PHO704 Week 7: Who Buys Photography? Part II

Gemma Fletcher

Gemma Fetcher’s presentation (Fletcher 2020) was full of energy and exciting in how it revealed photography as a tool for discovery and an interface with wider cultural issues. That makes photography much more worthwhile than simply a camera and a print. I also picked up from her these points:

  • Focus intently on what you want to say and never forget to question the cultural assumptions that have influenced you and which may sit unexamined in your images.
  • Nurture an everyday commitment to ‘just showing up’ and practise, practise, practise.
  • Collaboration is vital. One needs to build relationships even without the expectation that anything might come from them. Art directors, for example, are constantly looking for new photographers to work with. That is part of their job. They should be keen to meet but you need to approach them in the right way. One can treat the first meeting as a ‘chemistry check’. You are trying to build an ongoing, intimate relationship and that can take time. A one-off approach to work can be self-defeating and is, arguably, exploitative. It is certainly not collaborative.

Fletcher referenced an article on Viviane Sassen in connection with photography’s powers of discovery and means of engaging with wider social and cultural issues. In Sassen’s own words:

‘It’s so important to allow yourself the freedom to be truly creative. Experimentation is central to my practice. … I feel like I’m always solving little puzzles or making combinations … It’s all just trial and error. I’m always looking for that little bit of magic. …You need to photograph every day, make stuff every day and not be precious about it’ (Fletcher 2018).

This is really important to hear.

Amy Simmons

Amy Simmons on ‘Commercial Considerations’ (Simmons 2020) was a tight and helpful presentation. Even though I have no wish to become a commercial photographer in advertising, the ideas and methods discussed are applicable to improving one’s practice in almost any field. For example, I had not realized how complex and painstaking the commercial commissioning process is, and how all of it depends on collaboration and teamwork. Unless one is prepared to work as part of a team, there is no way forward.

Simmons helpfully provided a list of key points to remember when putting one’s work out there and I hope I remember them.

  • Find out who your main potential clients are and who is the correct contact at each one.
  • Send professional emails with full links and embedded images to save the recipient work and time.
  • Send printed content to potential contacts, perhaps postcards with one’s details on the back. Others will see them and big agencies often keep a database of postcards and other printed material to consult later.
  • Arrange portfolio views if possible. Nothing beats meeting in person but you need to prepare for it and research the client’s activities, so that you can demonstrate some commitment. Do not be afraid to ask for critique.
  • Attend events and private views in your chosen industry. It is a good way of starting to network and of discovering who the key industry people are. Some big advertising agencies have private galleries, so find out if it might be possible you show your work there.
  • Take part in industry charity exhibitions. It is a good way to become involved and to become better known.
  • Conduct business professionally and respond promptly to emails and phone calls.
  • Be yourself (despite the pressure) and let your passions shine through. Do not try to fake it since that never works.

This is a very useful list. A second helpful list in Simmons’ presentation was of the key points to remember when assembling and presenting a portfolio of work. This is so helpful in almost any context.

Peer-to-Peer Webinar

I enjoyed this very much. An online course can be difficult without personal contact and I welcome contact. Just getting to know one’s peers a little better is a pleasure in itself. I felt there was a good exchange of ideas in a relaxed atmosphere. It was pointed out to me that my research project could be of a city at night anywhere and so might my project be enriched if I did not feel I had to tie it so closely to Oxford? I admit I had not though of that and it is an idea well worth further consideration. So, overall, a win and I hope everyone felt so.

References

FLETCHER, Gemma. 2020. ‘Guest Lecture with Gemma Fletcher’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/3df3c9f0d8bf002ba92667d57e8da87398cc8490-1603910860195/capture/ [accessed 4 Nov 2020].

FLETCHER, Gemma. 2018. ‘Viviane Sassen on Creativity and Experimentation’. British Journal of Photography [online]. Available at: https://www.1854.photography/2018/07/viviane-sassen-on-creativity-and-experimentation/ [accessed 4 Nov 2020].

SIMMONS, Amy. 2020. ‘Week 7: Presentation – Commercial Commissions with Amy Simmons’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-7-presentation-commercial-commissions-with-amy-simmons?module_item_id=43404 [accessed 4 Nov 2020].

PHO704 Weeks 5-6: Work in Progress, and Tarkovsky

For my work in progress over the past two weeks I have continued to explore the themes expressed in Tarkovsky’s films Solaris (Tarkovsky 1972) and Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979). These are that one is leaving the normal, everyday world behind and entering a ‘zone’ of alterity and strangeness, in my case in the world of the city after dark. The zone is strange because a full understanding of it is hidden from us. We have no understanding of the agency at work in the zone, or even whether there is one.

