To Be a Photographer

I have been thinking a lot about all of the hoopla that went on last week at APE. There is definitely something about the blog format that invites that kind of craziness. But there did seem to be a little bit of ‘shoot the messenger’ going on. Let’s be honest, Rob has given us all a lot of advice. Advice can be a funny thing, photographers are often seeking it, but at the same time it can be really annoying. Especially if it is unsolicited. But annoying or not, you still need to sort through what is useful and what is not. For instance in the case of the ‘stalker’ photographer, I really understood Rob’s point. It seems to me that it is common sense not to behave that way. I find that at this moment in my career, it is important to narrow down what is worthwhile and what is worth leaving. So below is my own list of things, that I have either done, had suggested to me, or have seen other people do with success. I am not an expert and I am still trying to make my own way in this art photo world, but perhaps some of it could be useful to others.

Edit, then edit some more, then get someone to help you edit!

The number one secret to photography is editing. If I had a dollar for the all the times I have heard, “Once you have a better edit.” It is the most frustrating thing in the world. I often wonder why those who have the ability to edit, tell you to do it. My thinking is that when you hear the edit comment, the person probably sees potential in your work, but does not feel it is quite 100%. So you must edit and edit and edit some more, until you get a yes. One thing I have noticed with many of the Women in Photography submissions, is how poorly people edit their work. Often I will think the work is a definite no, only to go to the person’s website and find tons of stronger more cohesive images. One thing this separates your work from the crowd is a great sequence of images.

Keep shooting

While it’s tempting to think you have finished a project, most likely you have only scratched the surface. All of the greatest bodies of work, were shot over several years. Nan Goldin did not take 6 months worth of shooting to make The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, so its unlikely that you have a fully realized body of work. I am currently planning a trip to Miami, for this very reason. And I have been shooting my project for over 3 years.

Look at art other than photography

There is a fine balance between knowing what’s out there and getting completely demoralized. I stay away from photo shows when I am making work. But that does not mean you should avoid all art. There are many ways to get inspired. Go to the Film Forum, look at illustration, painting and sculpture. Take up knitting. Start a blog on another subject. Anything that sparks your creative self. Sometimes it is best to take a ‘photo vacation.’ But you should also know what is happening around you.

Only show your best work

If you only have 5 great images, that can stand alone and make a cohesive & developed statement, only show 5. If you have 20, then show 20. If you mix in ‘filler’ images you only dilute the quality of the overall message. So even if you love them, or worked so hard to make them, ditch the images that are not your best. But keep in mind, everyone has different taste. Some images will appeal to some people, there is no way that you can please everyone. So if you have to tailor you edit a bit for different people, so be it.

Don’t give up when you get silence

Curators, gallery owners, editors, are constantly bombarded with work. And a lot of good work. So if you contact someone and don’t hear back, wait a reasonable time and email again. Then wait and send something in the mail. Then wait and call. Then wait and email again. There is a big difference between a short, polite request and the stalker who harassed APE. While I am certainly guilty of doing it, you should not take silence as a personal rejection. Until you get a message saying they have reviewed your work and are passing, it is fine to keep asking. Even if they say no, you can still send them it again when the work progresses. I have heard many stories about how today’s no, became tomorrow’s yes. But always keep in mind, you are asking someone to do something for you. Following basic manners is expected and necessary.

Show your work everywhere that makes sense

A great piece of advice I have received about having success with contacting potential clients is doing your homework. If you shoot great still-lifes, don’t send your work to an editor who specializes in celebrity portraits. The same goes for galleries. If your work is super-conceptual, don’t pick a gallery that show straight photo journalism. I don’t know how many times I have received offers in the mail to get a gas card. I live in New York, have no car and rarely drive. It makes me nuts that they waste so much paper soliciting me. So think about who you are contacting. Does Newsweek’s world editor really need to see your lifestyle photography? Look at galleries artist’s lists, and check out their work. Go to Barnes & Noble and look at all of the magazines. Look at Communication Arts annual, pick Art Directors doing ads they fit your style. If your work makes sense for them, call them up and tell them why.  Oh and it may sound obvious, but make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s.  I once stopped a photog at my old job from sending his work out addressed to “Cathy Ryan.” Nuff said.

