technology changes because I could see always that technological change took people out of every business. Look at radio. Television came along and a whole bunch of radio people just immediately died. And then others, like Jack Benny segued right into it. I never worried about it because I figured there was always some new way to tell the story.
JMcN: Exactly. Heisler was here and Greg being as smart as he is said something to me a couple years ago. He very wisely said:”Joe, this was going to happen whether we liked it or not. This whole digital revolution. So either adapt with it and change with it, or we sit at home and get angry”.
DAH: Well that’s right, and besides that you can still shoot film if you want to for yourself and the stories that you want to tell and the ways that you are going to work are the same. And, you’ve been benefited with a lot of things by the digital ages as well. I mean you’re not running Polaroids just now when you’re taking my picture. I mean those good-ole-days weren’t that great.
JMcN: No, there was a lot of hard work! And auto focus came in at about the right time for me and my eyes, you know. Things change and you have to change with it. I look now at the digital technology and the way its expanded and what you can do imaginatively, and I embrace it. I think it’s a beautiful thing.
DAH: Well, everybody is into still photography right now. Everybody is a photographer. It’s a common language, which means you’ve got a lot of people to mentor. You’ve got to be a huge influence. You’ve got an entire audience for your blog, there is a whole Joe McNally fan base out there and picking up all the time because people are really, really interested, and I think lighting is the big mystery.
They can take pictures with their iPhone, they can take pictures with whatever camera right out of the box, but the one thing they can’t do is light stuff. Tell me a little bit about how you look at lighting in the first place.
JMcN: Well, one of the first things I say if I am teaching is you’ve got to think about light as language. Right from the ancient descriptions photography…photo-graphos — the original Greek term — to write with light. Some people are a little surprised by this.
I say “Look, light has every quality you associate with the written word or the verbal expression of speech. It can be angry, it can be soft, it can be harsh, slanting. I mean all those things…it has emotion and quality and character. And you have to look for it”.
One of the things about if you work technically with light, for instance if you experiment with flash, one thing that also develops at the same time is your overall awareness of light in general. Just your sense of light keeps going forward. So the more you experiment, the better you are going to get, and the better you’re going to get with you means your confidence level raises. And if you are more confident you can approach your subject and your subject matter more confidently.
DAH: It’s not just technical because you are telling a story ultimately. You are saying something about somebody by the way that you light them.
JMcN: Exactly. I always say that when you’re lighting something, what you are doing is you are giving your viewer — who you are never going to meet, that person is looking at the Geographic or some web image a million miles away, and is never going to meet you — so you’re speaking directly do that person.
You are giving them a psychological roadmap to your photograph in the way you use light. You’re saying this is important, this is not so much…this is just context, look here, don’t look there. You are not there with your picture. The picture, all on its own, has to speak to them.
DAH: Great. Now that we’ve had this conversation I need to figure out how I am going to light you. I think I am going to use available light.
Well, I think people don’t think about me so much in terms of light, but I always appreciate it because when I was in high school I worked at a studio, so I learned basic studio lighting, and then of course with the studio closed down for the day, I’d make friends with these guys and say “Hey, can I play with the lights after work?”.
JMcN: But your stuff has such a beautiful quality of light. You have feet in all these worlds, you really do.
DAH: Well, I think it is because I learned at an early age at least how to use lights, and I think that helps me with available light because I do look at it the same way you look at light, I just tend to do it with a smaller kit. I am the emergency medical team, you’ve got the whole crew, you’ve got the hospital.
I am the EMS truck out there trying to save a life on the highway. You know, patch it together. You know, put a band aid over the flash, shoot through a beer bottle, do all these things. But it’s still the same thing.
JMcN: Sure. Jimmy Colton, who used to be at Newsweek, which always had a smaller budget than Time but would compete with Time intensively, he would always say that Time was a hospital and Newsweek was a MASH unit.
DAH: I hadn’t heard that, but that’s an exact analogy.
So, I am looking at your assistants who seem to be about thirty years old, and you’ve got one who is moving into your first assistant position, and Drew is moving out on his own…so what do you tell Drew? And what do you tell the readers of Burn Magazine? What is the main thing they need to be thinking about? I know they’ve got to multitask. You have mentioned that already. What is the main thing they need to have going in their head?
JMcN: I think as they take a step into this market place, if you want to call it that, I tell Drew just concentrate on that which he loves, and work will eventually grow to you.
First of all, make it accessible. Too many young photographers think they have to go to Afghanistan to make their mark. I don’t think you have to do that. I think the best pictures live right around you, and are things you grew up with, and are things that you love. And for instance, Drew grew up with rock & roll, and he was a drummer in a band. They actually toured and what not, so he grew up in the world of music and he is absolutely passionate about that. So I said go for it! Do it. No matter the people who tell you, you can’t make a living being a rock & roll photographer…I think you can, because he is already working it in a way that is unique to him, and he is making strides, he is getting success.
The main thing to remember as a young photographer out there is that there is always naysayers, and there is a lot of them out there now, but when you and I broke in there were naysayers as well.
DAH: There have always been naysayers!
JMcN: There are always folks saying, “This ain’t what it used to be!”
DAH: With every move I ever made in my life, even my closest friends would say, “Harvey you’ve really fucked it up this time”. And then, a few months later they would say, “Harvey you’re the luckiest son of a bitch. How do you luck out like that?”. You know, they flip on it. And that is the same thing I tell photographers too. Do what you love, and then let it happen. Somehow it will happen. Listen mostly to yourself. Even (maybe especially) your closest friends do not really want you to change.
JMcN: It will. And you’ll have to do stuff along the way. To me there is always food for the table and food for the soul. And sometimes, some jobs you’re going to have to do are food for the table.
DAH: Just do it.
JMcN: You’ve got to do it, swallow hard, go make yourself some money, keep yourself alive, so then you can feed your soul. It’s not all like roses out there, that’s for sure, it’s like a patchwork quilt, but you can make it.
DAH: Yeah, well you have and thanks for this conversation. It has been great to see you again.
GIGI GIANNUZZI….at the “Kibbutz”, Brooklyn…December 8, 2008
I was just getting ready to write my goodbye to Gigi Giannuzzi , founder of Trolley Books, who died Christmas Eve of pancreatic cancer at a very young 49….but I just cannot do it….So Candy and Eva went back through the Burn (Road Trips) archive and found this story I wrote….Nothing I could write now would be better than this one I think…Gigi was definitely a man after my own heart..Crazy, irreverent, and passionate about presenting in a special way the work of great photographers…The man loved books and the man loved photographers and the man made it happen….I love you Gigi….
EXCERPT FROM THE BURN ARCHIVE……….DECEMBER 9, 2008
nobody loves books more than Gigi Giannuzzi….he loves them so much that he publishes instinctively and without any thought of “commercial appeal”…he does not do “readership tests”….he goes by his gut and then scrambles like a madman to try to sell enough of his little masterpieces to be able to go on to the next….
Gigi claims he was “conceived in Sicily, born in Rome, and never grew up in Turin”..if you know Italians, Gigi pretty much has it covered..Trolley Books, his mastermind and “baby” has for ten years created quite a stir in the publishing world…”unconventional wisdom” comes to mind when i think of Gigi….and his authors form a prestigious list..
Philip Jones Griffiths, Carie Levy, Stanley Greene, Nina Berman, Deirdre O’Callaghan, Tom Stoddart, Alex Majoli, Paolo Pellegrin, and Alixandra Fazzina just to name a few…please go to: trolleybooks.com to see Gigi’s entire lineup of artists and titles….
you may not find Trolley Books everywhere….like many fine objects, you have to look to find…and Gigi is the first to recount the trials and frustrations of the book publishing world….if you wanted to go into a business , you would not try to make photo book publishing your business…nope, only love gets you to do what he does…
last night Gigi slept on my sofa…but, not for long….he stayed up late and got up early..my kind of guy!!
click here to see the original post.
Source: Photo District News
Gigi Giannuzzi, the founder of Trolley Books and publisher of innovative and award-winning photo books by Philip Jones Griffiths, Paolo Pellegrin, Alex Majoli, Stanley Greene, Carl De Keyzer, Nina Berman, Alixandra Fazzina, Thomas Dworzak, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin and others, died December 24 in London. Giannuzzi had announced in June that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 49, according to Hannah Watson, his longtime business partner in Trolley Books.
Born in Rome, Luigi Giannuzzi (known to all as “Gigi”), grew up in northern Italy. He worked as an editor at the book publisher Allemandi, but left in 1997 when he got a chance to collaborate on a catalogue of Nan Goldin’s work. Its success inspired him to launch his own company, West Zone, but after five years he ran into financial trouble. In 2001, he found financial backing to start a new company, based in Venice. Trolley got its name when Giannuzzi used a shopping cart to push his book proposals around the floor of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Watson says. In its first two years alone, Trolley Books published such award-winning books as Alex Majoli’s Leros, Chien Chi-Chang’s The Chain, Carl De Keyzer’s Zona: Siberian Prison Camps, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s Ghetto, and Thomas Dworzak’s Taliban. Giannuzzi published the first books of many photographers, including Deirdre O’Callaghan, whose book Hide That Can won an ICP Infinity Award, and Carrie Levy’s 51 Months. In 2005, Trolley Books won a citation from the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards for outstanding contribution to book publishing.