In Solaris, the scientists aboard a space station are unable to tell whether the apparently intelligent ocean on the planet of Solaris is trying to help them, hinder them, punish them or simply express itself. The ocean remains a mystery and the indeterminacy of their situation is slowly driving the scientists mad. In Stalker, a similar situation applies but with a further development. Those who reach a special room in the centre of a mysterious Zone whose origins are unclear are given whatever their heart desires. The frightening reality is that we may well be unaware of what we truly but unconsciously desire, and if our deepest desire is given to us that knowledge now made conscious may destroy us. In the film, a stalker called Porcupine reaches the room and is granted money. Soon afterwards, he commits suicide.

Much of Stalker is shot in a half light through frames, doorways and windows or along tunnels. These are all portals and are ideas I need to explore in my practice, but the film asks us to question whether these are portals to another world or in fact to our own unconscious. The film therefore questions not only agency but the whole idea of what we think of as the individual, personality and free will. Once we are parted from our normal, everyday world, we may well discover that these ideas are much more fluid and indeterminate than we suppose. We are all two selves, Tarkovsky suggests: the ego, and something else, something we will never fully understand.

I am currently thinking about how these powerful ideas might affect my research project. They are surely going to affect story and narrative (which are not the same thing). The apparent story of my research project is of the city of Oxford, but the real story is much more likely to be the complicated uncertainty of what it means to be human. There are no certainties, just the eerie mysteries that Tarkovsky so eloquently explored. One question that now arises is that if I do not fully understand myself, how can I ever be more than the classic unreliable narrator of my own story?

Clicking on an image in the gallery will produce a larger, lightbox view.

References

TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1972 Solaris. [Film].

TARKOVSKY, Andrei. 1979. Stalker. [Film].

Figures

Figures 1-10. Mark CREAN. 2020. From: Silent City. Collection of the author.

PHO704: Nick Knight: Roses From My Garden

I have finally been to see this exhibition by the fashion photographer Nick Knight (Knight 2020 A). The images (which literally are photographs of roses from Knight’s garden) are inspired by the work of 16th and 17th century still life painters like Jan Brueghel the Elder and Jan van Huysum. So this is an exhibition that is both painterly and traditional in a classic sense and modern at the same time.

Knight has made an explanatory video of the exhibition and of the process of creating and finally printing the images (Knight 2020 B):

While I love Knight’s images for what they are, the things that interest me about this exhibition from the point of view of current coursework are these:

  1. Mindfulness
    Knight spends hours, sometimes, choosing and arranging his blooms, contemplating them from different angles, thinking about composition and watching the light change across his arrangements. There is quiet, patient attention here, a reminder that really good images do not come from thinking that one can stroll in, snap away and wrap in half an hour. Absorption in the process matters, just as it did for the painters whose art Knight is following.
  2. Simplicity
    The ‘studio’ is Knight’s kitchen. The light is all natural, from windows – no other lights were used. The only props are his own glass vases. This is an object lesson in how a little can be all you need.
  3. Modernity
    All images are made with an iPhone, nothing else. Knight’s workflow consists of making an iPhone image, running a copy through Instagram filters for colour changes and tonality, then sending both files to a professional retouching studio. There, the files are combined, sharpened (and I would guess exposure curves are adjusted), enlarged hugely to a final print size of 8 ft or more, then retouched again to remove artefacts and blemishes from the enlargement process. The results were printed in California, proof images were marked up by Knight, there was more retouching and proofing, and at last a final image was made.

This combination of classic still life art and the most modern technology, knit together with painstaking attention to detail, is intriguing. The result strikes me as very effective, bringing to a different genre Knight’s mastery of light, tonality and composition from his many years in fashion photography.

As Knight has pointed out, one needs to judge these images on their own terms. The brushstrokes and washes of traditional painting have been replaced by their new digital equivalents rather than omitted or forgotten. It is noticeable that the images have not been enlarged to be ‘sharp’ and indexically accurate but to be rich, luscious and painterly. From close-up the images can look blurred and indistinct but from about 8-10 feet away they look perfect.

Nick Knight 2019
Fig. 1: Nick Knight 2019. From the exhibition Roses From My Garden.

A final lesson is in humility. I was fortunate enough to meet Nick Knight who was there, at his own exhibition, on a cold wet Wednesday, miles from home and months now after the opening, surrounded by hordes of children and National Trust visitors at Waddesdon Manor. And yet he was happy to talk and explain his art to anyone who asked. I think that shows awesome dedication and a willingness to share. Knight said to me that today ‘is a very exciting time to be in photography’. Partly that is because of the new possibilities that technology now allows, but partly it is because there are inspiring figures like Nick Knight out there to show the way.

