Anthony Hernandez, David Maisel, Rania Matar, Meghann Riepenhoff and Hank Willis Thomas are among the 12 photographic artists named 2018 Guggenheim Fellows, according to an announcement from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The fellowships provide grants of undisclosed amounts to support project by artists, scholars, scientists and writers. The foundation selected 173 fellows this year from a pool of more than 3,000 applicants. This year’s fellows in photography are:
Tsar Fedorsky Lukas Felzmann Anthony Hernandez David Maisel Pradip Malde Rania Matar Nicholas Muellner Kristine Potter Meghann Riepenhoff Nadia Sablin Hank Willis Thomas Ian van Coller
Teju Cole, the writer, photographer and photography critic for The New York Times Magazine, was also awarded a fellowship.
Guggenheim Fellows have included Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Jon Lowenstein, Carlos Javier Ortiz, Lyle Ashton Harris, Brenda Ann Kenneally and Maggie Steber. The fellowships were started in 1925. Dorothea Lange was the first photographer to win a fellowship, in 1941.
Why Chronological Timelines Sound Like a Good Idea, But Probably Aren’t
By David Justice
Today’s biggest issue with Instagram is that the timeline is all sorts of messed up. You don’t see posts from everyone you follow, your audience is segmented off and not everyone gets to see your work, and if you scroll too far, posts are 3 days old. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s perfect and everyone is an idiot. That’s not the case at all. I think the frustration is real and deserved, just the end goal isn’t the right answer.
Let’s Talk About the Algorithm
On the posting side: I’m assuming this algorithm follows alongside Facebook’s, which people also don’t like. You share a post, a small group of people who usually like your work see the post, they like it, it gets pushed to more people. And so on and so forth. There’s basically entry gates to your posts.
On the viewing side: You open Instagram and your posts seen are things that you’d probably like (based on previous likes on their profiles) from within the hour. But as you go farther down, it’s not recent posts, but posts half a day earlier, then a day earlier, then 3 days earlier. Instead of seeing posts from 3 hours ago, you’re seeing posts that are tailored to you that you missed. And when you refresh the page, it’s a whole new set of posts and the other ones are basically gone.
It sucks. It makes sense, but it goes too far. For one, it is based off how often you like a particular person or page’s content. Which helps media hubs like Bleacher Report and SLAM Magazine who dominate my feed because I do generally like their stuff. So whenever they post, it’s usually the top of my feed no matter how long ago they posted. But at the same time if you miss a post or two from someone you follow, well, they’re basically gone forever. It’s incredibly flawed.
But when you look at it from a creator’s POV, I like it more than I would chronological posts. And for one reason. People who view my posts at different times than when I post them can still see and like the content. And that’s something that wouldn’t happen in a chronological timeline. Once your post is gone, it’s gone unless people seek out your profile or make their discover page.
Here’s Why Going Chronological Wouldn’t Really Help Engagement
How many people do you follow? Personally I follow around 700-800 people. I try to keep it around there. That’s people I’ve worked with or want to work with, user-submitted editorials that I follow for inspiration, professionals who are much better than me that make me want to quit, celebrities, and media hubs.
In this group of people, let’s say 400-550 post daily. But let’s get real, of that let’s say 450 people. 200 post at least twice a day. So now it’s 800 posts at least. But then you have to add in user-submitted editorials that post ~5 times a day. But that’s not even the largest group of posters. Media Hubs post anywhere from 10-25 times a day. These are the groups like Bleacher Report, Complex, and for some people these would be meme pages and comedy pages. These places can really take up a lot of timeline posts.
Now that we have all those groups, let’s talk about posting times. These 1000+ posts I’d be seeing in a day aren’t going to be posted at different times separated by the same amount of time (every minute to 1.5 minutes over 24 hours). They’re all done around the same time. 9am, 12pm, 6pm, and then intermittently throughout the night. Especially when it comes to NBA highlights, my timeline becomes purely basketball after 7:30pm. So if 15% of all 1000 posts are done at each of these time periods (+- 30 minutes) then that’s about 50% of all posts from my followed pages done in 6 of the 24 hours.
So let’s say you’re going to post at one of those times. You’re now going up against 30 posts that got made within the same 10 minutes. And then at the same time, your followers have to not only enjoy what you posted, but they have to be there at the right time. If you posted at 12pm, chances are if someone looks at the app at 6pm, they’re not going to see what you posted. Because just like you, they follow too many people.
