Monday, January 26, 2015

Traveling Man

Goodbye DC, hello Mississippi. As I sit here on a flight for an out-of-town shoot, I find it so interesting how my mind wanders. I used to get so excited about business trips. Now I just dread the time away from my family. Don't get me wrong... I love what I do. But, there is something amazing about coming home from a job and seeing Benjamin's eyes light up, or instinctively collapsing in bed and snuggling with Tina, even when we are both too exhausted for conversation. So as I sit here, I think about the mundane-- did I lock the door?...did we pay the mortgage?...I really need to start working on taxes. I think about serious matters-- what if something horrible happens on this flight?...should we have life insurance?...what wonderful new things will Benjamin do this month? I have plenty of notes for my shoot that I should read, lots of editing to do, and my eyes could certainly use a rest. But instead, I just ponder life. I wonder if flying has this effect on everyone.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Photojounalism, Editorialized Documentary Photography and Sensationalism

This is a really interesting article, illustrating some interesting exhibits:

But, I'm not sure I agree with the premise.  I think of "documentary" work as still aiming to be unbiased, hence "documenting."  What the author describes seems to be more editorial.  But, it is interesting, and this raises an important question of whether some photography, whether journalistic, editorial, or art, just goes for shock value.

It's human nature, that we all rubber-neck at an accident, even if horrified, because curiosity in the tragic, piques our interest.  At the same time, photographers often feel an obligation to show the world what is happening, without judgement, which in turn may spark some action.  It's a fine line.  In any case, this one is worth a read.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The importance of Good Karma in Photography and Business

Recently my website was the target of an attack by another photographer.  Rather than harp on the technical details of what happened, or why, I figured I would focus on what I think are the root causes and solutions.

We know it's a dog eat dog world out there.  Face it there is a limited amount of work and we are all scrapping for a piece of the pie.  Most of us are upstanding business-people, who do everything on the up and up.  But, there are those that are so bitter about another person's success that they focus all their energy on taking their competition out, rather than improving their own work.

So if something like this happens to you, and believe me if you do well, it will, what recourse do you have... Certainly not to stoop to that level and play petty war games.  I think the best solution is to fight negative energy with positive energy.

I know it sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, but it does work.  On a technical level, if you focus on doing good work, you will build a strong following.  Your happy clients will provide good feedback both e-versions and real-world word of mouth.  And, that will eventually overshadow the false negatives from an embittered competitor.

On psychological level, if you focus all your energy and catching the culprit, your work will suffer, and more importantly, your state of mind.  It's tempting...Believe me, I wanted to cancel my jobs this week and hire the best investigative team to figure this out.  But, the better solution is to fight fire with water, and go do good work. 

Plus, if you feed the ego of the culprit, and let it get to you, they will only continue.  If you not only succeed, but flourish, in the face of their barrage, that person will eventually get bored and move on.

The last point I want to make to any would-be assailants out there, is that we photographers are a community of brothers.  If we destroy each other, the whole ship will go down.  If we hold each other up, have open lines of communication and help each other out, we can all succeed together.

Monday, December 31, 2012

When it *is* OK to work for Free

I just came across a post on a popular business photography blog explaining how there is *never* any justification for providing free photography, no "ifs," "ands" or "buts."  While in general I agree with the sentiment, I think there are exceptions.

Most professional photographers get very angry when amateurs or newbies offer services cheap or free, and justifiably so.  The arguments made by the freebies -- "It's a great way to break in,"  "It's a good way to practice my lighting,"  "It's promotion for my business,"  "I have a day job, and this is just for fun."  Of course every professional photographer knows how ridiculous these arguments are.  We know that once you are categorized as "cheap/free" the rate does not go up.  We know that you are pulling the whole market value down, by lowering clients' expectations.  And, we know that it is the real professionals like us, who will suffer, because some amateurs want to offer a free service.

When I was starting out, thanks to a great mentor, I did charge appropriate rates.  It was difficult to do.  I thought no one would pay so much for someone with so little experience.  The point that was made to me then was that I was offering a service, and guaranteeing a certain level of quality, regardless of my experience.  And the rate must be commensurate with the product.  I didn't tell my clients, "It's free because I'll do a bad job."  Quite the opposite, I told them I would deliver excellent work, maybe even better than those guys with years more experience.  The price should be based on the product, and not what our emotions tell us.