References

KNIGHT, Nick. 2020 A. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.

KNIGHT, Nick. 2020 B. ‘Roses from My Garden’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvaU7rtV9LI&t=237s [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. Nick KNIGHT. 2020. From: Nick Knight. 2020. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.

 

PHO704 Week 5: Turning Professional

This continues my previous post and covers some of the things I would need to know if I wanted to become a professional commercial photographer.

The Legal Stuff

It is clear that to turn professional I would need to acquire a working knowledge of contract law, rights and obligations, and typical industry contracts. The documents available on the AOP website are a good place to start (Association of Photographers 2020). I have applied for membership.

I would also need to acquire a working knowledge of how images are typically bought, sold and leased, and with what kind of deals concerning territorial and reproduction rights. A couple of useful fees calculators have been suggested, on the Getty Images and the AOP websites.

I would need to obtain and carry release forms. These could be useful almost anywhere. A professional photographer has recommended a release form app to me, Easy Release, which means forms can be available on one’s iPhone or tablet. Useful when in the field.

Finally, it would be important to take out proper insurance, if and when appropriate.

Easy Release
Fig. 1: Easy Release, a model release app designed for smartphones and tablets.

Fees and Charges

‘How much am I worth?’ is not a question I find easy. The commercial photographer Ron Timehin offers some helpful suggestions (Timehin 2020). In any potentially awkward conversation, one can start by asking whether there is a budget available for the work. If the answer is ‘yes’, one can take the upper hand by saying something like, ‘My normal day rate is £350, how does that fit with your budget?’ According to Timehin, in 2020 £300-£400 per day is a good rate for beginners, and this should include curation and post-production time too. With successful commissions, he says, one should be able to increase one’s day rate annually.

Another overview of current conditions I have found helpful is Sean Tucker’s recent video Pricing Your Photography and Finding Clients (Tucker 2020).

When to Say Yes and When to Say No

If you are trying to earn a living, working for nothing is hardly attractive but it can still be tempting. Ron Timehin has said that he only takes on assignments when they fulfil at least two of three criteria (Timehin 2020):

  • Financial gain
  • Educational interest
  • Passionate or experiential attraction

Timehin says that exposure (i.e. publicity) can be a fourth reason, but that one has to be very careful. ‘Exposure’ is often used as an excuse by people who don’t want to pay for something and who in consequence will value what you do at nothing. The first three criteria are much more important.

Agents

Looking at representation by a photography agency would come towards the end of the process of becoming a professional photographer, at least in my case. Unless I can give a consistently professional impression, why would any agent want me on their books at all? If I did opt to have an agent, then I would need to research which agencies specialize in the kind of genres I am active in. Agents can offer much more than one might think (Pfab 2020), so they are not to be disregarded.

Professional Advice

Knowing a specialist law firm or two would be helpful if only for advice. One suggested is Swann Turton.

An accountant is important in my view, if one can be afforded. A good accountant will help one to maximise return on investment and minimise taxes as well as deal with the authorities. Estimating and invoicing using proper forms is important, so these must be obtained perhaps in the first instance from the AOP. If enough business comes in, then accounting software would soon become necessary.

And all this before writing the first emails, pitching to a client or making the first exploratory cold call! It is easy for the work required to seem forbidding, but if broken down into separate steps and taken one item at a time, I am sure it can be done.

References

ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. ‘AOP’. The Association of Photographers [online]. Available at: https://www.the-aop.org/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘Week 5 Live Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/15c46b7e7981013e41de8a43f4b0f0fa57259353-1603738095776/capture/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2020. ‘Pricing Your Photography and Finding Clients’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36G3xKe-dCE [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. APPLICATIONGAP. 2O2O. ‘Easy Release (Pro) – Model Release App’. From:  APPLICATIONGAP. 2O2O. ApplicationGap [online]. Available at: https://applicationgap.com/apps/easyrelease/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PHO704 Week 5: Who Buys Photography?

This has been a good week, now that I am starting to consider the commercial aspects of the different genres within the wide field of photography.

However, there are a lot of things I would need to sort out before I could expect anyone to buy my photography. While I do not wish to become a commercial photographer, all the topics are an excellent way of improving my practice and, as they say, getting my act together.

The following are the main things to have struck me, following the course’s Live Lecture this week (Pfab 2020) and my reading of Scott Grant’s The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Grant 2016). It is by no means a complete list.