Find a job that lets you do what you need

Let’s be honest, getting started in photography is incredibly time consuming, expensive and tough. If you don’t have income you can’t try to get a job. If you can’t get a photo job, you can’t make money. So this means you need another source of funding while you work towards a photo career. This is perhaps the most difficult part of being an artist. There are few well paying jobs that allow you to take off long stretches, leave to go meet an editor or gallery owner, or who want an employee who is actively trying to have another career. New York is a tough place, most jobs demand a lot from their employees. There are way more photo MFA’s than there are teaching jobs. So you are left with a low-paying job or a job which makes you choose between it and your photography. Then there are those who get jobs printing or working for other artists. While right out of school assisting or working for another artist can be a great way to learn, eventually you are in danger of becoming a “printer,” ‘retoucher,” or ‘assistant” for good. This is my current quandary. The only thing I want to do is make images. I recently left my part-time job to take some time to try to get my photo career on track. However, I will not make it long without income. I often have sleepless nights on this subject. Someone recently told me I should be more open to “whoring” myself out, I.E. go the commercial photo route. But that is just as challenging as getting into the fine-art world. There is nothing wrong with getting paying jobs, I’m all for it. You are not a “whore” for shooting for a magazine. This is an out of date notion I think. But no matter genre of photography I pursue, I still have to pay for it – let’s look at the costs.

Website: Anywhere from $150-3000+ depending on if you get a designer, site capacity etc.

Travel: Most projects require some travel. Whether it is renting car (or taking a cab or car service) to drive to and from a location or airline tickets and hotel costs, it adds up. There is a reason we are all dreaming of a Guggenheim. Which to be honest, still would have us camping out, driving or eating trailmix, depending on the length and scope of your project. Check out Timothy Briner’s Boonville blog for an idea of what a project takes.

Photo Supplies: I shoot 4×5, so right away its close to $5 per sheet of film. Then we have printing costs. Leather portfolios run about $350- 500. 11×14 portfolio images can end up being $30 – $70 per, times 40 to 70 images in a book. Oh then there are gallery portfolios, 16×20 prints, presentation boxes, shipping. Oh yes, equipment rental. While I own my own 4×5 camera, which so far I have sunk almost 3 grand into, I can’t begin to afford lens and lights. My average 1 day rental is about $150.

Contests: Where do I begin. I am still appalled by the cost of everything Santa Fe. Most of these contests are used to pay for the organization costs of the people sponsoring them. Wow, I am so glad the artists, who are often desperate, and not making ANY money are paying to support all of these non-profits. The Critical Mass Award I heard, as you moved up in the contest, you had to pay more money. Shouldn’t these places be getting grant money and contributions from collectors, and companies, which they could then use to subsidise art making and help artists in their careers. There has been a lot of chatter on the blogs recently about this subject, and although we all feel the same, I still keep sending $35, spend hours filling out forms and get nothing back. I am going to my first portfolio review next week, I am interested to see what comes of my investment.

Last but not least, Living: Let’s see I live in Metro NYC. Do you really need to hear the numbers. Let’s be honest. Forever 21, Old Navy, and Urban Outfitters are sometimes too pricey for me.

Be a part of the community

To me the #1 best thing about blogging is the amazing relationships I have formed as a result of GG. I get really encouraged every time someone drops a line to say how much they like the blog or my work. And considering how much negativity I have to deal with in my pursuits, it is great to have the support. There are a lot of really talented people blogging. I have really enjoyed going to an opening and seeing a friendly face. Because of GG, I have been lucky enough to meet some great people or be helped out with my career. Andrew Hetherington, Joerg Colberg, Brian Ulrich, Andy Adams, Shane Lavalette, Mrs. Deane, Ofer Wolberger, I heart photograph, Dawn Roscoe, Elizabeth Fleming, Amy Elkins, Jen Bekman, Page 291, Susana Raab, Martin Fuchs, Rachel Hulin, Liz Kuball, Richard Wright, Rob Haggart and many others.

