Photo © #1 Paprica Fotografia, #2, 3, 5 Candy Pilar Godoy, #4 Vinicius Matos, #6 Michelle Madden Smith
#1: subject from photo in book shows up for launch book signing in Rio, #2: magazines given away on soccer field in Cantagalo community in Rio, #3: young boy helps with a wall “pasting” of our book in Cantagalo, #4 and 5: neighborhood square in Tavares Bastos, #6: signing for Usain Bolt in Jamaica




My schedule has been a bit crazy lately. Or maybe it always is. I have a really hard time saying “no” to stuff. Especially if it involves wide eyed youngsters who I can see are just craving some words of “wisdom”.

Of course this seems often strange to me, since I am craving words of wisdom myself!!

The recent marathon to Rio to giveaway a magazine version of (based on a true story) and then straight to Jamaica to work with Usain Bolt and 25 young photographers leaves me feeling like I just ran the 100 meter sprint and the mile on top of it. I was a long distance runner in my youth, so that mentality does come in handy for almost everything I do. You can always “kick it” just a little bit more even if you just can’t. Works.

My team of Eva-Maria Kunz, Roberta Tavares, Candy Pilar Godoy, Michelle Madden Smith, and Mike Courvoisier made it all work. Ever since I started Burn it has been the collaborative effort that rules. None of us can do much alone. Finding great collaborators will change your life if you have not already figured that out. I always tell my students, “find ONE person you trust” to help you with your work . To be a second set of eyes. To be an advisor. To kick you in the butt. Works.

Now I only do this post for one reason. As a story about inspiration. And inspiration is THE fuel for doing any damned thing. If you are not inspired, you might as well stay in bed. You need fire in the belly. Forget exotic places, the right camera. Without the “fire”, pasa nada.

Readers here know by now I come up with a lot of crazy ideas. Including the evolution of Burn in so many ways. Some (most) of my ideas do not work. Yet some do. Again, if you can complete one out of ten ideas you have, you are in the upper percentile of people who can FINISH something.

One of my crazy ideas was to giveaway half of the print run of (based on a true story) the magazine version. It was a crazy idea, it still is a crazy idea, and I did it and I “lost” financially and yet for me this was maybe the very coolest most successful thing I ever did. For sure the most rewarding. Sure I always “give” when I am shooting. Bringing back prints to people I have always done. Buying my subjects a cold beer or dinner or whatever I have always done.

Yet I have never been in a position to really really show the people where I was shooting exactly what I did. Most often they never knew. Never saw NatGeo or whatever magazine I was shooting for on a story. Yet this time I brought it back. As a thank you for allowing me to work in the Carioca community. Sure only a gesture or symbolic at best. Yet I could feel the vibe, the look in their eyes, the feeling of doing the right thing. After all (based on a true story) was not just a collaboration of my team but a collaboration with the subjects I photographed.

Segued right behind the Rio giveaway was a few days in Kingston, Jamaica with 25 young photographers aged 13-17 who belong to photo clubs around the island. The Usain Bolt Foundation and Samsung made this happen. These kids were amazing. Smart, focused, ready to learn, shooting well. We pulled an “all nighter” to get the prints made (thanks Mike, Michelle, Candy) for an on the spot exhibition of their work which was then viewed by Jamaica super hero Usain Bolt who also walked away with a signed free copy of (based on a true story)!!

Anyway, life is all one big circle. Yup, what goes around, comes around and a whole bunch of other cliches about paying back paying forward yada yada yada. Well all I can say, and I think my team would say, it is worth it, worth it, and worth it.

We are selling on Burn, and at Magnum, and at PhotoEye and possibly other venues the other half of the (based on a true story) print run…At the lowest price possible. The collector edition, now gone, was what it was and expensive by nature. Yet while I do like appealing to collectors my heart can never be elitist. The success of the collector edition paid for at least part of the giveaway and the sales of the second part of the print run should get us at break even point. Good biz? Nope. Yet the right thing all around.

And besides, “breaking even” if you are leading the life you love, and may help a few others to do so,  is a nice reward. What more to ask for?