The Market

Decide where I stand. In my case the genres are social documentary, editorial and Fine Arts.

Research the customers for those markets such as agencies, galleries, magazines and other publications. Find out who the commissioning editors and influencers are. Seek out workshops and events in this area. One cannot start networking without meeting people.

Start to learn about the main players are and how they operate. To some extent, that can by done by reading interviews (e.g. Ryan 2020) or checking for interview videos on YouTube. It can make a real difference when contacting someone if you can say you really liked their recent article, or book, or interview, etc. It shows interest and research.

Marketing Oneself

Assemble a creditable portfolio, printed and online. Ensure that it contains relevant work that reflects where I stand in the market.

Assemble a website. For now I will continue to use the Adobe Portfolio system because it is fairly easy and well organized.

Establish a business account on Instagram and learn how to get the best from the platform when treated as a business. Look at other forms of social media on the same basis, such as FaceBook and LinkedIn.

Have some business cards printed. These are extremely useful in many circumstances. They are not only part of being professional but also part of being sincere when given to people one has met on the street and asked to photograph, for example.

Establish a consistent tone and format for all communications, including email. This is professional etiquette, but it also helps a client acquire a better idea of who they are dealing with.

Branding

Branding can be a helpful discipline. I have learned a lot from working through two series on LinkedIn Learning (Boyd 2020, Pedersen 2017).

Branding obliges one to identify essentials: it focuses on exactly what I can offer, what values I have, and what overall mission statement I can provide to explain myself. Values (ethics, what matters to someone) are easily overlooked but important. It feels good to work ethically and keep to an industry code of conduct. Values may be particularly important to some clients, too, such as those involved in sustainability and the climate crisis, or difficult social questions and civil rights.

There are several other topics to cover from this week, but for the sake of brevity I will include those in a separate post.

References

BOYD, Drew. 2020. ‘Branding Foundations’. LinkedIn Learning [online]. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/branding-foundations-2/building-a-successful-brand?u=56738929 [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

KOWENHOVEN, Bill. 2014. ‘Interview with Kathy Ryan’. HotShoe international (187), [online]. Available at: http://www.hotshoeinternational.com/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PEDERSEN, Lindsay. 2017. ‘Create a Brand Strategy’. LinkedIn Learning [online]. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/create-a-brand-strategy/tailor?u=56738929 [accessed 5 Oct 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘Week 5 Live Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/15c46b7e7981013e41de8a43f4b0f0fa57259353-1603738095776/capture/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2016. The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography. 1st edn. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

PHO704: Gregory Halpern

I have been greatly enjoying the work of the American photographer Gregory Halpern. His practice strikes a lot of chords with me, particularly in terms of my current practice and research interests.

Three main things draw me to Halpern.

The first is Halpern’s understanding of the uncertain, slippery nature of documentary photography and his gradual move away from it and into an approach with a greater awareness of fantasy and fiction.

‘Over the years I’ve become less interested in documentary and more interested in the space between fiction and non-fiction, which sometimes feels like Surrealism to me. It became most obvious when I was working on ZZYZX, which starts with contemporary Los Angeles but sort of builds a semi-fictional world out of the city. That interest has continued, and the more I’ve thought about photography’s slippery relationship to “truth,” the more fascinated I’ve become in how photographic precision and Surrealism are not contradictory. Andre Breton argued that Surrealism’s goal was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”’ (Smyth 2020).

Halpern talks of building a ‘a semi-fictional world’ out of contemporary Los Angeles in his book ZZYZX (Halpern 2016). This is close to what I am now trying to do in my project on the city of Oxford, Silent City. I also like Halpern’s allusion here to Surrealism (and elsewhere to Magical Realism). The surreal is often formed by an unexpected conjunction of opposites, or by the unexpected presence of that which does not belong or by a sense of the inexplicable because agency and explanation are withheld. One thinks of Man Ray’s photograph Self Portrait with Gun (1932) or of Dali’s painting The Persistence of Memory (1931), for example. This is the territory of the uncanny, the weird and the eerie which forms part of my research. See Figs 1-4.

Figs 1-4: Gregory Halpern 2016-2020. Social documentary becomes steadily more descriptive of a ‘semi-fictional world’ that allows the ‘chaos and contradictions’ of the world to speak for themselves (Smyth 2020). Click on an image for a larger, lightbox view.

The second reason I am drawn to Halpern’s practice is his willingness to rest in uncertainty and instead allow the ‘chaos and contradictions’ of the world to speak for themselves. Halpern does not try to pretend that in apparently documentary images he is ever offering more than a subjective view.