BURNBOOKS PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR-LUCIE AWARDS
I never enter contests. Sometimes someone else just throws me in the mix. This one is sweet because I was being juried along with three photographers I look up to, William Eggleston and Richard Misrach and JR. I would have been pleased not to have received this team effort award had any of those three been chosen. Aperture and Steidl in particular are publishers I admire deeply. None of us at BurnBooks thought we could have possibly been chosen over the aforementioned…Yet we will take our moment in the sun, because we had no agenda on the book but to make the best damn book we could from shooting to final art object. And this is what we are being honored for. This opens new doors of course, but none of us at Burn want to be more than a small boutique..Our proudest moment will be of course when (based on a true story) is passed out for free as a super hi quality newspaper version in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Only a small gesture of pay back pay forward to the Cariocas who made Rio feel like home.
This award is not for me. This is for Bryan and Eva and Candy and Diego and Michelle and Tonico and Haik and Panos and Kim and Anton and Susan and Chris and Roberta and Renata and Kamila and Viviane and Marjorie and Alejandra and Andrea and Mike and Michael and Claudia and Beto and Mira and Magnum and Mr. Skater and Fernanda and Vi and Sue and Erin and Marcela aaaaand Mom!!
This little boost allows BurnBooks even more opportunity to publish the books of unknown photographers and icons alike. A bunch of stuff is in the works. To be announced. Yet I can tell you for sure we will publish the very best quality books for both the famous and the not so…..We cannot be all things to all people. Everything we do is just but a token. My place on the planet is in Hemingway’s Clean Well Lighted Place. Good not big.
Were it not for this audience none of this would be happening. We give to each other. Pretty damned clear even if you are the worst pessimist in the room. The chemistry of this audience is not the norm I don’t think. We ain’t perfect but collectively we actually ARE something special. Some of this online chat WILL be part of a book someday. Now if only we could find a publisher…hmmm
My congratulations to all in my audience. YOU are the award winners here. Not a doubt in my mind.
A big warm hug to all of our esteemed colleagues and honored nominees in our same book category:
APERTURE for “Petrochemical America” (photographs by Richard Misrach)
STEIDL for “Chromes” (photographs by William Eggleston)
HARRY N ABRAMS INC for “Women are Heroes” (photographs by JR)
21st EDITIONS for “The Prophecies of William Blake” (prints by Mitch Dobrowner)
photos above by Anthony Smallwood, Panos Skoulidas, and Michelle Madden Smith
I tasted Donna Ferrato’s blood. Pretty damned salty, just like Donna of course. Donna had just cut herself opening a bottle of Chardonnay during the upcoming interview. Her wrist and thumb now covered in blood. “David, dammit, taste MY blood” was the missive, the command, the attack, the sweetness. So, I did. I mean, we share the same birthday, so it seemed like the thing to do. Gemini all the way. That pretty much sums up all that I know about Donna. A woman on her own terms all the time, a champion of women’s rights and all human rights, the biggest man eater in the biz who has always been the hottest girl in the room. She won’t mind right now that i used the word “girl”. For she is not a man hater. Quite the contrary.
Yet forget her espíritu de la alma… Donna makes images. Powerful ones. Pictures that mean something, were made FOR something. Donna bites, fights, and claws at society with her work. She wants stuff to change. Mostly she wants men to stop beating their wives and girlfriends. She demands we all be aware. “Living With The Enemy” will tear at your heart. Yet she will totally switch gears (or not) to take us into her “other Donna” and take us into the dark sensuous drama of Love & Lust. For sure Donna lives inside, way inside, her work.
I met Donna years ago on a beach. Along with Philip Jones-Griffiths, Sebastao Salgado, Alex Webb, Susan Meiselas and a host of other “100 Best Photographers”, sent to Australia’s Bondi Beach to begin shooting “A Day in the Life of Australia”. History. We knew it at the time. The beginning of surely one of my “families”.
David Alan Harvey: We’ve come to hear an original Donna Ferrato story.
Donna Ferrato: You want a story never told before?
Candy Pilar Godoy: A Donna Ferrato exclusive.
DF: Well, here goes. Ages ago when Rick Smolan was creating his dream team for Day in the Life book series, he wanted the best photographers in the world. He promised they would have fun, shoot however they liked, all expenses paid, free apple computers, cameras, film and cash. I was nothing more than a spit in the bucket so being invited on the team was a lucky break.
DAH: Get famous overnight. It was like the Brat Pack in Hollywood. Everybody got “famous” ha ha.
DF: Yeah? Weren’t they famous already? I wasn’t with an agency nor did I work for National Geographic. For me it was a chance to watch the big guys work. When I say big guys I mean women too, like Susan Meiselas, Jodi Cobb, Penny Tweedy, Mary Ellen Mark.
DAH: Mary Ellen wasn’t there.
DF: She probably said no. Soon after the first book was a wrap my daughter Fanny was born. From that point she went where I went. The next project was “Day in the Life of Canada”. Time Magazine’s golden boy, PF Bentley taking the group portrait up on a ladder, working with a large format camera, megaphone in hand, telling everyone where to stand. Bentley stutters. I wondered what kind of photographer gets so famous with a bad speech impediment. My curiosity was piqued.
CPG: Uh oh.
DF: So later on, at the bar among the flank of photographers I saw PF Bentley and asked him. “Don’t people get exasperated when you take so long to explain stuff?” He stared hard in my eyes and said, “Yeah.”
“Well, isn’t there a way to cure it?” He says, “Right after an orgasm, I don’t sttttutter for hours.”
CPG:…and you have to see if this is true?
CPG: What a smart guy!
DF: I took him up to my room. He wasn’t lying. For the rest of the night he spoke the Kings Speech.
CPG: (laughter) That’s an incredible story. Classic Donna Ferrato, almost too good to be true. Your personality, your hold no bar sense of being, how do you work that into taking pictures?
DF: First of all, I really want to be there in people’s lives and so because of that I’m good at convincing people, explaining my case fast, why I want to be there, etc. I’m not just there to take the pictures and run away. I want to understand what’s going on and most of the time people have to give me permission. I’m 100% invested.
CPG: Do you ever shoot digital?
DF: Sure. I’m using the SONY NEX-7 now. It’s nice but not as fast as a LEICA. The best is film. The proof is in the negatives.
DAH: You still have the same green and red tape on your camera as you did 30 years ago?! ..When I saw her, the main thing I remembered about her other than that she was really cute was her M4.
DF: Leica. M6. In the late seventies, I was getting to know Paris, didn’t know anyone, slept in the parks at night to save money. Custom camouflaged it so nobody would know it was a Leica.
CPG: What made you start taking pictures?
DF: A burning desire to tell stories and have as many adventures as possible. First my girlfriend and I hitched across the plains. I wanted to see things, we had dreams of opening a shoe salon in Key West.
I wasn’t thinking about professional photography. My dad was the most committed person I’d ever seen when it came to getting a picture of ordinary people in every day life. That didn’t mean he made any money at it.
Later when I met my main squeeze, Philip Jones Griffiths, and we made Fanny and then her half sister Katherine came along 9 months behind her, we began shooting each other, Dad, Philip and the girls, and our friends. It was like being on a never ending “Day in the Life” book project.
CPG: Something great about you Donna is that you’re a beacon for women’s rights, yet you’re not a man hater. You love everyone, don’t you?
DF: Is this a trick question? Sure I like men as long they aren’t abusing or holding women down.
CPG: Hearing you both (DAH + DF) tell stories about the past and relive moments is priceless, yet I really get a sense that photojournalism has changed a lot over the years. I think a lot of young people feel that way.
DF: It has. It used to be that media companies made good photographers better by investing in us and encouraging us to follow our nose. The world revolved around photographers and vice versa. Photographers worked like dogs to earn their day rate. Today photographers are completely taken advantage of as if there is honor in working for free. Once photography was a religion. Today it’s business. I try to understand where photographers think they’re going when they take an assignment for a fraction of the conventional day rate. That’s not the way. Photographers must respect themselves and stick together.
CPG: When did it change? When did you see that flip happen?
DF: After 2001 the fad was war and war was the most fashionable thing for a photographer to do after 9/11. I think documentary photography lost its moral compass because it became too obsessed with war and the war on Iraq was built on lies.
CPG: It’s changed so much and now there are new generations coming in, trying to find their place within the medium. What advice do you have for young emerging photographers today?
DF: Find a way to make money. Be smart. If you want to be a photographer, get ready to live on the edge. There are plenty of good photographers concerned with feeding their families and paying the bills. But if you want to break new ground, come up with your own ideas and forget about stablility. Don’t let anyone control your mind.