So, I implore you to pick up your camera and do “your thing” and at the same time make it another person’s “thing” as well…Make it a two way street. Either with the pictures themselves. Or by passing on any knowledge you have to somebody else.

Give it away. Works.





169 Responses to “payback”

  • Art history suggests that pictures of trees can be as meaningful as anything else. In some eastern traditions, landscape painting was traditionally considered the most prestigious form on the theory that it required more imagination to create a compelling image of a tree. I can see that argument and sympathize. For example, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to look at a picture of a bum in the street who is slowly dying before the averted gaze of the wealthy passer-by and feel a sense of outrage and injustice at the human condition. But communicating that same message through landscape or still life requires a much higher level artistic vision and skill. Of course pictures of trees and the like get a bad name from photo magazines like Outdoor Photographer. Just as well-exposed and expertly manipulated photographs of beautiful models rarely rise to the realm of fine art, an image of the most sublime sunset across the most pristine lake behind the most spectacular mountain range is likely to be valuable only as a tchotchke. Just as with people, the more compelling stories are typically found among those the more plain and less fortunate. Every stand of scrub has a story to tell that’s likely more interesting than a staggeringly beautiful shot of El Capitan. Seeing that story, and visually communicating it is an art that shouldn’t be denigrated.

  • Ah another …….. “lets drag art it back to what is safe and cosy ” attitude

  • I’ll never know. I see the video is going to take 12 minutes of my day to watch. Today, finally, the sun shines bright above and the air is genuinely, for the first time we can see leaves that have left the buds behind. I don’t want to give 12 minutes to a video. In fact, I don’t know why I am sitting in my office in front of my computer screen at all.

    I am out of here.

    Maybe I will take a few pictures of trees.

  • …….make sure you find one with a hanging bum

  • “I adore platinum prints. but they have to be a vehicle for something, dont they?”

    I’ve seen spectacular vintage prints by Steiglitz and others using the old processes. They are lovely indeed. The old processes were what was available to them at the time. I’m sure they’d all be using Epson printers now and printing on the wonderful papers we have available now.

    It seems to me, that folks who get caught up in the old processes are much more interested in the process than the image. It’s a solution looking for a problem. Is it really a better photograph if it is printed using a laborious process? Or is the unique factor only the process? The print becomes a “precious object”, the imagery is secondary. There is room for this mind-set of course, in the fine art world. However the “fine art” world has never been terribly concerned with the value of the image, only with the dollar value of the object or “piece”.

  • Waiting for your tree pictures Frostfrog

  • Oh, I don’t think “art” is some kind of “it” than can be dragged anywhere. Art is many things that can be dragged many places. And I think it was Lao Tze who speculated that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who cannot imagine pictures of trees that are not safe and cozy and those who can. Or was that Descartes? I get so confused. Anyway, I’ve seen a few disturbing trees in my time. This one is one of my favorites. How can one not anthropomorphize?

  • Yep it can be dragged,maligned, loved ,hated disrespected ignored made cheap whatever

  • The only photographer who’s tree prints I can stand are those by Michael Kenna… And only sometimes.

  • John, if you enjoy breathing I think you’ll find trees more interesting than anything else, certainly more important.

  • A tree…

  • Add an “/” at the end of that link.

  • Imants; re the censored images… How dumb can a government agency be to sponsor a reportage/documentary festival and not expect hard hitting images? Just typical government bureaucratic PC nonsense I suppose…. Imagine saying a pic of a pregnant tummy is not “family friendly”!

    I can’t work out how the Andrew Quilty images weren’t “family friendly”. I just showed them to my 10-year old step daughter and she couldn’t work out what wrong with them.

  • Gordon, I was just joking, but given what you wrote, I felt obligated to take a photograph of trees today. Of course, this being Wasilla there are plenty of incidental trees in all the outdoor photos, including of the Alaska State Trooper in action and the Wild Child tearing up the duck pond my boys named Little Lake, when they were small, but since you are waiting for my tree pictures, I figured I had better take at least one. It is not art. I did not work at it. It is lazy and unworthy of this sophisticated audience. Still, I felt I must honor my obligation to you so I looked at the trees, raised my camera and shot.