Basically what I’m trying to say is no matter what, you’re never going to reach all of your followers.
Algorithm’s Are Fine, If They’re Made for the Consumer
This is the root of the problem for everyone. Instagram knows they have the community, so they tailor the algorithm towards media hubs and makes you feel like you need advertising. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but Instagram decided to take it to another level. We can all agree on that. Which is why competition like Vero is good, because it shows them that people want change and are willing to jump platforms… Even though I don’t really agree with Vero… I’ll get into it another time.
But at the end of the day, if you took all 800 MILLION monthly users from Instagram and put them all on Vero. Even if there were no hardware issues and everyone bought into their subscription plan service, they would fall into the same issue as Facebook and Instagram did.
And that’s why there’s so many issues. We want memes, we want sports, we want cooking, we want friends, and we want creatives. And there’s so many more different types of accounts out there we all follow. And that’s all fine when it’s 200 or 300 accounts. When it reaches 500 or 700, you’re going to miss posts more and more no matter whether its chronological or algorithmic.
So speaking as a creative trying to reach an incredibly small audience I’m fine with having an algorithm. As long as Instagram continues to tweak it and finds a way to balance older posts I may have missed and newer posts that I would enjoy.
This post has been republished with permission from photographer David Justice. You can follow him, chronologically or not, on Instagram @davidjusticephoto
Photographer Duane Michals has had a long, successful career as both a fine artist and commercial shooter. When we asked him for a 2016 PDN story about how successful photographers overcome their self-doubt, he shared this empathetic advice for building confidence in yourself, and your work.
“Self-doubt? I don’t understand it myself. Creativity always has to be risky. If you’re in your comfort zone, you’re not really being creative.
“How can you be self-confident when you’re 20 years old? What have you done? You have nothing to build confidence on. I didn’t become a photographer until I was 28. By then I had built up a certain amount of self-confidence doing other things. When I was 15, I read in the McKeesport Daily News that if you go to Texas, and follow the wheat harvest north to Canada, you can make a lot of money. My parents let me go! It was a grand adventure, and it was terrifying. At 17, [I] went to school in Colorado, then at 21, I was in the Army in Germany, during the Korean War. And believe me, if you could survive the Army, you could survive anything.
“Most young people need reinforcement. It’s tough to get out there. You’re so deluged with competition, it’s overwhelming. Everyone comes to town not knowing where to go, what to do, how to start. You have to be your own alpha and omega, your own judge. When I found photography, I knew I found my thing. That was a revelation, and so liberating. Once you find that thing, whatever it is, nothing can stop you. Don’t depend on other people [for affirmation]. I trusted my intuition. That’s what I learned very early: to trust my intuition. I shoot first and ask questions later. I also didn’t need anybody’s approval. I had nobody applauding me when I did my first shows.”
Bruce won for “Our Democracy,” a project that encourages people to look beyond partisan political divides by exploring what democracy means to them at the state and local level. Bruce will use her grant to immerse herself in various communities around the U.S., engage residents in audio and visual storytelling, and post multimedia content and data she gathers as her work progresses.
Ortiz’s winning project, called “Between the Lines,” is about relations between citizens and police in the wake of police shootings across the U.S. Ortiz will use his fellowship grant to produce a film about residents affected by violent crime in Del Paso Heights and South Sacramento, “and how they negotiate their lives with the police and community,” according to Catchlight.
Muluneh, who is interested in questions of representation and how photography shapes cultural perceptions, will use her fellowship to create a workshop and mentorship program to support emerging African photographers in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Italy. In addition to helping workshop participants tell their own stories, Muluneh will produce work of her own about the relationships between history and images in Africa.
The Catchlight Fellowship competition began last year. The 2017 winners included Sarah Blesener, Brian Frank and Tomas van Houtryve.
Photographers from 52 countries submitted a total of 347 proposals for this year’s competition. The jurors were Amy Yenkin, Shahidul Alam, Brent Lewis, Azu Nwagbogu, Laura Beltrán Villamizar, Paul Lowe and Nina Berman.
Finalists for the 2018 fellowships included Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Alison Cornyn, Tanya Habjouqa, Monique Jaques, Ryan Christopher Jones, Andrea Ellen Read, Nina Robinson and Daniella Zalcman.
Is Posting to Instagram Just Like Working for Free?