CPG: Can I ask you about your latest project? Tell us about “I Am Unbeatable.”
DF: Unbeatable is… happening. I didn’t understand it when I started putting it together five years ago. I wasn’t sure how I could make a convincing collection of images that relayed the importance of women leaving abusers sooner rather than later. 30 years ago militant defenders of women’s rights established a comprehensive network of battered women shelters. The grass roots movement did an incredible job of pushing the real question to the forefront – why do men beat women?
The hope was to stop blaming the victim. But I say it’s not good enough anymore. Everyone has to hold violent men accountable, including the women who live with them in state of love or fear or mostly likely both.
CPG: How did it come about?
DF: Last winter the NY Times Lens Blog published images from “Living with the Enemy” and an interview by Jim Estrin. After that an LA woman looked me up to talk about her mom. Her mom sounded like my dream come true, the original “I Am Unbeatable” woman.
Last spring I flew to SF and stayed with her a few days to get to know her better. Margo’s life story exposes why women must reject abuse early in the relationship before the monster is made. She gave me insights about the support women need to leave their abusers, how important it is to see violence and name it for what it is.
After that I started the Indigogo campaign “I Am Unbeatable”. It was a wonderful experience – I am thankful for all the help I got, especially from photographers. And, more emails from women who’ve experienced domestic violence followed. One person had written to me about his daughter back in 2001 when she was just getting involved with an older guy who was controlling her. Everything I heard about him painted trouble for this girl. She had no freedom. He kept getting her pregnant – she wasn’t allowed to be a girl ever. And she had to obey him 24/7. At that time the parents felt helpless because the girl was afraid to tell the truth – how scared she was. She thought it was her fault and she had to make the best of her situation.
This young woman’s story is important on multiple levels. She left him, but he controls her life the way he always has by remote control.
Society is colluding with her abuser.
After a woman leaves, it gets worse before it gets better. But then after it gets worse it starts to feel insanely good. This is also the part I must show, how good it gets when you get the hang out of living without being under the threat of constant rape and violence.
I believe this will change the way people think.
CPG: Is this what you will be showing the public with “I Am Unbeatable”?
DF: Look, nobody should think it’s easy to leave an abuser. Of the total domestic violence homicides, about 75% of the victims were killed as they attempted to leave or after they left. Many women stay because they are scared. They know better than anyone else what he is capable of. First they think they can change him by proving their love is unconditional and they are better than any women he’s ever been with. The meaner he gets she sees more clearly it’s time to leave. The whole time she is hearing him say if I can’t have you, no one will. That’s how they weave their spell. Batterers are deceptive, especially with themselves. The courts make it easy for them to get away with every trick in the book.
This is what I intend to show. Because once you have an abusive man in your life its not just a matter of walking away – you are stuck with him until he is arrested and held accountable for his behavior.
I hope to show the aftermath, the problems with the courts, the police, financial burdens, and the time it takes to look after kids with endless emotional problems.
I’ll move in with them and document everything.
I hope to show that the rewards outweigh the dangers. When a woman becomes unbeatable she will not allow that man to destroy her life anymore. Even if the system fails her, she will persist until she finds the way. My job as a photographer is to expose how negligent our society is and how ignorant attitudes can get innocent people killed.
CPG: Obviously you have done this topic before. You have a lot of experience with it, but how are you going to undertake it for a year or longer and still maintain your sanity?
DF: Do I seem sane to you?
(long pause from Candy…)
DF: You can say no.
DF: So, what do I have to maintain? Nothing.
CPG: I don’t know. I just feel like it would be so hard. So intense. I’d be a wreck. To be around this kind of abuse, to see it and live it along with these women would be incredibly taxing on your own life and your own emotional and mental health.
DF: Another thing that photographers need to have if they want to do this kind of work is grit… grit from head to toe.
When I’m working in places where there’s been violence, I never know when someone will explode. The difference is where I go there is only one photographer and one family. One on one.
CPG: That’s my point. Its gonna be insane. People need to know and see this abuse, see the face of it. You’re brave for opening the door. For exposing it, giving it a name, and creating a discourse around something that affects so many lives everywhere in the world. It will be so intense.
DF: Thanks. Who knows what will happen. It could turn into a reality show, if everyone collaborates. I want everyone to be real and let the world see their true face. Women, kids, abusers, lawyers, judges. Neighbors too. Only then will it work.
A Conversation with Jim Estrin, New York Times Lens Blog
David Alan Harvey: You will be the third photographer in a row that I have interviewed, who I know as photographers and who have evolved and are now editors/decision makers. Anyway, I knew your credit line so I think of you as a photographer, a staff photographer at the New York Times where they have got a pretty large staff.
Jim Estrin: Thank God.
DAH: But now you are making decisions for Lens Blog at a time where time is tough for young photographers. You and I were lucky because there was more of a career track for us. So tell me about that, tell me about where you see young photographers and where you see yourself fitting into the decision making process?
JE: Well, why don’t we start with young photographers? I think that there is obviously a shapelessness to what’s going to happen in the future, what we can perceive as to what’s going to happen in the future as far as photography and as far as the industry go. But, I don’t see it as negatively as a lot of people do. I don’t want to belittle in any way the need to make a living, I think it’s critical, and I think that there are certain jobs that existed when we were young that don’t exist now. But not as many as some people think. There were a few hundred people, from this country who were working internationally for magazines and making good living.
DAH: Yes, a profession of a hundred people. However, it has NEVER been a real “profession”. Never lots of people in it. Law and medicine are “professions”.
JE: A hundred or two hundred who would have been making money I mean. There were more newspapers that were palatable to work at, and there are few now, so there were those jobs, but most of them didn’t pay much.
DAH: No, but it was a great job though Jim. I mean it was a great job. As jobs go. You could go home and cook in your back yard, and then go out and shoot some good assignments and your buddies are there… no, I always lived very well as a newspaper photographer. Yet I knew there had to be more..
JE: Yes, well I worked at the Jackson Clarion Ledger.
DAH: Yeah, I know you did…and I was with Clarkson in Topeka..
JE: And I love that kind of photography, and working for a newspaper. I happen to really like working for a newspaper, but what I am saying is that it has never been an easy profession; it’s a myth that it was easy twenty-five years ago.
DAH: Yeah, that’s bullshit.
JE: I don’t know about forty-five years ago, but I know about thirty years ago and it was not easy!
DAH: No, it was not easy and it seems easy to the young because they see us a certain way and they forget that it wasn’t like that really. Every generation has to build their own thing.
JE: And so for all the challenges which young photographers face, and they do face serious challenges, I am not making them smaller than they are, there are also tremendous opportunities that didn’t exist then that do now.
DAH: That’s what I keep telling people.
JE: First thing is the opportunity to have your work seen.
DAH: That’s like a miracle!
JE: That is a miracle.
DAH: You had to work for the New York Times in order to be seen, and I had to work at National Geographic to be seen at all! Otherwise we wouldn’t have been seen. It was hit the top, or nothing!
JE: I spent my twenties not being seen.
DAH: I as well spent my entire twenties not being seen. That’s what I keep telling young photographers. I couldn’t even show my photographs except to get published in NatGeo. I had to really bust it to get to NG. Then I left! (laughing). For Magnum. Well, you gotta keep moving to a new place….
JE: Yeah, I would drop off a book, and if a secretary looked at it I was really lucky, you know? But there is now the opportunity to show your work, there is the opportunity to self publish, there are these entrepreneurial opportunities to do business. If you get past the jobs that I was talking about, and you talk about the great documentary photographers, they didn’t make a living.
JE: Gene Richards wasn’t making a living… you know the decision to do documentary work as opposed to photo journalism, to do art work as opposed to photo journalism, there wasn’t money there. If you taught you were lucky…
DAH: Well, the only place there has ever been money is advertising photography.
JE: That’s true. And there used to be corporate work.
DAH: Yeah, but there was certainly nobody selling prints when I first got in the business, nobody sold prints.
JE: No, not unless you were Ansel Adams.
DAH: Well, maybe Ansel Adams, but people weren’t talking about selling prints; photography had not risen to that stature.
JE: There are multimedia platforms for story telling that weren’t available. I love working at the New York Times but for the first half, actually the first fifteen years of my career at the Times, I wasn’t the story teller, even if it was a story I came up with. I was an illustrator, someone else told the story. Now, I can tell the story. I can tell the story with audio, with video, with writing on the web, in a blog…
DAH: Jim, you have really hit the nail on the head better than anybody, and that is the truth. That is the truth of the new media because you and I, when we first started in the business, even though we had salaries, I was also at least three people removed from my audience. You are nobody removed from your audience. You might have an audience of fifteen, but you’ve got fifteen people who know YOU. And actually who you are as a photographer, see, because I had a couple of editors interpreting theoretically to readers whoever DAH was. I had to convince Jack Hunter, one crusty embittered guy on the city desk of my newspaper, that this was in fact a good picture to get published. I mean I had to get to one guy who hated photography to “get” my picture…
JE: (laughing) Yeah. You know, I’m very sympathetic with young photographers, and I don’t mean to say…
DAH: No, you can’t make a living of it. Yet I started Burn to at least give some sort of outlet for the next generation. Lens Blog is for sure a premiere force.