All that being said, there is another situation where I think offering our services for free is justifiable.  Just the other day, I had a job photographing an event for neglected, abused, and abandoned children.  It was hosted by a non-profit organization.  And, while I did get paid this for this job, the money did not come from them.  It came from a major advertising agency that offered pro-bono services to this group.  This was an incredibly rewarding experience for me.  Just seeing how these children's lives had been changed by some of the most basic amenities that I take for granted was very moving.  And, providing images that could help them, even in the most remote way, gave me a great sense of pride.

The experience really changed my outlook.  There are situations where I think doing the right thing and helping to heal the world overrules the laws of good business.  I know this can be a slippery slope.  I know it all too well.  Just the other day, I lost a big job to a major client, because another photographer offered to do it for free.  It's a dog-eat-dog world, and we need to survive.  But, I still think there are times, when we should go out of our way to give back.  It's something worth thinking about anyway, especially this time of year.  Just some food for thought.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What to blog about in a down economy?!?!?

Countless marketing seminars tell us photographers we should use blogs, twitter, facebook, tweetface, or whatever other social media outlet comes next to gain a broader audience.  This is the best way to market, we are told, but we cannot make it look like marketing.  We need to blog about something meaningful and personal to us...something that will get art directors and editors interested in our lives outside of the business of photography...something that will show them what we are really passionate about.

I've always had trouble coming up with something meaningful to say.  I had this blog for years before I felt like I had actually written something personal.  And, that took a trip to Germany, visiting a concentration camp where my grandparents were interned.  I don't do that sort of thing every week.

So, what are we photographers to blog about?  It's especially hard now, when many of us are worried about our bottom lines.  New clients, especially those willing to pay for the value of good photography, are fewer and farther between.  Don't get me wrong, there is work out there, and some photographers are very busy.  But, many of us are scrapping to keep our businesses sustainable.

Amidst the stress of running a business, and often with families to support, we are supposed to somehow come up with some amazing insights about ourselves and show our personal work, all in the name of marketing, but not really...  I recently attended an APA meeting where a very talented photographer said if you aren't working on at least one personal project every few months, you should get out of photography.   Ouch!

I mean sure, I had dreams of traveling the world, covering all the human interest stories that struck my fancy.  But, more often than not, I'm photographing corporate portraits in a law firm.  I do my best to create a very high quality product, but it's not necessarily an experience that's blogworthy.

On the other hand, I have seen many photographers resort to tips on how to find business in a down economy.  To be fair, I'm sure that is something that is real and personal to all of us photographers.  But, if these tipsters were so good at drumming up work, they would probably have something more interesting to write about.

This weekend, I was speaking with a photographer colleague of mine, complaining that the sky was falling, and that I had to do some personal work, something meaningful, something I could write about.  His response.  "Dude you need to find a hobby."  He told me I should separate work and life and enjoy myself a little on the weekends.

That really made me think.  Maybe the problem is not that I have nothing to say, but that I'm trying to hard to say something.  You don't have to be a David Burnett (my personal photography idol by the way), to say something meaningful.   You just have to say what's meaningful to you.  If that's talking about a nice afternoon you spent reading with your wife, so be it.  Speaking of which, I better get going.  I have a date.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


On a recent trip to Germany, I met my future in-laws and discovered the rustic beauty of Bavaria.  The rolling hills.  The stunning lakes.  Countless Beer Gardens.  And, the glorious, wonderful people.  It's a magical place, complete with castles and plump, jolly characters, straight out of the storybooks.  But, hidden just miles from these beautiful sites, is a place that holds a much darker story -- a history that many people would like to forget.

This is Dachau...The first Nazi Concentration Camp.  And, a place both of my grandparents barely escaped with their lives.  This is not another lesson in the horrors of the Holocaust.  There are plenty of those.  This is just my personal story...The story of a descendent of Jewish survivors...The story of my first experience visiting the site where they were robbed of their childhoods.

As we walked, arm and arm, down the long winding path to the camp, my fiance and I were very nervous.  She had been here many times in the past.  But this time was different.  There is a sense of guilt felt by many Germans that anyone else simply cannot understand.  Her family had no involvement with the Nazi party.  And, even though her parents were babies when my grandparents were here, they still apologized to me.  My soon-to-be father-in-law told me he was embarrassed to be a German.

