Use Diffusion for Maximum Flexibility on Lighting Effects
The photography duo The Voorhes are known for still lifes that show their pinpoint control of lighting. When shooting food or other subjects that call for diffused light, they rarely use a softbox. Adam Voorhes prefers a different lighting technique: putting a strobe with a reflector behind a 3×4-foot diffusion panel. “We can move [the light] to one side to create a gradient. We can move it closer and it’ll be harder, or we can move it further away and it’ll be softer.” This setup offers more control and flexibility than a softbox which, Voorhes claims, looks like “a block of light.”
Thursday Tip: Write Grant Applications As if Talking to Your Grandmother
From Sara Terry, photographer, grant-writer, and Aftermath Project founder:
“I think one of the best tips ever given to me as a writer was: If you have just been to an event, or if something just happened, and you picked up the phone and called your grandmother, what’s the first thing you would tell her about what you just saw? You’re not writing for Congressmen or bankers. You want to be able to communicate in a clear and dynamic way to someone you care about. That’s an amazing writing tip, in terms of keeping [applications] conversational, intelligible, dynamic and human.
“You don’t want to quote a Doctors Without Borders report for the first couple of paragraphs. You might cite reports and statistics. But a really well-written, successful grant application—at least for the types of grants we’re talking about—just has a compelling conversational quality to it. Not an academic quality.”
Workshop Preview: Aline Smithson’s “Cuba with Intention”
Fine art photographer and Lenscratch founder Aline Smithson will lead the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops “Cuba with Intention” workshop in Camagüey, Cuba from February 4 to 12 2018. “I often review portfolios of photographers who have made work during travel to far flung places,” Smithson says. “Often times the portfolios are beautifully shot, but ultimately there is nowhere for the work to go as they aren’t covering any new terrain or showing us something we don’t already know.” Smithson spoke to us about how her workshop, which she is co-teaching with Carrie McCarthy, will help attendees elevate their work.
PDN: Who is your workshop for and what are you hoping to teach?
Aline Smithson: I’ve been teaching a class for the last several years called “Photographing with Intention.” I realized that many photographers take all these workshops about the technical side of photography, and they haven’t really considered focusing in a profound way on what they’re shooting. I have had a number of students who have come to my classes with travel photographs that weren’t shot with intention—photographs which are of all the shiny objects they see along their journey, and it doesn’t make for a story. With this workshop, what I’m hoping to do is give photographers some ideas and ways of shooting where they could come back and perhaps then put this work out into the fine-art market, rather than just having it live in the travel photo market.
PDN: What do you mean when you talk about shooting with intention?
AS: One way to describe it is, when you take a road trip, you always bring a map. And so rather than just go out without any idea of what you’re shooting, actually begin to look for things to shoot. One way to do that is through typologies, where you are looking for something in that culture that you see over and over again and you photograph it. When you put it all together, you can compare and contrast this one object or idea. For example, Michael Wolf did this great project called Bastard Chairs, which is a typology of chairs that people [in China] put together to sit on. And that’s the kind of thing [I mean] when I say typology. You’re looking for something that is really specific to that culture that shows us something that we don’t know.
PDN: The typology of Cuba that has been so overdone is the old American cars.
PDN: How do you see beyond things like that if you’re new to a culture, and everything seems so new to you?
AS: One of my friends, Simone Lueck, [went to Cuba] and the first day she was there, she went out without her camera and just walked the streets and observed. One thing she noticed was that the front doors were open and people’s televisions were on, whether they were at home or not. She started realizing that the television is like another member of the family. So she went back and photographed people’s living rooms with the television on, and came out with a terrific body of work called “Cuba TV.” She went on to [publish] a monograph of that work. It came from looking at a culture in a new way, and seeing what was unique about it.
It is really hard to do when you are on the ground and have to work quickly, but that’s why perhaps we need to investigate some things before we go: learn a little bit about the history, the culture, the ceremonies before you go, so you have an idea of what you’re shooting. At the beginning of the workshop, I’ll spend maybe half a day having the students look at tons and tons of work made in Cuba from a more artistic point of view that will perhaps inspire them.
PDN: What kinds of exercises will you give the students to help them figure out how to photograph in Camagüey with intention?
AS: One thing is to have a day when you’re really absorbing the culture, and you come back with ideas about what you can shoot, and we can explore and expand those ideas. It’s planting the seeds in photographers that they don’t need to photograph all the classic Cuba stuff—if they want to they can, and if they went to Cuba and didn’t they’d probably be disappointed. But I want them to make work in addition to that. It’s an usual place to go, where things have stood still. But things are changing with the teenage and millenial generations, as they now have cell phones for the first time, and thinking about technology, maybe [workshop attendees] can make a small series that speaks to the change whether we understand it or not.