JE: But one has to make a living. I’m merely saying that one, it wasn’t always simple, and two, that for every disadvantage now there is certainly at least one advantage.
DAH: Yeah, every generation’s got to carve the damn thing out of raw soapstone because, for example, National Geographic was not a place to work when I got out of college… we made it a place to work. It was red fucking t-shirts, it was embarrassing, National Geographic. I wanted to work at Life Magazine, Look Magazine, New York Times… but Look folded, Life folded and National Geographic was there, we rushed it… a whole bunch of young people rushed it at the same time.
We reinvented it. With basically only one editor who aided us. And so every generation has got to reinvent the damn thing. You know, I lamented the fact that Life wasn’t there for me, but you turn something else into it. Yeah, something is happening. Now there are new collectives coming with Prime and with Luceo. Well, the agencies have all got good photographers in them, but…
JE: Yeah and you know there’s digital distribution so on one hand you have five hundred people in Times Square with iPhones, which I am not saying is a good thing necessarily or a bad thing, but the ability to distribute your photos at least is there. One can send photos digitally..
The problem is finding people who will pay for them. You know, it’s difficult, it’s confusing, but I think it’s also exciting… It’s essentially a golden era.
DAH: Totally a golden era. But I think there is only one problem. Only one, instead of a multitude of problems which I felt like I was up against. There is only one problem now, and that is the pay wall.
DAH: Just the money, but if you’re only talking about money, that’s only one thing to kind of think about, you know you can kind of focus on that one. Yet there are ways. Again, this has never been a place where all who thought they were photographers got paid.
JE: Look at Danfung Dennis, with “Condition ONE”, and his film. You know, he’s a photographer, he’s inventing technology, he’s promoting technology, he’s into business, he’s making a film… you know, there are a lot of options. But again, we have to figure out the money. It’s no question.
DAH: Well, you know, when I met Candy she was my computer tech person and two days before I went down there we set up a pay wall, a rough one, for TheRioBook. So I was charging $1.99 to go on this adventure. I sold it as a workshop. That was the most likely thing for me to do, and I figured the Burn readers would get that. You know, hey… let me charge this buck 99 thing, come on with me to Rio…
JE: How many did you sell?
DAH: Oh just a very few thousand.
JE: That’s a lot! A thousand is a lot.
DAH: Is it?
JE: You did it in no time.
DAH: No, in fact, we are taking on subscriptions on now just as much as back when we were live. It’s continuing because it’s become kind of a classic out there. Anyway, the point is that I did charge for content on the web. The thing that everybody said you cannot do. I didn’t have an app. I just had a good ole fashioned Pay Pal account. So I did do it. Might try it again. Might not.
JE: The second part of your question about decision-making is I think connected to the first. You know, I want to help photographers figure this out. I want to help promote photography and promote photographers. Now there are a lot of people doing it. But my thesis on Lens is that photographs do not happen by themselves. They happen because of photographers. That is why we write about the photographers, you know? And as far as decision making, we are very, very fortunate. Right now it’s David Gonzales, Josh Haner, and Matt McCann who work with me on Lens, We can do almost anything we want to do, that we think is good.. Fortunately they like what we do. We are very, very fortunate.
DAH: You are the most popular, biggest photo blog out there. You’ve got the circulation and the incredible content, so everybody wants to get published on Lens Blog. So I would image they would let you do whatever you do, and I’m sure they would also like to figure out how they could monetize Lens Blog too. I’m sure everybody would. Double your salary, or however you want to look at it.
JE: Well, I think it has to do with paying people, not doubling my salary. And we are just now starting to do that. Now we are able to pay photographers.
Essentially what it is, is that we have to like it and think it’s good.
Often it has to make me feel something personally, or think something, and you know that’s it. And of course my colleagues as well, but you know it’s real simple.
DAH: You have to like it and think it’s good. Very big news that Lens Blog will now pay photographers.
JE: Yeah, really, and hope that it is of some interest to our readers.
DAH: No, but seriously that’s such an honest answer, and it is actually everybody’s answer, but nobody wants to quite put it that bluntly. But that is the truth.
JE: Well, I am very lucky. If you are a magazine editor you’re answerable to many, many people, including the advertising people.
And David Gonzalez and I blessed to have Michele McNally. I mean if she didn’t like what we were doing, she would be involved in every decision, every single day, intimately. But she likes what we’re doing and she gives us room.
Of course she comes up with some story ideas. It’s another lucky thing when your boss has good ideas. She’s a truly brilliant photo editor.
DAH: Yeah, she was so cool. She was here in this loft, doing her job, while she was in our class. Yeah, she went online and did her job in front of us.
DAH: Looked at pictures, picked pictures… she said, well it’s an online thing, people are coming in like this, this is what’s happening. So that class is like wowww! Michele McNally is doing her job in front of us!
JE: If I had her for a boss 15 years earlier, I would be a much better photographer.
DAH: Wow, that’s a great line. I hope this machine is still working.
JE: If not, you can just make it up.
DAH: (laughing) You’ve delivered some classic lines. No, we’re rolling.
JE: So, the question was, how do you choose what’s in there, and I think the answer is what do you react to? We see a lot of photographs and even if they are good… say, if you see your 50th piece from Libya, unless it’s as good as Yuri Kozyrev, it can be good and still not end up moving you.
DAH: Well, that’s why I always have to tell my students to please look at what’s going on around them. Study the history, study your contemporaries at least, because if you take your Libya stuff in there, Estrin at Lens has seen Yuri Kozyrev and a few other top people.
DAH: So how are you going to blow your socks off unless you’re as good or better than Yuri Kozyrev.
JE: Or, do something different.
DAH: That guy really is good.
JE: He’s excellent.
DAH: Geez, he’s good. Yeah, Yuri Kozyrev. Love his work.
JE: I think Tyler Hicks is very good too.
DAH: Oh yes. Tyler is very good.
JE: I think it is a fair statement to say that.
DAH: I would just give the edge to Kozyrev just on the sheer visualness of his imagery. Not on the journalism. Tyler is as good a journalist as you can get , and he’s THERE. No doubt about it.
JE: Well, on that level it is hard to pick. I don’t mean to be defensive for Tyler. Yuri is a great photographer and does amazing work.
DAH: Right, well there is either going to be some kind of a really strong story line or a really strong visual line in there or the visual literacy itself is going to carry it through. So you like it based on probably a lot of instinct and probably some knowledge in there too.
JE: I want to feel something. You know, make me laugh, make me cry, make me think about something in a different way, and I don’t care if it’s a perfect photo because how many perfect photos have you seen that don’t tell you anything?
DAH: Yeah, well I guess a lot. But you know that’s an interesting thing, and this is where some photographers and I part, and for me a photograph can be just an object in and of itself. It doesn’t have to mean something else to be. A picture can just be a picture. It can also be an architectural shot just showing me a building that I might want to buy some day, showing exactly how it is constructed… or it can be something that conveys a story and it’s covering the news. So it means lots of different things. But a picture can for me be all by itself and not have to mean anything. It just grabs me in the gut or it feels to me an aesthetic pleasure. Great to be informed of what you don’t know, but esthetic “pleasure” works too, for me anyway.
JE: But not solely abstract. Often it’s joy they make you feel.
DAH: Oh yeah.
JE: I care about the situation of human begins in the world and so I’m sometimes attracted to stories that I think are important socially that are particularly under covered. I think photography can inform people. I’m not saying it can change the world, but I think it can inform people and so that’s also something I will take into account.
DAH: You’re talking about things that matter, subjects that matter, topics that at least, if they don’t matter they should matter. Human condition… environment… both. They are the same thing.
JE: I believe that, on a personal level – not a professional level as a journalist of the New York Times, but on a personal level – I believe that it is my responsibility living in this world to help repair the world. That is one of the reasons I exist as a human being and that probably plays into some of the decision making, obviously within journalistically appropriate ways. And let’s face it, for most documentary or photojournalists… it’s a large reason why people do it. There is this beautiful, maybe naïve, but beautiful belief that it is important what we do. I believe also, separate from photography, that any action, any single action can theoretically change the world. You don’t know which action it is. It may not be the big action, but I think it is possible to do that.
DAH: That’s probably why documentary photographers, unlike other groups of various kinds who might be allied with each other to make money… that’s certainly not us… we don’t make money off of each other, or very little anyway if nothing at all, but I think it’s because of what you just said; there is this commonality of thinking that what you do is righteous.
JE: Exactly, that’s it.