Facebook is in a bit of hot water these for doing what it does best, i.e. separating people from their personal information at an industrial scale and selling it to anyone with a pulse and a bank account. As with any scandal, the Facebook fracas has garnered numerous takes decrying the company’s ruthlessness, or virtue, depending on your view of things. But this piece from Mashable’s Casey Williams caught our eye. In it, Williams says that free labor is the key to Facebook’s profitability:
You do two jobs for Facebook. You generate data and produce content. Facebook is essentially an advertising company, and every bit of information you disclose is data advertisers can use to influence how and what you buy. Sometimes it’s fairly benign (maybe you do want that Blue Apron subscription). Other times it’s not… You also create most of what’s on Facebook. You write posts, share photos, and capture live video of speeches, protests, and police shootings. The time and effort you sink into crafting a poetic confession, an impassioned rant, a thoughtful reflection on the day’s news — think of it as work you do for Facebook. You’re working to keep the site humming and vibrant, and you’re creating reasons for others to keep scrolling. Your job is to drive people to the platform and keep them there.
It’s a provocative thesis and an interesting way to frame the issue. Working for free is a hot-button issue in creative circles. Some embrace it, others view it as a distasteful but necessary means of raising your exposure, others as sheer exploitation.
We’ve seen photographers and visual artists pack PhotoPlus Expo seminars where Instagram is discussed and it’s often in the context of how to grow followers and gain the eye of an easily distracted audience. One recurring piece of advice is to be active on the platform–posting quality work daily (or multiple times a day) and engaging with your followers. In other words, to build an audience, you’ve got to work for Instagram. For free.
Which leaves us with the original question: is Instagram exploiting you, helping you, or both? We don’t know the answer, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.
The first issue of PDN was published in 1980. It was a simpler time, when the world worried about nuclear annihilation, MTV was a year away from showing its first music video and Instagram’s founder had yet to be born.
To reconnect with our history and the history of our photographic tools, we descended into the dusty catacombs of the PDN archives, brushed away the cobwebs* and found some of those early issues to bring you a look at what was considered cutting edge at the time. Our scans make for an interesting and, we hope, entertaining look at older photo technology and the marketing thereof. You can browse the growing collection of old photography ads here.
This installment dates back to January 1985, a time of supreme confidence in the prospects of the view camera.
*In truth, most of our old issues are neatly arranged on a shelf in a brightly-lit conference room.
Photographer Tomas van Houtryve was recently reminded that financial security doesn’t just take care of itself, even for the most successful photographers. That reminder came while he was reading a biography of renowned 19th century photographer Edward S. Curtis.
“Curtis fell into a trap, which many photographers [do],” van Houtryve explains. “He never put in a margin for himself. He just invested everything into the production of the work [and] ended up completely broke at the end of his life.
“I think a lot of young photographers think: If you get your name out there, and work really hard and publish for free, eventually it will all circle back and pay off. And in the case of Curtis, it didn’t. He set this pattern very early in his career of not asking for enough to sustain himself, and only asking for enough to sustain the project, and that ended up plaguing him for his whole life.
“Publishers and funders are going to try to [pay you] the minimum amount of money….So I assume I’ll have to educate [publishers and clients]: This is my livelihood. I’m not supported by other things. This is not a charity operation. And then I ask those who expect me to work for extremely little or for free: Who else in the project is giving away their labor for free? Is your print shop doing it? Are your PR people doing it? Is your accounting department doing it? Then you say, OK, I’m willing to take a hit on my [fee] if everybody else takes a hit on theirs, but until then, put me on the same pay scale. And that also means sometimes just saying No.”
See “Notes to My Younger Self” for other advice from past PDN’s 30 photographers about lessons they’ve learned and what they wish they’d know when they were starting their careers.
Photographer Nicholas Nixon Investigated for Misconduct at MassArt
Massachusetts College of Art and Design is conducting a Title IX investigation of former photography professor Nicholas Nixon, following “recent allegations of inappropriate conduct,” according to a letter the school’s president sent to faculty, students, staff and alumni on March 22. The letter gave no details.
Nixon, a celebrated photographer and 40-year veteran of teaching at MassArt, retired, effective March 2, when he was informed of the investigation. MassArt president David Nelson says the investigation of the allegations will continue, and is being carried out by “an external consultant engaged by the college.”
Title IX, a federal civil rights law, protects students in higher education from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex. It also requires schools receiving federal funding to investigate allegations of discriminatory behavior, sexual harassment or sexual assault of students. In his letter, MassArt President Nelson wrote, “We take reports of any form of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior, or misconduct seriously.” He added, “If you have experienced sexually inappropriate behavior at MassArt, or if you know of someone who has, please report it to us,” and promised to investigate and take action “to maintain a healthy living and learning environment at MassArt.”