Make great work!

I don’t know how much work I have seen, which was visually stunning or well crafted which had no substance. Or how many statements I have read with a great concept, but then the work is either not quite good enough, or does not communicate the ideas expressed in the statement. Or work that is so derivative it is totally boring. Sometimes it is poorly edited, or sometimes I just feel nothing about it. There are a few basic ingredients in great photography. You must make great images, you must have a reason for making them, and that reason must be communicated to the viewer. And an individual eye is imperative. If your work looks like everyone else’s what reason does anyone have for looking at it.

So these are my 2 cents. I write this as much to remind and push myself as to provide advice. Of course we all struggle to take our own advice, to make it in the extraordinarily competitive world of photography you must be willing to give up a lot.

Women Photographers Part 2

This is part 2 of my earlier post on women in the history of photography. And June 1 we launch, Women in Photography, where you can see the work of more great women artists. Thanks to Dina Kantor, Timothy Briner, Joerg Colberg and others for their suggestions. And Mrs. Deane for a few late additions to the list!

Claude Cahun

Hilda Becher

Madame Yevonde

Maria Austria

Ruth Hallensleben

Eve Arnold

Sandra Eleta

Nan Goldin

Judy Dater

Cindy Sherman

Laurie Simmons

Susan Meiselas

Ruth Orkin

Clarissa T. Sligh

Barbara Kruger

Esther Parada

Betty Hahn

Naomi Savage

Janice Mehlman

Olivia Parker

Maria Cosindas

Bea Nettles

Rosamond Wolf Purcell

Joyce Neimanas

Martina Lopez

Barbara Norfleet

Judith Joy Ross

Barbara Kasten

Sophie Calle

Graciela Iturbide

Donna Ferrato

Penelope Umbrico

Carrie Mae Weems

Nancy Burson

Joyce Tennyson

Annie Leibovitz

Mary Ellen Mark

Ellen Von Unwerth

Marilyn Nance

Sarah Charlesworth

Candida Hofer

Lynne Cohen

Gillian Wearing

Sharon Lockhart

Rene Cox

Rineke Dijkstra

Women in Photography

Well, we are close to launching, Amy Elkins is a force of nature. It is really nice to be working on a project with someone who has such a great attitude. We are still ironing out the site design, but June 1 we should be up & running. We have received many great submissions and hopefully once we are online we will get a lot more.

If you are interested in getting info, go to: Women in Photography. The site’s url will be changing once we launch but for now all the submissions details are there.

I am really excited to be a part of the project because more and more I see the complexity of life for women, not just in photography. For instance, this Sunday’s NY Times had an article which promoted Robert Downey Jr’s new action flick. The article presented him as an overcoming the obstacles success story. Here is a man who spent years damaging himself and his loved ones trapped in the cycle of addition. But now, clean & sober, he is being given every possible chance to get back his acting career. The article lauds him for starting over. I certainly agree that we should not penalize people who suffer from this type of adversity. But it made me think about the challenges I am facing trying to start a new career well past the age most people begin. Instead of spending my 20’s building a career path to success, I spent it overcoming depression and an eating disorder. Recently, it was related to me that someone felt sorry for me, because I was trying to get established in photography at my age. I have to say, it really hurt to hear that. I try very hard to be proud of myself for going back to finish my Bachelor’s well after the age of 18. And for being willing to try to get into such an impossible field. It is not easy to confront one’s own failures and to do something to fix them. But photography is brutal. There are so many talented people, so many young people at there trying to break into the business, that it is difficult sometimes to stay positive. Then I start to consider how women feel who try to back to the work force in their late 30’s & early forties after being stay at home Mom’s. They are likely to find their supervisors 10 years younger than them. How do they relate to their workplace and deal with starting from scratch again. The same goes for even older women re-entering the workforce after a divorce. To be 50 and expected to start at the bottom must not be easy. I watched my mother confront that reality.