I didn't know how to feel.  The experience had been rather unremarkable so far -- people walking and smiling, the soft sounds of children's laughter in the distance, and a simple sign marking the direction of the memorial site.  Yet I also felt something in the pit of my stomach.  What was I going to see?  Would I be able to handle it?  Would my fiance understand the sadness that might come over me?

Once we entered the camp, it was like sensory overload.  I was just trying to decode everything I saw.   There were no emotions.  Just information gathering.  I tried to fit everything nicely into the puzzle in my head.  "Oh, there's a barrick!, and there's a guard tower" I nudged my fiance.  "This is the big open square where they marched everybody out to sounds of classical music."  She nodded.  I got upset.  "No, no.  Don't you understand how important this is?  My grandparents stood here.  This is where people were lined up, and murdered." 

I felt myself trying to convince her of the gravity of it all.  We entered a barrick and overheard an English tour.  "After the war, the rest of the barricks were burned down to kill the rampant disease.  This is the only one that still stands.  It was a model unit used by the SS to give visitors a false impression that inmates were treated humanely."

"The real units had no toilets.  Inmates would urinate and defecate on the ground."  "Did you hear that,"  I elbowed my fiance.  "Yes," she looked at me somewhat annoyed

We walked outside and I suggested we go look at some of the memorials.  There are plenty there.  Dachau was a camp that held not just Jews, but political prisoners, German resisters, and people of many faiths.  We walked up to a rather strange structure.  It looked like a jumble of metal with no real purpose.  We both commented on how ugly it was.  Then we overheard some passersby discussing the site.

It had actually been created by an artist to depict a common occurrence at the camp.  Prisoners who had given up on survival, starved and depressed, would simply walk into the electrified fence.  If the voltage didn't kill them, shots from the the guard tower would.

Suddenly I felt weak-kneed. And, a flood of emotions came over me.  Until this point, I had tried to convince myself of what I should be feeling.  But, now for the first time, I actually imagined my grandparents standing here.  The despair of their situation.  The hopelessness.  My grandmother often told me the only reason she survived was because she thought she might see her family again.  In reality, they had all been killed.

I looked at my fiance and she was teary-eyed.  Neither of us said anything.  She just took my arm and we walked on.

Before today, it had been been bright, sunny and scorching hot.  I can't explain why it was overcast the one day we chose to visit Dachau.  Cloudy and cool, a soft breeze and gentle mist in the air.  I don't believe in ghosts, or fate.  So, it must have been a coincidence.

We walked around the camp for a while.  My fiance reminded me to take some pictures.  And, I did.  Then we came to the spot I had been dreading.  The showers.  I had heard the stories before.  In college, I took a Holocaust history class, where everything was explained in graphic detail.  Prisoners were told to take off their clothes and enter the showers to clean themselves off.

Once they got inside, the doors were slammed shut, and a gas bomb was slid though a sliding door.  When people realized what was going on, they would claw and fight there way to the top, gasping for air.  Eventually, they would lose control of their bowels, before they would finally succumb.

We stood inside the gas chamber and I felt sick.  I thought I was going to throw up.  I didn't think about what happened there.  I couldn't.  I just felt the raw emotions.

Looking at the way the building was set up, you could see how systematic and well organized everything was.  There were two separate entrances.  The prisoners would enter a waiting room with instructions and benches to hold their clothes.

On the other side of the "shower" room was the crematorium, with a separate entrance for the SS.  The bodies were literally taken out of the gas chamber and shoveled right into the ovens to be cremated.

I don't think there is any way I could have known what I was going to experience at Dachau.  Even now I'm not sure how to explain it.  It's a part of the past that is so far removed from what Germany is today.  The people, the culture, the beautiful landscape.  These are the things that helped shape the wonderful person that I love.  But, Dachau does exist.  A piece of living, breathing history that is real.

Many would like to forget, not because they deny The Holocaust, but because it's easier not remember.  I see things differently.  This is not a sore spot in German history.  This is a sore spot in human-kind.  And, the greatest legacy we can offer, is never to forget.