DAH: You think you’re doing something righteous and you feel good. You’re doing stories about things where wrongs need to be righted, you’re doing stories about things that are right and set the example for somebody else. And you feel like you’re doing something, that the information is a worth while profession. It’s cleaner and there is a lot of righteousness attached to it. Like whether or not people take heed, we can’t think about it too much because we know people probably don’t take heed but we don’t worry about that… we don’t dwell on that part of it. You don’t go out there and count to see how many people you actually saved, but you assume you saved somebody. And you probably did. There is no doubt that stories, pictures that we have done have actually changed lives for the good. I am sure of it – we both know it because we both have received letters at various times where we really did make a difference in somebody’s life.
JE: We can certainly point out, maybe not often, but we can point of specific examples when photography has helped. You know, Lewis Hine, Donna Ferrato, Minamata… and we can come up with specific things that they did.
DAH: Yeah, you name some high points there but cumulatively I think that yes, we have done a pretty decent job of doing the best that we could to inform people. And I say we as in there is the American photojournalism, but there is the whole European photojournalism that has also had a huge influence. I don’t know as much about certain eras in the far North and the Soviet Union, I don’t know what was going on in some parts of that, but anyway wherever there has been a free press, and a free government, there has been a proliferation of photographers who have done a really terrific job of documenting the culture.
JE: Yeah, you know I was thinking that also another thing I really want to do with Lens is to show work that isn’t seen, particularly both young photographers, but also photographers who are not North American or European. You know, there is a lot of extraordinary work in China, Asia in general, and South America. The photographic canon is pretty much defined in a singular way, and I would like to try to expand the canon and to expose photographers who are working only in their own countries.
DAH: Thanks Jim, you are righteous indeed.
Interview with Susan
David Alan Harvey: Young photographers are looking towards us to help them find the way. We are struggling with that, but you’ve evolved from a photo journalist at a very early age, and now you’ve become a curator and you’ve been leading the Magnum Foundation. So, I am sure you don’t think you’ve got all the answers, but how do you see the Magnum Foundation and the role that it can play in helping to shape young peoples aspirations?
Susan Meiselas: I think, if we go back to why we started the Foundation (and it was many years of thinking) we were anticipating the crisis that we now are experiencing. I think there were a lot of signs that there was going to be a shift that photographers such as ourselves, people working for the most part in long form and the documentary tradition, would face. We saw that we would no longer have partners for production which were needed to do the kind of work we are still committed to doing. Whether it was the National Geographic (as in your case) or a variety of news magazines, when you were out in the world covering events that were unfolding over time, let’s say — witnessing, observing, following — and trying to make sense of history-making of various kinds… your ability to do so was sustained either through assignment partners or the possibility of reproduction later. So, you invested your time with the belief that there would be a vehicle, and those partners were very strong and essential support.
The founders of Magnum were smart about figuring out very early how to create a network of sub agents so that there was an international framework of exposure and distribution for the work they created. That was a huge gift that our generation inherited from those who invented it, in particular at Magnum, but other agencies formed similar networks over the last decades as well. That international reproduction machine for “second sales” made it possible to work over longer periods of time, with multiple channels of financing beyond the original assignment.
So, how does a Foundation fit in now? First of all, it’s just as important to document the world. That has not changed. And you have an easier means of distribution now with the internet, so the question is how do you generate funds to produce, especially if you can’t easily monetize through the resale of your work, for the most part, or one does with greater difficulty..
DAH: You need sponsors.
SM: You need people who believe that it is still important to see what is going on in the world at whatever level that means. You know, I never thought about it in terms of ‘news’. What we used to do very well was anticipate. I mean, that’s really important to think about. We had to anticipate, because it took weeks or months for publications to prepare to go to print. In fact, even that’s part of the reason I personally never worked for National Geographic. For me, the difficulty of Geographic was that the anticipation cycle was so long. So if I was working on a timely subject, I wanted to see the publication in relation to the production in a closer cycle. And Geographic was so extended; it might be six months or a year after you did the work that you would see it in print. So it didn’t seem optimal or advantageous for the kind of work I was doing at that time. It was a more reflective space lets say.
Now, that’s a very valuable space; to have the opportunity to be more reflective and not have to be as immediate which is what this new medium has created and now demands in some ways. This intensity that we have to produce and deliver and disseminate instantaneously — so that there is no time for reflection. The MF’s Magnum Emergency Fund is trying to create a margin in which photographers can still have a degree of independence to reflect and create work.
DAH: How many photographers have you supported through the Emergency Fund?
SM: Well, the important thing to understand is that it is a nomination process, not an open solicitation. We’d be swamped and overwhelmed and we don’t have the staff. Each year we choose ten international nominators — picture editors, curators, publishers — who propose up to ten photographers each, so we have a pool of potential projects from 100 candidates.
DAH: Are they Magnum members?
SM: One of the nominators each year has been a Magnum Board member and sometimes we have had Magnum members as candidates for support.
DAH: So ten percent of the nominators are Magnum, ninety percent are not.
SM: Yes, but in fact that’s not fixed. It happened the first year, because one of the invited nominators bailed out.
DAH: Yeah, I am just trying to get people the idea that you’re a Magnum member, it’s a Magnum Foundation, but in fact I think the point that’s interesting about the Foundation is that obviously it’s supposed to help Magnum photographers to some degree but you’re supporting a lot of non Magnum photographers as well.
SM: I don’t think we do think of the MF as support for Magnum photographers. I think we think of supporting photographers who share a set of values that Magnum is founded on, but they’re not the only photographers who have these traditions now. But there is a tradition we still stand for.
DAH: Oh yeah, there is certainly a Magnum philosophy.
SM: And there is a sense of values that we want to sustain, and it’s really important because with our principle funder this was a very critical discussion. Could Magnum photographers be or not be nominated? There is no reason why they should be penalized because they are with Magnum, IF they are nominated. So in the first year I think there were twelve projects supported, 3 were Magnum photographers; the second year there were eleven and only one Magnum photographer. This year we have supported 8 photographers and none from Magnum. We have given travel grants to photographers from NOOR, VII, VU’, Getty and about one third of our funds have gone to regional photographers based in India, Bangladesh, China, Kenya, among others. In total 30 photographers so far and about $350,000 all together, with grants ranging between $5,000 and $12,500.
DAH: So how many years is this?
SM: We have now given out three years of Emergency Fund support. During the nomination process every photographer is invited to submit a portfolio and a proposal, and then there is an editorial board that is not from Magnum at all. Three independents, not on the Magnum Board of the Foundation, not within the photography circle, and that’s the editorial board that really makes the decisions to distribute whatever funds we have raised. We’ve given out about $125,000 each year. I actually hoped to double that, but we have not succeeded yet. And I think it could be tough to sustain it. It shouldn’t be, but we haven’t yet been able to find the significant partners or patrons that we need to be able to double the funds. We are trying to come up with various strategies to build interest and partnerships within the media now.
DAH: But isn’t that what we’re trying to think about? Think about ways to make the Magnum Foundation viable in terms of actually taking production and somehow getting it out there?
SM: Yes, but I think what we’re doing is clearly supporting many photographers who haven’t actually worked within the media the way maybe our generation has. And that takes a lot more mentoring than just giving people funds to help create stories to distribute. We’re giving more than just money, in many cases we’re giving them the narrative and editorial support they need, and then finding partners who will publish their work. The MF does not benefit from the publication of the work financially, the photographer does completely, along with their agencies, if they have them in place. But that’s a big piece of work. A huge piece of work that we didn’t really anticipate we would need to do. We didn’t imagine it would be very difficult to find the media to reproduce work that they haven’t had to pay to produce. So we keep on working to find more media partners, such as Time Lightbox, we’re talking to Harpers and the New Yorker… already we’ve seen a lot of publication of the work we’ve supported, so that’s very positive. We also just created a long term partnership with Mother Jones who will feature EF work online bi-monthly.
DAH: You just need more of it.
SM: You need more of it. And I think we have to find more strategic partners who believe in the importance of keeping eyes on the world. I mean that’s the work on my shoulders principally.
DAH: It’s an incredible amount of the work. That’s kind of what I wanted to get at with this.
SM: The point is that you can see very quickly that in this vast array of emerging photographers that Burn is touching and the VII Mentor program is taking under their wings, and we have to together find means and strategies to sustain the next generation into the future.
DAH: Well, yeah.
SM: Though we don’t support each other and when you think about the fact that although the Magnum Foundation has supported photographers from NOOR, VII, and VU’, there is still this suspicion as to why we are doing that. We need to collectively embrace the sharing of values and strategies in relationship to a landscape that is pretty aggressive against all of us.
DAH: Against the whole group, yeah. It’s like four rebel armies that all have the same philosophy, so we ought to get together.
SM: Well sure, and there are definitely differences and there are differences in the way they are organized, different traditions, etc.
DAH: Well sure, and they should have their own marketing.
SM: But there are many more basic values that we share.