‘What’s interesting to me about the world is its chaos and contradictions, the way opposites can be so beautiful in relation to each other. I like how you can be attracted and repelled by something at the same moment. I want my images to create cognitive dissonance. If I feel that a sensation caused by an image is singular in nature—awe, beauty, dread, for example—I wind up finding the image to be manipulative, and unfaithful to the contradictory natures of reality. I think we underestimate our viewers’ and ability to read the work.

‘For me, what makes photography such an exciting and troubling artform in general is the deception and tension hard-wired into it, the difficulty of defining its slippery relationship to truth. A photograph has potential to be much more objectively truthful or factual than, say, a painting, but painting is more honest about its intentions and possibilities’ (Bourgeois-Vignon 2018).

If photography is ‘never entirely fiction or non-fiction’, however, then what does a photograph really show? I would suggest that what it always shows are traces, some vivid and some faint, but traces of what? Halpern suggests that the world (and the image) are too complex to be reducible to a set of perfectly indexical facts and that what instead all images confront us with is ‘a rightfully impenetrable thing’. It is up to the viewer of make sense the image and any attempt by the artist to impose a meaning is false and unwelcome.

‘Photographers have a way of organizing/simplifying the chaos that is the world around us. And it is said that photography is uniquely suited to “reflect” the world around us, but what if our surroundings are complex to the point of being visually and verbally indescribable? That conundrum is the reality I want to reflect, with the creation of a rightfully impenetrable thing’ (Magnum Photos 2020).

The third reason I am drawn to Halpern’s practice is his interest in the photobook as his primary mode of expression.

‘I love the space between images. The things that happen when you turn the page, when you are looking at a new image with the ghost of the previous image lingering in your mind… I love the feel of a being swept up, as if by a stream, by a book of photographs. I love the introduction to Rinko Kawauchi’s book Illuminance, in which David Chandler writes this beautiful and simple meditation on books in general: “There is something primal in the act of opening a book for the first time. That moment of expectation, that prospect of discovery, however dulled or wearied, is still there each time we take a new book in our hands. At our most innocent and instinctive, we are prepared to be changed in some way by what we are about to see”’ (Bourgeois-Vignon 2018).

The lesson here with any photobook is painstaking care in curation and sequencing so that the images flow one into another but, crucially, without losing sight of the overall intent of the whole work. As Halpern says of ZZYZX, his book on Los Angeles, ‘I wanted the pictures to evoke something simultaneously contemporary and ancient, a response to the Los Angeles of the moment, but also something not so literal. I wanted the space to also be somewhat mythical, the timeline somewhat Biblical’ (Bourgeois-Vignon 2018).

In my own practice I am not seeking to be Biblical, and I am certainly not trying to portray something on the epic scale of Los Angeles, but increasingly Halpern’s approach is the intent behind my current research project. That, and the intent David Company found in Rut Blees Luxemburg’s night photography practice:

London a Modern Project … used the visual estrangement of night photography to depict anonymous architecture. Motorway flyovers, tower blocks, car parks and garages were transformed into surfaces revealing social structures and urban behaviour’ (Company 2012: 108).

References

BOURGEOIS-VIGNON, Anne. 2018. ‘Power and the Camera: Gregory Halpern Talks Intuition, Reflection and Representation’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/gregory-halpern-profile-intuition-representation/ [accessed 18 Oct 2020].

CAMPANY, David. 2012. Art and Photography. Abridged. London: Phaidon.

HALPERN, Gregory. 2018. Confederate Moons. Oakland, CA: TBW Books.

HALPERN, Gregory and Clément CHÉROUX. 2020. Le the Sun Beheaded Be. New York: Aperture Foundation.

HALPERN, Gregory. 2016. ZZYZX. London: MACK.

MAGNUM PHOTOS. 2020. ‘Gregory Halpern’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/gregory-halpern/ [accessed 18 Oct 2020].

SMYTH, Diane. 2020. ‘Gregory Halpern: Let the Sun Beheaded Be’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/let-the-sun-beheaded-be/ [accessed 18 Oct 2020].

Figures

Figure 1: Gregory HALPERN. 2016. ‘Wicker chairs overlooking downtown LA’. From: Gregory Halpern. 2016. ZZYZX. London: MACK.

Figure 2: Gregory HALPERN. 2016. ‘Blue Tarp Smiley Face’. From Gregory Halpern. 2016. ZZYZX. London: MACK.

Figure: Gregory HALPERN. 2020. ‘Guadeloupe’. From: Gregory Halpern and Clément Chéroux. 2020. Let the Sun Beheaded Be. New York: Aperture Foundation.