    Imants, that was a pretty bizarre thought on your part. Nice tree picture. Maybe that partially explains it. You could hang someone from that tree – even a hard working, rich person. Why single out bums? Hell. I’m a bum. That’s one reason I’m a photographer. I can be a bum and still make a living.

    But our trees up here? They are not hanging trees. Hanging trees don’t do so well this far north. I suppose it would be possible, but even someone mean enough or desperate enough to do it would probably seek an easier, more practical method.

    Mike – I have tried twice to look at your picture, but either you have removed it or you have instructed your website not to allow bums like me to view it. That’s what it says when I try: “You may not have permission to view it.”

    Anyway, my pretty much worthless tree picture I took for Gordon can be found at the bottom of this post:

  • Paul: I tried your’s too. Didn’t work. Not even with the slash.

  • Ross: Your link worked. That was a nice picture of trees at the top. Otherwise, it is 2:00 AM and I am too tired to read all those words, even though I just wrote more words than that which most people will be too tired to read, too.

    That’s it for me.

    I’m going to bed.

  • Bums make the news all be it page 7 a tree hanging bum should hit page one, with a bit of clever bit of censorship the big time and a lead in the 6 o’clock news. See how it all ties in?

  • And I was woke up just before dawn By an old man crying in the rain
    He was drunk and he was lonely And as he passed by he sang a hymn
    And as I lay there listening, Well, I almost joined him in that song
    But instead I just held my peace And waited ’till that old man moved along

    Then later on that day About a quarter mile out of town
    I found his body hanging in A grove of pines, swaying in the wind

    And as he swang that rope sang Another hymn to Jesus
    And this time, though I don’t know why I somehow felt inclined to sing along

    -Jim White. Still Waters.


  • John Gladdy…

    I’m still inspired by that incredible Harry Crews link you posted way back 2011.

  • There’s something about the American south’s landscape and it’s people that’s so different from anywhere else.

  • @ DAH and the whole burn crew:

    After this post I was thinking: What about making a burn book but not precisely with photos and images inside…

    I was thinking of a “literally” book with a some kind of retrospective, collecting past interviews with photographers and editors that you did and posted, like the one above of “Payback”, or with some gallerists NatGeo editors and proeffesional photographers like Nick Nichols that I remember.
    Lot of accurate info and very good pieces of advises for young photographers.

    Just a short book, no more than 125-150 pages. No more than 20 Euros…

    Just an idea…
    Have a nice Sunday. P.

    PS: Love this ad with Steffi Graff (former tennis player) with a Leica in her hands, it fits her very well.

  • Wrong Eyed Jesus is an interesting movie. See here as well.

    I guess Lao Tze was wrong, there actually being three kinds of people when you include those who would censor images of trees because of possible damage to youth. On that note, sorry Bill, I think god censored the link to my disturbing tree photo, or more likely the Australian censors are loose on the internets. It’s also possible someone wasn’t paying attention to permissions. Who knows? Should work now though.

  • MW…

    As trees go that’s not a bad tree. Nice image…

  • Frostfrog, thanks for humouring me. Did you ever find out why the boat was in the little pond?

  • on a completely unrelated note, I find that I have spent a whole bunch of money I cannot really afford on a digital motion picture camera body. And while it will happily pretend to like my canon L glass and even my Leitz R primes..what it really wants is this (in fact it calls to me at night from its case in the cupboard)
    Yes I know its a zoom.(calm down panos)
    I can assure everybody that it almost certainly my birthday at some point in the next year or so, so if anyone wants to be a good egg and surprise me with one as a gift I will be suitably thankful….I may also have a kidney and a slice of (only slightly soiled) liver for sale :::) WATCH THIS SPACE.

  • Thanks Mike. I never saw a tree like that before. That’s a good tree. A bit disturbing, yes, but disturbing in a good way.