MassArt did not respond to requests for comment.
A lawyer for Nixon told the Boston Globe, “Nick has been widely known for a provocative teaching style in a creative art school environment that he believed was inspiring to his students.” He said the investigation will determine “whether or not Nick made inappropriate comments in the classroom. In fairness, we hope the investigation can be completed before any conclusions are drawn.”
Nixon, 71, is best known for his series “The Brown Sisters,” in which he has photographed his wife and her sisters every year since 1975. He is represented by Fraenkel Gallery, and is currently the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Regarding the investigation of Nixon at MassArt, a representative of the museum told the Boston Globe, “We are truly disheartened by this news and take it very seriously. We do not currently have adequate information to fully understand the scope of these allegations.”
Fund Your Work: Women Photograph Calls for Grant Applications
Women Photograph has announced its 2018 project grants for women and non-binary photographers. Applications for six grants worth a total of $35,000 will be accepted from April 1 to May 15, according to the Women Photograph website. There is no fee to apply.
The grants include five Women Photograph + Nikon grants worth $5,000 each to support projects by visual journalists who are “working in a documentary capacity.” Those grants are available for new or ongoing projects.
The other grant is a $10,000 Women Photograph + Getty Images Grant, available to professional photojournalists for the support of an ongoing project. Applicants have to demonstrate their long-term commitment to a project and show they’ve completed a substantial amount of work on it.
The 2017 Women Photograph Grant winners included Alex Potter, Luján Agusti, Gabriella Demczuk and Néha Hirve.
Women Photograph was launched in 2017 to promote more diversity in the photojournalism community by elevating the voices of female and gender non-conforming photographers. See the Women Photograph website for more information about the grants and advice about how to apply for them.
Workshop Preview: Learning the Business of Adventure Photography from Alex Strohl
Alex Strohl has built his photography career making adventure and travel photographs in some of the most beautiful places in the natural world. His personal work, which he shares primarily via Instagram to an audience of nearly two million followers, has led to work for Apple, Land Rover, Travel Alberta and HP among several others. Strohl is also one of the cofounders of Stay & Wander, a creative agency that works with photographers and influencers to create social media-focused campaigns for clients such as Google and BMW.
Strohl recently launched “The Adventure Photography Workshop,” an online education program in which he explains all aspects of his work as a freelance photographer, including his process, workflow and editing, and getting the attention of, and working with, brands.
We recently interviewed Strohl via email to get his take on the important aspects of the travel and adventure photography business, and to find out what students can expect to learn in his workshop.
PDN: What prompted you to create an online workshop?
Alex Strohl: I believe there’s a misrepresentation of what being a freelance photographer means and I want to shed some light on what it actually is. I’ve had a fair share of interns and apprentices, and helping them grow is one of the most fulfilling things that I have ever done. But it wasn’t really scalable. They would stay anywhere from two weeks to three months with me, but I felt like I wasn’t producing enough change. So I came up with the idea of doing a workshop that photographers can take online at their own pace. It’s the best solution I’ve found to help the photography community grow on a more significant scale.
PDN: What did you feel was missing from the education options that are out there for photographers who want to shoot travel and adventure photography?
AS: Nowadays, there is tons of great educational content out there and it can be overwhelming. I just did [some reflection] about how I like to learn and realized that the best things I’ve learned were from people I either knew in person, or knew of and respected because of their work. Biographies are my favorite type of reading because I’m learning about someone I’m excited about, who I can relate to. Googling a tutorial about how to do something and learning from someone I don’t know doesn’t rock my boat, so I figured there would be some people who were just the same. What is missing from a lot of the content online is someone’s story attached to it. We learn better when we can identify with our teachers.
PDN: When we see travel and adventure photographers posting on Instagram, we may falsely assume their lives are all travel and adventure, but you’re also emphasizing the business in your workshop. Why do you think the business side of things can be overwhelming, and what do you hope to teach students?