Figure 4: Gregory HALPERN. 2018. [Untitled]. From: Gregory Halpern. 2018. Confederate Moons. Oakland, CA: TBW Books.

PHO704: Finding One’s Voice

The exhibition Young Rembrandt at the Ashmolean Museum (Ashmolean 2020) has proved a fascinating insight into the process by which an artist finds their voice.

It begins with Rembrandt as a teenager and ends with his first successes in his twenties. Rembrandt was preternaturally gifted as an artist but what becomes clear is that the interests and motifs that would later come to define the ‘Rembrandt look’ are still evident, if in embryo, in his earliest rough sketches and student works. He always had his voice. What he had to do was find it.

There is the interest in and sympathy for the elderly and infirm. There is the fascination with texture, whether that of aged skin or of a richly embroidered cloak. Exotic clothes, turbans and jewellery were always an interest, as often were dogs. There is an intense focus even in student works on the emotional dynamics of the scene, and there is the increasingly masterful use of light and shadow to define the points of interest and demarcate the frame, what would later become known as ‘Rembrandt lighting’. These all appear even if a work is a rather clumsy early attempt or is in a style (perhaps a student exercise) one would not normally associate with Rembrandt. See Figs. 1-3 for some examples.

This makes clear that finding one’s voice as an artist or photographer is a process, and that it might pay to analyse one’s work (or photographic archive) over the years to see where one’s interests really lie and what emotions, motifs and ideas emerge in one’s work more frequently than others. It is also a process that requires hard work. Even someone as gifted as Rembrandt took 10-15 years to master his craft and fully find his voice.

There is also a good point to be made here about art and commerce. Rembrandt was a ‘professional’ in modern terms. He was someone who depended on his art for a living and who understood not only painting but the business of painting. He wasted nothing. Ideas were kept as sketches or examples of tropes that could be deployed later as details in larger oil paintings. He collaborated with others, such as professional print-makers, art-dealers, wealthy patrons like Constantijn Huygens and fellow artists like Jan Lievens. He sought out props such as shields and swords, some of which recur in his works. He would take an idea and develop from it not only a painting but sketches and the basis for an etching, then alter his ideas again to pull out details for smaller, separate etchings. Blank areas of larger copper etching plates were cut out and reused for small-scale studies.

When one looks at Rembrandt’s working methods, and of course at the later, mature portraits of merchants and grandees, all of which were commissioned, then any distinction between art and commerce simply vanishes. It was all the same mindstream.

References

ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM. 2020. ‘Young Rembrandt’ [exhibition]. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum. Exhibition from 24 February – 1 November 2020: Young Rembrandt.

Figures

Figure 1. Rembrandt Harmenszoon VAN RIJN. 1628. The Artist’s Mother, Head and Bust. Ashmolean Museum.

Figure 2. Rembrandt Harmenszoon VAN RIJN. 1626. The Baptism of the Eunuch. Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht.

Figure 3. Rembrandt Harmenszoon VAN RIJN. 1632. Bearded Old Man. Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

PHO704 Week 4: The Current Commercial Environment

There is one thing to get out of the way to begin with concerning this week’s coursework. I have always thought the distinction between art and commerce was false, when not simply ludicrous and pure snobbery. What matters is respect – for oneself, the client, the images and anyone else involved. The task is to deliver the best one can, according to the brief and in the way most appropriate to the nature of the brief. That way, one is aiming squarely at the intended audience no matter how it is classified.

While I have no ambition to become a professional photographer, it is clear that much is to be gained by studying the subject and considering what professionalism means. For me, this is rather like clearing out an attic. One must sort through a great deal of lumber, discard what is not wanted or appropriate, polish up what one wants to keep and can work with, and learn to focus on the key pieces from the pile that really matter.

There are many different kinds of professional photography. Scott Grant identifies ten different specialisations (Grant 2016 A: 60) and there are many minor ones in addition. Specialisation is common to many fields and it is easy to see why. Often it is the only way to follow a passion, acquire the knowledge required to master one’s field, build a personal network of the people who matter in that field, and in consequence become known as someone worth employing, whether the field is medicine, science, publishing or photography.

The suggestion is to ask myself where I fit in with that? Scott Grant has some useful suggestions and practical ideas to offer in The Essential Guide to Student Photography (Grant 2016 A). What I need to do is ask myself, ‘What Is My Photographic Voice?’, if I have one, and identify (or simply list) the things I like and care about, the things that influence me, the emotions I tend towards, even the colours and visual patterns I tend towards. A study of my archive will help with that. All this will include researching the work of other photographers, of course.