    Gordon, I didn’t have the patience to hang around until they stopped screaming about in circles, but, as it was such a nice day and we are at the beginning of the boating season, I am quite certain they just wanted to put it in the water, check out the engine, hear it roar, see how they might need to tune it up and fire off their train horn right on their own property without going through all the bother of hauling it a mile or two away to a good lake.

    It’s really an ocean boat.

    I didn’t write about the frogs. In truth, have been more worried about the frogs than I was about the duck. The ducks lost Little Lake as family raising habitat some time ago, but the frogs still reside there year around. They burrow down into the mud in early fall and freeze until late spring. They have a chemical in them that protects their cells from rupture. They are very small frogs. I suspect that most of them retreated into the shallow grassy waters and are doing okay.

    I hope.

  • I’m somewhat bummed with myself for breaking my self-imposed injunction against commenting on essays. I sincerely hope Ms. Prieto is not the type to take negative criticism too much to heart. Over the years here at burn, I’ve come around to David’s POV on the subject of public criticism. What’s the point? Usually not the one we think it is.

    Anyway, under David’s response to Kathleen, he said this:

    “what great film or book your have ever seen/read that gave a broad view? tell me.”

    Just about all of them, I’d say. I’m having trouble thinking of a great novel or film that gave a narrow view. Perhaps taking a very narrow view is not uncommon in successful photography books, I’m far from being an expert in that area, but the ones I’ve most appreciated are anything but narrow. I don’t, for example, find Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street narrow. Nor Salgados Otras Americas. And the broad view is one of the things that’s always drawn me to David’s work. When he goes into places with horrible suffering like Nairobi or Rio, he doesn’t flinch from those realities but neither does he limit his work to them. Speaking generally, without the context of the wealthy and the middle class, the suffering of the poor is a lot easier to take, or at least to ignore. Without a context that includes happiness or hope, sadness and despair lose a lot their power to foster empathy. The environment in which people live is crucial to their quality of life. It’s rare that we can understand a person without any knowledge of where they live. I totally trust that more essays fail for being to broad than too narrow, but getting that balance right is probably one thing that separates those at the top of the field from most essays.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    Happy MEMORIAL DAY !!!

    Are we into trees now? Please,if you are going to publish more of those hanging trees…
    have the warning sign …near by…

    here in Grecolandia ,we love them…best way to go Upstairs:( after the new cuts and taxes…oime!!!

  • MW

    It´s thing that was in my minds´eye when writing my responses to Ms. Prieto´s essay was David´s work. I thought, if he can go into a favela and shoot clean kids laughing and goofing off like any other kid in the world, then why does “Safe Heaven” have to be so heavy-handed in the other direction? I know how immigrants live. Immigrants work for me. i AM an immigrant! But i am not a PJ, not an essayist. Not even sure really how i feel about essays. My reaction is narrowly confined to my own experience. i can only say what rings true and what rings hollow. David´s work has always rung true. Safe Heaven not so much.



  • Mike – That same resolution is always dangling on the edge of my mind. I mean, what the hell of value can I really add to this critiques? Sometimes, I think the main reason to critique is to try to make like one has wisdom one does not truly possess. As for Ms. Prieto, she is very young with a lot of maturing and learning to do. I’d say she is off to a pretty decent start. Now she has learned to feel the sting of criticism of her heart and mind and to keep on going, which I feel positive she will do. I think it likely she will eclipse you and I.

    Kathleen, I believe I know where you are coming and I understand that place. I get it myself when I see people go into Native communities I am familiar with, where I experience the laughter as well as the tears, and then just make everybody look like they are nothing but grim, hopeless and drunk. It just makes me angry. You are measuring her essay against your own experience and what you see in the essay can not measure up to your life experience. In my own comments, knowing that Ruth Prieto herself is Mexican, is living in the US, sees, feels and thinks about the life around her and so came up with an idea to make a statement about one aspect of that life and then set out to do it, I tried to address my words to whether or not she said what she wanted to say.

    I think she did.