AS: Most artists I meet don’t enjoy dealing with clients, selling themselves and negotiating. I meet a lot of creatives during my trips. Interacting with the local artistic community is one of my favorite things to do when I go somewhere new. It didn’t take long before I realized that most get super excited about creating, and that’s normal, as [being] an artist it’s the most fun you can have. But if you want to make a living, you’re going to have to sell yourself. And that’s uncomfortable for most of us if you haven’t been exposed to it. My dad is a pretty unique sales guy and I grew up going with him to see his clients. Even though he is a forest engineer he shifted to sales early in his career and ended up mixing both—he sold equipment to protect plants and trees against the challenges they face in the early phases of their life. His clients were mostly farmers, so I just got to hang out on farms and plantations with him and could see him interacting with them all day long; it was fascinating. Then back at the car we would debrief how the day went. I got exposed to the idea of selling at a very young age.
My goal is to empower individual artists to have strong careers doing something they love. One of the things I emphasize a lot in the workshop is the idea that it’s all about the client. There has to be something in it for them and it’s easy to forget when we’re focusing on “paying the bills.” You always have to look at the project from their perspective, not only yours.
The big thing was giving advice that anyone can apply. It’s easier when you’re a recognized photographer. If the client wants you bad, you can tell them anything, it doesn’t matter, they’ll still go with you. But what if you are one of the hundreds who are trying to work with that client, and they don’t know you? This is where we get tactical and I get into creative ways to get in touch with people and foster relationships with clients. Another big one for me is picking my battles. I’d rather have a handful of awesome clients that I’m in touch with every week instead of dozens of one-off [jobs from clients] who I don’t ever talk to after. It’s about nurturing fulfilling relationships. The “client” is just another person like you with their own goals, hobbies, dreams and families. Get to know that!
PDN: Some people may think they have to travel to faraway places to start building a portfolio, but that’s not necessarily the case. Will people who take your workshop be able to go out into their own local area to start creating images that may contribute to their portfolio of travel and adventure work?
AS: I believe that finding and getting to faraway places is always a bonus, it adds an international flair to your portfolio, but I agree that’s not always needed, it’s a “nice to have.” There is a great deal of challenge and rewards that await when you decide to look at a map on a macro scale. It’s not a world map or a state map, it’s a county map. If you look at the features of the landscape where you live now in a different way, you will inevitably find new places to go shoot. For me it’s about systemizing how to approach a location and I get into my process of discovering new places in the workshop. You don’t need to travel anywhere remote to get started, your backyard or neighboring state has what you need.
PDN: Travel and adventure photography is generally thought of as a documentary pursuit, however you’re also talking about working with models. Why is working with models an important part of the course, and an important part of the adventure photography business today?
AS: The idea behind the “Working with Models” section was to give a roadmap to photographers on how to interact with their talent. I typically don’t work with professional models. I’d rather work with athletes and friends because the work ends up feeling more natural. But there is always the time where you have to meet new talent and the objective here is getting them to feel welcomed and comfortable as soon as possible. It can be intimidating for them to show up on a shoot, meet the crew and jump in front of a camera. So that section is about taking care of that: how to build trust quickly with your talent. That’s important because even if you love documenting moments there is always a slight bit of curating and staging.
You’ll have to talk to strangers and perhaps ask them to tilt to this side or the other to make the photo stronger so if you have this guide book in the back of your head your encounters will be more fulfilling and the work you produce will be better. And the more experience you have in that, the more prepared you will be to tackle what most recognized adventure photographers have to: the catalogue shoot. Outdoor brands are always looking for new artist to shoot their look books, and if you are doing refreshing work you’ll get hired for one. They can be a little hectic with talent waiting around for [your direction], and the more practice you’ve gotten talking to strangers the more comfortable you will be in that situation. And if the guy taking the pictures is comfortable and at ease, it makes the set a nicer place to work for everybody.
PDN: You’re also offering editing and workflow tips. Why did you feel it was important to talk about the post-production side of your work? How does getting your editing and workflow dialed help you in your career?
AS: Editing is this interesting part of photography that people either overlook or overthink. I made this two-hour-long section [of the workshop] on editing to try and get to the root of it. Editing has to be done in a way that both represents your vision of photography but also has to be sensible enough that your work remains timeless. It’s like the scene in Spiderman, where Peter Parker is reminded that having great power comes with great responsibility. We have Lightroom and Photoshop with massive capabilities and we need to self-moderate and not go crazy. And the most effective way I’ve found to build taste is by looking at a lot of work in diverse fields of life, not only photography. I get into how you can cultivate taste on an ongoing basis in that same editing section. When you develop it enough, your work will start to get instantly recognized by people, it will have this unity and signature and editing certainly plays a role in that nowadays.