For now, my experience tends towards social documentary and event photography, with a side-line in wildlife or at least the natural world. I lack skills in portrait photography and were I turning professional then I would seek to acquire them. None of this means social documentary and portrait photography would be the only specialisation available to me but it might be somewhere to begin. However, a careful look at the risks and rewards of any specialisation is important. Here today but potentially gone tomorrow? See Hadland on the risky future of photojournalism (Hadland et al 2016).

There are two other sides to professionalism, however. The first are the qualities required to sustain oneself as a professional. Scott Grant has listed them as follows (Grant 2016 B):

    1. You need to be able to take rejection, rejection and more rejection of your work and still stay positive.
    2. You need to be consistent in your image making.
    3. You must have the ability and confidence to create narrative.
    4. You must be able to solve problems through visual language.
    5. You must always give the client what they ask for, what they didn’t (but works best) and what you know to be the strongest image (that may or not fulfil the brief).
    6. You must be able to talk about your work eloquently and with passion.
    7. You need to understand the position of the client/curator/enabler.
    8. You must be open-minded, culturally aware and interested in stuff!
    9. You must never believe the hype but always understand the hype.
    10. You must never give in or up.

In short, one must be resilient, adaptable and creative enough to find solutions to the problems clients may set. They are, after all, hiring you in the first place to solve a problem they have. However, it is important to add some other things to Grant’s list. Financial literacy is vital in running a business and, today, so is the ability to market oneself effectively, identify clients, understand branding and acquire a sure grasp of social media and other marketing channels. Collaboration, teamwork and diplomacy in one’s business dealings are vital too. It is a long list!

Another side of professionalism is simply understanding how an industry works. So the question then is, ‘How does the photography business actually work?’ As Scott Grant points out, ‘Photography as a business is incredibly rewarding creatively, but it does have guidelines, rules of engagement and expectations of the photographer’ (Scott 2016 A). This is all a process of learning.

Some of those guidelines and rules of engagement have been touched on in this week’s coursework, for example, the basics of how photo agencies like Getty Images work and the differences between flat rates and royalties. There are of course a great number of other things to learn and each specialization within photography will call for different ones. These could be familiarising oneself with the many different specialists involved in a fashion shoot, from props to make-up, and managing a team. Or it might be a solid understanding of release forms and their legal implications in documentary photography, or expertise in realistic and fully itemised budgets and costings.

It is clear that among these many skills, knowing how editors work and how to pitch ideas to them is crucial. Emma Bowkett (Bowkett 2017) has been very helpful in this regard, as has Tom Seymour (Seymour 2020) and Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz (Jedrosz 2020). In fact a slide shown by Jedrosz neatly sums up the different roles someone in her own field (documentary photography) must perform.

Jedrosz-1-2020.png
Fig. 1: Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz 2020. Some of the skills required by a documentary photographer.

References

BOWKETT, Emma. 2017. ‘Creative Brief: Emma Bowkett’. The British Journal of Photography 164(7858), 84–5 [online]. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/docview/1920352153?pq-origsite=summon [accessed 14 Oct 2020].

HADLAND, Adrian, Paul LAMBERT and David CAMPBELL. n.d. ‘The Future of Professional Photojournalism’. Journalism Practice 10(7), 820–32.

JEDROSZ, Hanna-Katrina. 2020. ‘Guest Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/6f944108ad67c5daec7f4ba0b772ec39213193f5-1602697725024/capture/ [accessed 16 Oct 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2016 A. The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography. 1st edn. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

SCOTT, Grant. 2016 B. ‘What Makes A Professional Photographer? 10 Observations’. The United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2016/09/03/what-makes-a-professional-photographer-10-observations/ [accessed 15 Oct 2020].

SEYMOUR, Tom. 2020. ‘Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/44e40a05380d0df14d38c59bed78489db86b1e49-1600865116374/capture/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. Hanna-Katrina JEDOSZ. 2020. ‘Some of the skills required by a documentary photographer’. From: ‘Guest Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/6f944108ad67c5daec7f4ba0b772ec39213193f5-1602697725024/capture/ [accessed 16 Oct 2020].

PHO704: Weeks 3-4 Work in Progress

For the moment, my work in progress is taking me to the areas of St Clement’s and West Oxford.

It has been hard to settle this module, but I am finding that things are changing and that a theme (or themes) has emerged.

My reader of Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie (Fisher 2016) is leading me to select images that express something strange or unusual, but not the uncanny in its traditional spooky and noir form. My feeling is that a pure ‘uncanny’ approach has its uses but is too much of a cliche today to make it the only intent in one’s photography. Besides, I looked at the uncanny in a previous module and I would like to progress beyond it.