    And now I think I should probably follow the example of Mike’s self-imposed, regularly broken injunction and stop commenting on these essays myself. I should just sit back and enjoy them, maybe say congratulations and leave it at that. It takes too much time and really, what can I add? I will adopt your injuction. I will probably break it, just as you do.

    You and I – we are just weak human beings who love photography.

    You and me too, Kathleen – with the added bonus of loving cats – another love we share with David.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    I love cats too…

  • JOHN !!!
    Wow, that’s a masterpiece of a lens actually…
    My whole theory about zooms gone away ..4 times better glass resolution than HD?
    Great job from canon , love that Red…

  • Yes, Civi! It’s true, you do. I should certainly have stated:

    “another love we share with David and Civi…” And a few others here as well, I strongly suspect.

  • Frostfrog…

    In my opinion I believe you should keeping posting comments about essays. You have a very nice way of expressing your opinions and feelings., ,

  • a civilian-mass audience

    thank you FROSTY …and whatever PAUL just said !!!

    PANOS wrote:
    “JOHN !!!
    Wow, that’s a masterpiece of a lens actually…”

    wow,EVOLUTION !!!
    I can go to sleep now.Goodnight from Beautiful Grecolandia
    I LOVE U ALLLL…more reports,please…

  • Frostfrog:

    You are very kind and generous of spirit. I have thought a lot about Ms. Prieto´s essay and I will say that my big mistake was reading, as John so succinctly put it, “the blah”. If she hadn´t written all that stuff about xenophobia and social change i would have been fine with whatever the photos depicted as long as they were decent photos.

    Immigrants are just like everyone else. The difference is they have moved from one country to another. Some are saints, some are sinners. Some are escaping persecution others prosecution. Some are just along for the ride cuz going to the US is sort of a coming of age thing you just do. They are capable of truly great things, ordinary things or utter scumbag things. Just like all people. They do not sit around their apartments scowling most of the time any more than anyone else does.

    Ms. Prieto had access, exercised artistic license and then attached some reasonable sounding blah. She´s not guilty of anything. That she´s also Mexican was no more of a guarantee of a revealing, enlightening or accurate portrayal than it would be if you as an Alaskan attempted the same project. There is a huge gaping breach between indigenous immigrants stacked ten to an apartment and a young lady who is able to study at ICP for a year. My bad was I took her at her word and held her to a very high standard. I gave her no leeway for age, relative inexperience and/or whatever baggage she may have brought with her into the project. Her stated objective is so urgent, timely and personal that i followed that rainbow to a teaspoonful of gold and then cried foul long and loud like she had deliberately deceived me. Silly me!


    If no one comments on essays than there will be no dialogue, no observations, no reason to be here. I came back because of the dialogue. It´s great to see the energy no matter how we might disagree. You are so astoundingly articulate that i would be saddened more than i could say if you drop out of the essays. Yes, it takes a huge amount of time but i get so much out of everything everyone says under an essay. Even those whose comments are so cryptic (Imants) i´m left wondering WTF? And honestly? I can´t say i have ever had quite the understanding of the word “xenophobia” as i now have. So, haha on me, i think Ms. Prieto accomplished her goal! In a reverse psychology sort of way of course.


  • a civilian-mass audience

    We are almost 100…AKAKIEEE…

    we have a Street fighter,KATIEE…we are really going fast !!!Beer anyone?

  • a civilian-mass audience

    PANOS, I think it’s time to come back…Greece needs you!

    ok,no more beers for you though :)))))))))))))

  • a civilian-mass audience

    danmed it…11:29 minutes…you are definitely Greek…hihii,we don’t know when to stop :)))))))))))

    and that’s why, the sky is the limit …and beyond…!!!

  • I’ve always wondered how you all are seeing the post count in the threads…

    Good light, all.


  • Oh, I think I see. you just go back to the start….

  • Which means…

    YES! WOOHOO! 100!!


    Had a good long holiday weekend, with the exception of fighting off a summer cold. People on the house and deck Monday for a bit of fiesta and cookout. Life is good.

    Hope everyone is getting ready for summer…LOOK3 is around the corner! Our own Kerry Payne is opening in DC! Lots to do and see….


Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.