The MF Human Rights scholarship of the MF is really different, even though there is an overlap with the EF at times. For example, Karen Mirzoyan benefitted both from the fact that he was nominated by a regional nominator for the EF and then he also became aware of the fact that we had a Human Rights scholarship, so he then was chosen to be a Fellow in that program and was sponsored for six weeks in New York which I think was very important for him. Then he goes to Look3 as part of our Human Rights Program and was exposed to a larger network of photographers there and editors who have helped give some exposure to his work. Or Sim Chi Yin who also was our first Human Rights Fellow along with Karen, and is now in the VII Network. She too became more visible through the MF opportunity. We helped link her to the New York Times who she now strings for in Beijing.
DAH: They’re going to look very good, and the Magnum Foundation is well credited.
SM: And so the point is the way in which somebody, by shining some light on work that’s done and deserves to be known, you know, for me just going back to when I did my first work in Chile and El Salvador with regional photographers, this isn’t anything new for me. The MF is just a different mechanism now in place. The challenge for us all to figure out is who is really interested in the work that we do and will they in some way contribute to the creative production of it?
So for example to me, even what we’re doing now with these photo auctions, trying to figure out if art’s organizations, patrons of the arts, who are very happy to have the product of our labor as a print on their wall, to what extent will they help pay for the process of creating work? Just as you see that somebody really likes what Burn is doing, and now will support an Emerging Photographer’s Grant through your online community, that’s great!
We need more of exactly that kind of commitment to what we do, either support for our process or of course, for our prints.
DAH: Yeah, well we are like you are. We are structuring and ready to change and come up with new and better ways. We don’t have a dogmatic set of rules for how we’re going to do. We try one thing and we try another thing and we’re hoping for stuff to work. At what point in your career, just to take it back to you as a photo journalist turned curator turned Magnum Foundation creator and interested in lots of other photographers besides yourself, when did that happen to you?
SM: I think that was very early. I think when I was in El Salvador in the early 80’s. I don’t think of it as turning, I just think of it as a dimension of work that I do in the same way Martin Parr does a huge amount of curating of photographers books now.
DAH: Ok, so you were always like this?
SM: Well, very early in El Salvador there were photographers all around me and when we tried to figure out collectively could we produce something that related to the civil war there…
DAH: You were the one that pulled everyone together.
SM: I was the one that naturally coordinated the project and saw the value of our different perspectives, which complimented each other to create a historical and collective narrative. Harry Mattison and I worked together on the book and traveling exhibition, El Salvador: The Work of 30 Photographers.
DAH: So you’ve always had that in you then.
SM: Well, that’s thirty years ago.
DAH: Yeah, so that’s pretty much always.
SM: It’s not new in that sense.
DAH: Taking it inside Magnum and officializing it in turns of the Magnum Foundation is relatively new.
SM: Yeah, I believe the Magnum Foundation should be magnanimous.
DAH: Well, I believe the same thing.
SM: And I think what’s complex about it for both of us is also that we’ve been, (and I even need a longer conversation with you which we really should be having now), is in what way we, Magnum, will continue to be exclusive and to what extent we can be more inclusive. In other words it’s not realistic that Magnum can service everybody. I mean what can we do well together and be a beacon for, and to what extent can we be more embracing and how broadly can we embrace. But you know the fact is that it’s a very complicated and shifting environment. And the few last standing small agencies or communities could all go under. Three strong forces surround us all, a declining economic model, a culture of free exchange and an expanding circle of image-makers — anyone with an iphone, etc.
DAH: But you’ve got your own books, your own things, and you’re supporting lots of other photographers.
SM: Yes, I’m not worried for myself. I mean there is the challenge to balance; doing your own authoring work, and what you then do editorially and obviously for me the Foundation is the biggest challenge I’ve faced because it’s not like a book that simply at some point gets done. It’s trying to create something that has continuity and sustainability financially and creatively and engages the energy of other people. So building a team is the most important thing for me to be able to do. To seed the ideas and to have it grow and be relevant by the fact that other people participate in a meaningful way. So that’s my goal. The question is how long is that going to take?
So when you say it’s my Foundation… that’s a little scary to me because I thought I would dedicate some years to try to anchor this, believing that it should exist, and the only question now is, is it going to be viable and sustainable? Will there be a large enough commitment to the MF from outside and within the organization, meaning amongst the Magnum membership, to understand the necessity for it… and fully accept that it isn’t there just to serve them which is very important, and from the broad public, who have to value the contribution documentary photographers with these values still make.
DAH: There will always only be a handful of people, or one or two other people that will ever probably feel the need or desire to put that effort into others. Most people are spending their time working on their own careers. Well, that’s kind of what I want to do with this interview, this little piece, to suggest to people that maybe they could play a larger role.
SM: Yes, there is no question about that. I mean the larger role could be at the level of just ideas about partnerships, whether they be for distribution or production of the work, or it could be contributing directly, financially. It could be suggesting people they know who would be interested in the actual work produced with innovative strategies of exposure, etc.
DAH: Because of the subject…
SM: Yes, thematically. Our vision is to take the work to the streets, broaden the visibility from contained print publications, back to communities or new contexts where it can be experienced and have greater influence.
DAH: Yeah, it seems like it’s primarily solving the problem of just communication because it’s just a huge job. You can only do one relatively simple thing at a time, right?
SM: Yes, I mean you know Magnum has always had this duality of a certain amount of individual authoring, and those authoring partners becoming brands of their own in balance with a very strong brand that Magnum has collectively. And the question is, what do we want Magnum to stand for beyond our individual identities.
DAH: Well to my mind, the Magnum Foundation would be it. In other words, I need stock sales, I need editorial representation, and print sales, and everything for my own career to pay my rent so to speak. But when it comes down to the ideal of Magnum, which is the main thing — like I said I need to earn my living, but if I was just looking at the ideal of Magnum — it would be represented by the Foundation. I see it as a real beacon. Now if that can somehow turn into production…
SM: So yes, that means how do you support thoughtful, critical, substantial work? That thing that you look back on in your own career and are the most proud of having done.
DAH: Well, that’s it.
SM: That’s sort of what we want to inspire and find a way to support. We’re not going to be able to fully support it, unless someone dies and gives the Magnum Foundation a million dollars! You know we would be in a different situation if someone would endow us such that we could really have that kind of stability and focus only on increasing our impact.
DAH: Well, the fact that we are even having this conversation means that you’ve started the ball rolling, right?
SM: Yes. But here is an interesting idea that any photographer could contribute to. We decided that when asked to give prints to auctions for the wide range of art organizations, (everything that we’re expected to support as members of a photographic community and do support with prints), that we would now ask for a small percentage of that auction sale to come back to the Foundation so that the auction print also supports on-going photography.
So, just as an example, we just did one for Photo Review, a small publication, which for years has been dedicated to letting people know regionally what’s happening in photography. Seven Magnum photographers are contributing prints to their auction and 25% of those sales will come back to the MF. It may only be fifteen hundred dollars that we bring in at the end, but it’s a symbol, a sort of gesture and it’s a symbolic act that we need to co-support each other. So whether it’s going to be Aperture or ICP or other such partners, the point is that inevitably, it is the photographer that gives and gives and there is the assumption that we should somehow miraculously be able to continue to create. So we want to be in a circle of relationships like that, building collaboratively new models of sustainability.
SM: And I think it’s really important to figure out ways to do that. It’s like, what does the patron want? What do we give the patron? There are definitely things we can do to support patrons.
DAH: Well, the de’ Medici, they supported a lot of people and they got a lot of art out of it. They made an investment and look what happened. It’s still rolling.
SM: We would love to have a circle of patrons that really believe in what we’re doing. So it’s not only a few who are supporting Burn’s Emerging Photographer’s Fund, but it’s a growing circle of people who say this is important, we understand the value of this independent documentary photography with critical eyes on the world and let’s work together to make sure it survives.
DAH: By the way, why did you call it the “Emergency Fund”?
SM: We didn’t mean a crisis like an earthquake or tsunami that needed to be covered. We meant the looming reality, the “emergency” is the challenge we face to sustain the production of quality in depth narrative photography that can inform and inspire global consciousness and hopefully engage paths to action.
Photography can be SO powerful!
W.M. Hunt - Bill Hunt – is a self described champion of photography: collector, curator and consultant, who lives and works in New York City. His book “The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious” was published last fall by Aperture in the US, Thames & Hudson in the UK, and as “L’Oeil Invisible” by Actes Sud in France. “The Unseen Eye’ is based on his forty years as a collector. He is an adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts, and he has been on the boards of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, AIPAD, Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS and the Center for Photography at Woodstock. He has been profiled in The New York Times, PDN, The Art Newspaper and many blogs. As a dealer, he founded the prominent gallery Hasted Hunt after many years as director of photography at Ricco/Maresca. Photo by dah
David Alan Harvey: The readers of Burn Magazine always want to know how editors and curators think. What they really want to know is what editors, gallerists, and dealers want, because they are trying to appeal to them. What does a gallery owner expect? That is you. These young photographers want to know what YOU are looking for.