My reality is that from the age of twelve, I suffered from an eating disorder and depression which made it very difficult for me to make anything of my life. The overwhelming nature of my body issues made me lose out on a lot of things other people take for granted. While I have been better for many years now, those experiences still live inside of me. I know some people keep all these things to themselves, out of shame, but I feel that I should be proud that I came out of it. Yes, I will probably never be 100% free of the feelings that led to my struggles. Photography has provide me an outlet to see my personal pain, through a cultural lens. The number of women with eating disorders is growing everyday. And there are plenty of women whose obsessiveness with food borders on a full fledged disorder. I know that the criticism I experienced at age 8, about my looks and body as a child model left a lasting imprint on how I viewed myself. But it was not the only factor for me. In the end there are two options for me. To focus on what I lost or to use my experiences in my work. I suppose there are people who find me difficult due to my past. And yes it is my personal struggle. If you have never had to overcome something like this, perhaps is too alien for you to relate to or you feel threatened because you are failing to overcome your own issues. I do notice that the language used for men, when it comes to addition, depression or other things is often, ‘suffering from.’ Whereas the language used for women is ‘victims of.’ What that means I am not sure, but one seems to imply it is a temporary fixable state, while the other is a permanent condition. Once you are categorized as a victim it is hard to shake.

One photographer I love who confronted self-concept and found great freedom in that pursuit was Anne Noggle. She came to photography at age 47, while her name is not very well none any longer, her work prefigures a lot of the cultural issues now facing women. The California Museum of Photography labels her work “Critical Self-Portraiture.” and it has been described as having: “unvarnished directness.” There is a quote in the opening of her book, Sliver Linings, which to me speaks to more than just the artistic process.

The artists life, whatever the medium, whatever the accomplishment, never becomes easier on a day-to-day basis. While the odds of more frequent or continued success may increase, theres little comfort in this knowledge: the possibility of failure right now, this time, seems as great as ever. To cut off comforting everyday contacts, the sort of human transactions that are prompted by unqualified affection rather than superior performance, to voluntarily court opportunities for seeing how signally one can fail, to close ones life into an intense solitude requires great discipline and courage.

My goal with Women in Photography project, is to focus on providing support and opportunities for women of all ages. We are not doing this because we are victims of anything. While our work may not share subject matter, approach or form, we are all connected in our pursuit.

Anne Noggle

Anne Noggle, Face Lift #3

Fiction is Truer than Truth

Thanks to Dawn Roscoe, for sending me a link to this article in Newsweek. It talks about a new picture book by a Florida plastic surgeon designed for ‘Mommies’ to read to their kids to explain their upcoming surgeries. While there is merit in the idea of explaining to kids what is happening, this is a scary way to do it. To legitimize surgery to young children, is to create a new generation of surgery patients. But I fear that all of the T.V. shows and imagery about surgery in the media have already normalized cosmetic surgery so much that the current generation will have no qualms with altering their bodies.

There has been quite an uproar about the article online. I am happy to see that blogs have really picked up the mantle to disseminate this issue. The Newsweek article seems more like a fake paid advertisement than a piece of journalism.

I am not surprised by the book, if you spend any time online investigating surgery, nothing shocks you. What is most interesting to me, is how online articles and ad banners mix together to create new messages. While I would love to think that there are some bored web designers out there being subversive, I fear that the world is starting to lack irony. I have been playing around with web based appropriation for a while. Sometimes people do all your work for you.

Considering how cosmetic surgery is a life-threatening surgery (like any procedure with Anesthesia) could the above ad banner be any more accurate.