And in looking for the strange and the unusual, I am slowly detaching from the hard-edged social documentary approach with which I started this whole course. I am now moving more into fiction. This will be the influence of Calvino’s Invisible Cities ( Calvino 1997) which I am reading, but it is also the direction in which I know I need to travel.

Clicking on an image in the gallery will produce a larger, lightbox view.

References

CALVINO, Italo. 1997. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.

FISHER, Mark. 2016. The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater.

Figures

Figures 1-10. Mark CREAN. 2020. From: Silent City. Collection of the author.

 

PHO704 Week 3: Art and Commerce

Art and Commerce is a tricky subject for me, because I have no ambition to become a professional photographer (someone who earns a living from their craft). However, I would like to become someone who photographs more professionally. That is not quite the same thing but it is one of my goals in taking this degree.

I take Felicity McCabe’s point, that there is vastly more to professional photography than simply making a photograph even though that remains at the core: ‘turning up on the morning and actually shooting is like 10% of what you do, maybe 5-10%’ (McCabe 2020). The other 90 per cent, I think, involves five main things:

  • Running a business competently
  • Fully understanding and completing client briefs
  • Good organisation, planning and thinking on one’s feet
  • Marketing oneself with clarity to attract and retain clients
  • Keeping one’s creative skills juicy and well honed

This week’s coursework has been mainly about the last one, creativity through personal projects, and also about how to express one’s creativity and vision through the lenses of the first four items. That means how to stay true to one’s personal style and values while still delivering what the client requires.

I like Felicity McCabe’s stress of the interconnectedness of life, and therefore that nothing need be wasted because ideas or skills acquired in one area can be put to good use in another.

‘Also I think everything that comes from your own mind… If you think all of your projects are like strands, but if it comes from the same brain, it’s basically every single thing that I do is all one big project … it feels like it’s from the same brain … you should stick to your guns, follow your hunches and do what makes you feel happy. … if you are a landscape photographer you might be traipsing through some ex-Soviet area, wondering what you are doing there, but in two years’ time that might get you the job that you are going to love doing, because the ideal is to get commissions doing the things that you like doing, otherwise what’s the point?’ (McCabe 2020).

The photographers I most admire are those who manage to combine all of these elements while still retaining their distinctive style. Among those I would reference are Naheli Muholi and in particular her magnificent portraits such as Ntozakhe II, Parktown (Muholi 2016)  (see Fig. 1), images which derive directly from her work with South Africa’s persecuted gay and transgender communities. I would also reference Nadav Kander whose portraits – for example Tricky II (Kander 2019) in Fig. 2 – recognizably evidence a similar style, colour palette and tonality to his long-format works such as Yangtze, The Long River (Kander 2010) and Dust (Kander 2014).

Zanele-Muholi-Ntozakhe-II-Parktown-Johannesburg-2016
Fig. 1: Zaneli Muholi 2016. Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Nadav Kander 2019. Tricky 11.
Fig. 2: Nadav Kander 2019. Tricky 11.

There are many others. For example, Irving Penn (in particular), William Klein and Saul Leiter all photographed fashion, and successful film directors such as Ridley Scott are well-known for their advertising work at various times. Nick Knight is also known for his fashion work, but currently he is showing Roses from My Garden, an exhibition of flower photography inspired by the work of 16th and 17th century still life painters – and all made using only an iPhone (a double creative challenge, one artistic and the other technical) (Knight 2020).

I do not think I have yet reached a distinctive personal style, but I am working towards that, one of my aims on this course. And since I have almost no professional photography experience, I cannot say that I am a professional either. However, I am working towards that goal, too, at least in terms of going about my practice professionally.

As for personal projects, I can see that those are very important. Following the suggestions of Grant Scott in ‘The Power of the Personal Project’ (Scott 2015), I have embarked on a small personal project called Entropias in addition to my main research project. I will go into that in more detail in the following post.

References

KANDER, Nadav and Will SELF. 2014. Nadav Kander : Dust. Dust. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz.

KANDER, Nadav. 2010. Yangtze, The Long River. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

KNIGHT, Nick. 2020. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.

McCABE, Felicity. 2020. ‘Week 3: Lecture – Felicity McCabe: Sustainable Prospects PHO704’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-3-lecture-felicity-mccabe?module_item_id=43375 [accessed 7 Oct 2020].

Scott, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Scott, G. (ed.) Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/falmouth-ebooks/reader.action?docID=1734212&amp [accessed 7 Oct 2020).

Figures

Figure 1. Naheli MUHOLI. 2016. Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Figure 2. Nadav KANDER. 2019. Tricky II, London.