Bill Hunt: I will tell you what curators want. They want the thing they’ve never seen. If they’ve seen it, they don’t want it. It’s the impossible thing to describe except that when you see it, you say, “this is it. I couldn’t describe it to you because I hadn’t seen it, but now that I see it, I can tell you this is it”. You don’t want to see what you saw before, because it’s no longer interesting. My line is that you want a picture so good it makes you fart lightning. You want to be able to see it and say, “I was sick and now I’m healed”. It doesn’t happen very much at all, but sometimes it happens and you go, see I told you this could happen because here it is. I’m teaching a workshop called “How I Look at Photographs”.
DAH: We saw that in the ICP catalogue. We know who you are.
BH: That’s good! So, I’m trying to work it out because I think that it has potential.
DAH: Do you think as time goes by it’s harder to see something that you haven’t seen?
BH: No, I think it’s the same. What’s different is that there is now a sea of really good pictures. There are so many good pictures. More so than there used to be. People know how to make good pictures. But the number of really fantastic ones, that’s real small. So you do look at a lot of good pictures. But I am interested in the great ones.
DAH: That was probably the best answer that I’ve gotten from anybody so far on this decision making business.
BH: So for this class that I am spending time thinking about, I want to answer the question, how do I look at pictures? And the answer is …rapaciously, ravenously, wildly … like a cartoon dog in heat. The New York Times comes in the morning, you open the front door, and you look at the front page, and immediately you react …that’s a good one! Or not.
DAH: Let me ask you something, do you have a theatrical background at all?
BH: I do.
DAH: Well that’s the first thing that popped into my head when I’m talking to you now.
BH: I’m a notoriously failed actor.
DAH: Ok well I could tell.
BH: That I was a failed actor?
DAH: (laughing) No. That you love drama. Everything you do, your motions, the way you talk.
BH: I’m just a big bull shitter.
DAH: Your mind is….
BH: My mind is … what? Quick? Yes, I’m fast on my feet, but that’s not being an actor.
DAH: There’s something performance oriented just about the way you are.
BH: I’m passionate. I’m single minded. I’m articulate. A discovery I made about photography and show business is they are very, very similar. In many respects they are all improvisation. You get up in the morning; you say to yourself, I am not a doctor, so I won’t be going to the hospital. I am an actor, I’m a photographer, what am I going to do today? I could just sit here and jerk off…that’s one choice. Another choice is get on my bike and go do something. The difference for a photographer and an actor is that a photographer can always make stuff. They can take a camera and go out and do stuff.
DAH: An actor needs an audience and is dependent on somebody else. That’s right, I never thought about it that way.
BH: The cruel irony of this however, and this may not be born up by your experience, but it’s my observation that in show business, you can always get laid. The more miserable everybody is, the more you get laid. You go to a bunch of photographers and say did anybody here get laid in the last eight years?
DAH: I thought you were coming out with some brilliant artist’s statement here!
BH: I am just being realistic.
DAH: Let me jump to you as a person because it’s interesting how decision makers become decision makers. So let’s go all the way back to your childhood. Obviously, I would imagine you were in the arts, I’m guessing almost from the beginning. Am I right about that?
BH: I would say not at all.
BH: I would say only my secret life. That was always my fantasy world.
DAH: Oh, so I am right in a sense?
BH: Yeah I guess so. It just was never going to happen, you know? You’re a little kid in the Midwest and you’re thinking you’re going to be an actor in New York and … .
DAH: It’s a secret fantasy….
BH: It’s just not part of anything around you that that’s going to happen. Some helicopter is not going to land in the back yard with producers leaping out saying “we heard you were good, kid, lets go do a movie or something”. You’re pretty much just fucked in the Midwest that you’re not going to get out of there. Actually in college I toed the line for a long time. I was in accounting class one day in business school, and I looked like a dog listening to music, tilting my head from side to side. I’m listening to the teacher but saying to myself I haven’t understood one thing this guy has said in what’s probably seven weeks now. I’ve copied other people’s homework religiously… and I have no idea what’s going on here. I hate this. And I left. And I enrolled in the theater department.
DAH: Ok so you were in theater in college, and then when you get out of college, what’s your first job? How did you earn a living when you got out of college?
BH: Well I never did. I just never made shit.
BH: Not completely but … At one point my dad had died and so I had some of that money. But I barely made enough money to pay for myself although I did always manage to keep it in proportion.
DAH: Did you make money in the art gallery business?
BH: Not really. Nobody makes money there. Selling photographs? You make enough, you make something, but never enough.
DAH: I met you when you sold those great big prints of Luc Delahaye, I was so impressed with that.
BH: Me too! You know for a good week and a half, two weeks, people would come to me to actually observe the phenomenon that my shit did not stink. I came back from Paris and announced that those things were $15,000. The people that got pissed off were your people. Photojournalists were furious.
DAH: Not me. I never heard anyone was pissed off. About what? I was absolutely fascinated the night of the opening. Luc is “our people”.
BH: Now, Luc is a “piece of work” He calls me up – we were going to show the “Winterreise” pictures – his Russian pictures - and we’d seen them at the ICP Infinity Awards. He won best photo journalist for these pictures of eastern Russia. I’d seen those, and that’s what we were going to show. They were really cool. And so over the course of the summer Luc calls me up one day and says “Beel, I want you to come to Paris to see ze picture I make”. And you go like yeah, I will be doing that. I will be flying to Paris to see this picture what you make. And he says, “no, no, no I send ze ticket”. You’re like … huh? Oh. Ok, I be coming. So he flew me to Paris to see the picture and he was living in Montmartre. So I go there and he’s got three of these prints push pinned into the wall, and I didn’t know what I was coming to look at. He is asking me which print is better and I’m just thinking I can’t fucking believe this picture. This picture is just so weird.
DAH: You’re talking about the dead Afghan soldier.
BH: Yeah, this big eight foot wide picture of a dead Taliban in a ditch, and it’s composed quite artfully, and it’s definitely a dead guy. And so we look at the pictures for a long time, and then he pulls out prints of the rest of the series of pictures. He gives me some color Xeroxes and I go back to New York and call the curator of the L.A. CountyMuseum and I say I’m coming to out California the following week, so let’s have lunch, and I have a picture to show you. The guy in L.A. was Robert Sobieszek and we were on the same wavelength. I didn’t show him much stuff. I was very careful what I showed him, and he almost always bought it, which is just unheard of for a museum to behave like that. So, we go out and were having a glass of iced tea and I hand him this 81/2 x 11 Xerox of this picture and he looks at it, and I said this is good. This is really good. And he say’s, how much? I say its $15,000 dollars and then I go, I’ll give you 20% off and give it to you for $10,000. So my math is for shit, but he says yes. At the same time I was trying to get this picture published some place and I had taken it to The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, and they both passed on it. American PHOTO did it. Thank you David Schonauer and Jean-Jacques Naudet because everyone saw it.
DAH: I have always loved Luc as a photographer. I was mesmerized by the photograph.
BH: Then Chris Boot came on board, and we did a book in like three months, a full tilt printed book with a commissioned essay. It was really quick. That was exciting. So, Chris was on board and somehow Luc got a show in Bradford (England) and that had to have come from Chris.
DAH: Now Chris is at Aperture. I have always thought Chris to be one of the best in the biz.
BH: Back to my book and how it came together. My English publisher had asked me to take a picture out at one point and I said no this is a really good picture, this is funny, it fits in the book. It’s a picture of the head of a penis that looks like a big face, and it’s a really funny and strange picture. It’s even weirder because when I first saw this picture I didn’t know what I was looking at. But I saw this picture and did not know what it was. I looked at it for a long time and finally I asked the photographer what is was and he said a dick. When I do presentations about the book, I project this image, and I always feel like…half the people in the room don’t know what this is. The other half that knows what it is, is thinking this is stupid. I thought it was an elbow. Anyway, so the English publisher didn’t want it in because he said he couldn’t sell it to Japan, which that was ridiculous anyways because he wasn’t going to sell it to Japan. So he left it in. Thank you. Then I was at Aperture and we’re having this meeting and they said we want to talk to you about something. You just know immediately what it is and you think, you pussies, I can’t believe you’re…and they wanted it out. They asked if I would take it out and I said yeah, I’m a good guy, if it really bothers you that much take it out. And then I will never shut up about how you made me take it out of the book. It was just no big deal and Chris Boot’s line was that it stopped the flow of the book … . So the dick went away… . There are a couple of other things not in the final book … . Irving Penn wouldn’t give me permission to reproduce two of his pictures. That was expected, but really disappointing. We really made a case for it and chased after it. I couldn’t accept it, no, no. no …
DAH: You went for it.
BH: I went for it.
DAH: And then you finally in the end did not get it.
BH: Yeah. And then there was the French edition too from Actes Sud. There is a September 11th picture…”The Falling Man” picture. That’s in there. The French were resistant to it and I explained why it was important to the project and they said Ok. Actually what they did was they asked me to write more which was fine with me.
DAH: It seems almost impossible to get 100% of what you want in a book. Lots of moving parts.
BH: At the end of the day, it is my book and the whole experience is so intense and unique. I am happy with the text and hope that people respond to my love affair with photography and collecting. It is all about de…light.
DAH: Thanks Bill…..
David Alan Harvey: Now the thing is that you were a photographer first. When I met you, you were a Magnum photographer. Now you are Editor at Large at National Geographic. Pretty obvious though, this doesn’t seem to be an office job.
Michael “Nick” Nichols: I’m only a photographer.
DAH: You’re only a photographer. Well no you’re more than that. You do other things.
MN: But it all comes from photography.
DAH: I know it all comes from photography, but what I want to talk about, in today’s world, and you evolved your photography and also into the…well you created the Look3 festival for one thing which is for other photographers beside yourself. So, you do a lot of stuff outside, you teach workshops.
MN: And that’s since you and I are so joined at the hip because we both for some reason feel it is important to give it back to the next generation.
DAH: Why did we ever think that was a good idea?
MN: The reason it happened to me was because Charles Moore, my start came from somebody else saying, oh I’m going to help out this kid.
MN: And I like that, so I’ve always felt that it’s important. And history is important to me, so building on something and not leaving it behind…if I meet a young photographer that doesn’t know Alex Webb’s work, or your’s or Eugenes, I’m like, well what are you doing? You’ve got to build on stuff.
DAH: That’s right. So Charles Moore helped you and then when he did that you felt like payback some day when you made it.
DAH: Yeah, same for me. I felt that way when I was at my first Missouri workshop. These Life magazine and National Geographic photographers were looking at my contact sheets and I thought well, that’s just the coolest thing…If I make it, I’m paying back too. So we’re similar that way.
MN: And just in full disclosure, I love you dearly, your one of my best friends, I never get to see you, I’ve followed Burn from the beginning although I’m not part of Burn. You know, I’m fully supportive of everything you do even if I’m not there.
DAH: You are part of Burn.
MN: You know this is my first appearance in Burn…this interview. But I’ve been with Burn from the beginning because I believe in what your doing. Always. And I know that you’re with me when I’m with the lions. Somewhere there.
DAH: Oh, always with you when your with the lions.
MN: Were going to some day sit on the porch and do what we say were gonna do.
DAH: Yeah, the only problem we’ve got is that for some reason we’re like work-aholics or something. We can’t get to that porch. You’ve got a nice porch to sit on. We’ve done some of that during Look3 and previous visits to your house. And you’ve come down and visited my family at the beach and I got an extra bedroom for you at my house, so you’re welcome.
MN: And that’s the other thing…my family feels like your part of our family.
DAH: Well we feel that way about each other, yes.
MN: And your kids treat me as if I’m part of the family. So I want everybody to know that we’re not just casual acquaintances.
DAH: Well that’s right, that’s right.
DAH: I mean and we have a lot of fun together. Somehow we always manage to have a lot of fun together. And a lot of laughs, but you’re way different from me in one respect because, and Bryan has even told me this, Bryan who went to the Ndoki with you and made his first film on you on the Ndoki, told me…basically told me that well, Nick works way harder than you do Dad. And I think there’s no doubt about that. When I look at the films, when I look at the stuff, the logistics, the things that you have to deal with to get those pictures, you have to go through a whole lot of logistical stuff before you can even begin to take…
MN: Easily by the time I get to an assignment I’m completely exhausted because of the money I had to raise, all the gear I had to put together, all the…this last one’s 50 boxes going to Tanzania, two years of fundraising, you know, literally almost 10 years of talking about lions, and then you, of course, your pictures have to start to live up to all the hype that you’ve…not hype…whatever you’ve done to…and if I had to say who my favorite photographer on earth was, it would be a battle between Alex and Eugene because I love that complexity. And to do that in natural history is incredibly difficult. So, you know, I’m not satisfied with a telephoto lens but sometimes that’s where you are. So, it’s incredibly difficult technically, but I don’t want anybody to see the technical when they see the picture. You know, when they look at that tree, if they’re thinking about how we put it together, than I missed them. I didn’t do it right. It’s supposed to be spiritual. And so I’m trying to get back to the simplicity that David Alan Harvey uses in his photography. But the level of work that takes…but you know the part about working so hard is I am incredibly driven. You know, I drive myself to collapse, and the only other person I can compare that to is Jim, on the fact that we’ll work ourself till we die, but I don’t know any other way. I don’t know half. I don’t know thirty percent. That’s why I’m gonna quit, because I can’t figure out how to slow down.
DAH: But you’ve been saying “i quit” for a long time.
MN: Yeah but I’m serious. When I said last waltz, what I mean literally is that, like they did, they didn’t quit playing music, or I’m not going to be a National Geographic’s guy after this project and I’m not going to move on to the next project. I’ll extend this one as long as I can, but then I want to go back and say, can I be David? Can I be simple? Because there’s too much volume in what I do. There’s too much noise.
DAH: There’s a lot of moving parts to what you do.
MN: Yeah, and the stress level and the fact that I’ve got this incredible woman in my life, who has been there for the whole trip, and you know you can fuck that up, and I survived all the chances to fuck it up. And so the fact that she’s still with me and we’re tighter now than we’ve ever been.
DAH: Well I see that, I see that, it’s amazing. Well Reba is an amazing woman and you’ve been gone, you’ve been out in the jungle, you’ve been in the top of a tree for months at a time, and she’s still there when you get back. Part of it probably is that she’s an artist herself.
MN: She was attracted to me because I was an artist and I was attracted to her because she was an artist. So we support the obsession of being an artist. And I, you know, people can cut and slice any way they want, I was gone while the kids were growing and I didn’t get penalized for that. You can get penalized for that. But now that they’ve grown, I’m sitting there with them. I’m with them.
DAH: No I see that, I see that. Well let me just go back just for a second here because when I met you, I mean now you’re a senior editor, what is your exact title? Editor at large?
MN: I’m Editor at Large.
DAH: Ahhh busted, you had to stop and think about your title Nick. Size does matter.
MN: Laughing..Well no, because I work so hard to get that word staff photographer off my title. I hate that word. It’s venom to me. You know, because it means ownership. I’m not owned by anybody. I assure you that. I’m milking this place like nobody in the history of photography.
DAH: No, no, don’t worry this is an honest conversation…. it is too late for either of us to get fired.
MN: Well, I’ve given them more than I got.
DAH: Well of course you have and they know that. That goes without saying. They know that.
MN: But I like the tone of editor at large because what that means is not in the office. It means out there. So I fought really hard for that title.
DAH: And you’re keeping readers for them too. You’re good business.
MN: Some of my colleagues think that I’m old. I’m not old.
DAH: David Alan Harvey doesn’t think you’ve ever been old. When I met you, you gotta remember, you were a Magnum photographer when I met you and you shifted from Magnum to National Geographic, from an institutional standpoint, spiritually you are a Magnum photographer. Funny how we literally “traded places”..But you needed the capital resourcing. Period.
MN: Yeah exactly, Magnum is in my DNA.
DAH: But the thing is, I can go out and do my thing for ten dollars and where I need ten dollars you need a hundred thousand dollars, therefore you needed the National Geographic behind you. NatGeo has been good to you…and to me.
MN: And I can’t justify what I do if I’m not reaching the planet. I gotta have a huge audience because my work is about saving the planet, you know. Its not about me, its about tigers and elephants and stuff like that. So if I didn’t have this microphone, I’d just be pissing into the wind. This is the only place on earth that I can do what I do.
DAH: That’s right. Ok Chris (Johns) in his article was talking about being driven. I feel driven, and sometimes I feel like it’s a burden almost to be driven because you can’t get off of it. When you were a kid, I saw a picture of you in the 4th or 5th grade in Alabama. That’s where you’re from.
DAH: That’s where Reba is from.
MN: Yeah, that’s why I’m called Nick. My best friend’s growing up we’re Bubba, Fuzzy, and Stevie Wonder.
DAH: My nickname was Heavenly. I know your mother. Partied with your mother and you and the gang. I photographed you and your mother together for my family project. Where’s that drive coming from? What’s the nut of that thing? Where’s that fire coming from? Where’s that work ethic coming from?
MN: Fear, first off.
DAH: Fear works.
MN: Fear of failure. I’d love for people to understand that no matter where you get it, if your not afraid, something’s wrong with you. Every time you go out, you should be afraid. But then the work ethic of being poor…my mom raised us, my dad left when I was a kid, she’s had no education, and my dad was in the picture but he always thought, your just a lazy hippy. You know, I’m obsessive, I’m obsessive compulsive and photography gives me a….
DAH: a kind of hippy.
MN: I’m definitely a hippy.
DAH: And yet you’ve got a work ethic.
MN: I’ve got a pop side to me. My stories are very popular. I can tell you that the readers love them.
DAH: Oh yeah, I love them too.
MN: But the work thing is…I don’t know anything else. That’s the problem. I don’t know how to turn it down. Once that train left the station, and I got on it, I haven’t figured out how to ever get off.
Photo taken by Kyle George