For example, Greg Kahn’s “Havana Youth” project focused in on the 19 to 23 year-old population and how they went from rotary phones to cell phones, and how that’s radically changing that generation. Things like that, I find way more interesting than cars and cigars. So that’s the kind of thing I want people to be looking for.
PDN: You mentioned having students explore at first—do you mean explore first without a camera?
AS: Yes, and I know that’s really hard for people, but I think it’s not a bad idea, because when you have the camera up all the time, you’re not seeing things in a deeper way. You’re not seeing the whole, because you’re always looking for the details.
Federal Court Sustains Vivian Maier Copyright Claim
A federal court in Chicago has ruled that the Vivian Maier Estate can proceed with copyright infringement and other claims against defendant Jeffrey Goldstein, who allegedly sold prints, set up exhibitions and licensed Maier’s images without authorization.
The ruling came in response to a motion by Goldstein to dismiss the estate’s claims against him.
The estate filed the claims last spring, seeking unspecified damages and lost profits for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and other alleged violations. Yesterday, the court rejected Goldstein’s motion to throw out any of the estate’s claims against him, clearing the way for a trial.
Maier died in 2009 without a will, without any known heirs, and also without any recognition as a photographer. The photographic prints, negatives and undeveloped film she left behind were discovered in a Chicago storage locker and sold to collectors after her death. Among the buyers was Goldstein, who began selling copies of Maier’s photographs on a website in 2010, and in galleries by 2012.
In 2014, the state of Illinois designated a state administrator to manage Maier’s estate. The administrator has been asserting control of Maier’s copyright ever since.
Goldstein asked the federal court to dismiss the estate’s copyright claim against him because he has a “rightful claim of ownership” to the Maier works, he says. He asserted that ownership because the works in dispute were “transferred before [Maier’s] death, making them not part of the estate.”
But the federal court kicked that argument to the curb: It said the transfer was after her death, but the timing was irrelevant anyway. The relevant issue, the court said, is that under federal copyright law, ownership of a physical copy of a work doesn’t convey ownership of any rights in the work. In other words, you can’t copy and distribute someone else’s creative work—whether it’s a photograph, book, recording or anything else—just because you possess a copy of it.
“Even if it were true that Goldstein bought certain Maier works prior to her death, ownership of those works would not entitle him to the copyright or provide a defense to infringement,” the court said. “Defendants [Goldstein] cite no authority to the contrary. Accordingly, plaintiff’s copyright claim will proceed.”
Goldstein also argued unsuccessfully that the federal court should throw out the claim because it interferes with the administration of an estate, and the disposal of a deceased person’s property. A so-called “probate exception” bars federal courts from getting involved in such cases because they fall under the jurisdiction of state courts, Goldstein argued.
But the federal court also rejected that argument, saying that the “probate exception” is extremely narrow. The copyright claim falls squarely and exclusively under federal court jurisdiction, outside the “probate exception,” and does not interfere with the (state) probate proceedings, the federal court said in its ruling.
A trial date for the estate’s claims has not been set.
If you happen to be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, fighting your way through a stiff current of people like a spawning salmon returning instinctively to your home waters, you may find yourself sitting for long periods of time, wondering: “How did I get here? What should I read?” For help with that second question, look no further!
Below, we’ve gathered together a list of long reads about photography from our archives to help you pass the travel time. These are some of our most-read stories from the past several years, full of insights about photography and living a creative life. Happy Thanksgiving!
Chris Patey says he learned from Art Streiber how to make portraits of large groups that appear lit by big, beautiful window light from the side. The technique, he says, is to “push” light from several sources so the overall effect is even, consistent light across the entire group of subjects.
Patey places the light sources to one side of the camera (and above it), directing them across the set, perpendicular to the axis of the camera lens. That sends light across the front of the subjects, spilling onto their faces as it spreads, rather than hitting them directly. “I’m feathering the light off the subjects,” he explains.
To get consistent lighting on all the subjects across the frame, the set-up usually requires two or more light sources, arranged in steps. “It’s like a staircase on its side,” extending from one end of the group toward the camera, Patey explains. The primary light is furthest from the camera, positioned to one side of the group and several feet in front of the plane of subjects. Because that light falls off, Patey positions additional lights progressively closer to the camera and the center of the frame. Each throws feathered light further down the row of subjects. Place flags between the light sources as needed to control spill and eliminate hot spots, he advises.
Obituary: Wally McNamee, Veteran Washington Photographer
Photojournalist Wallace “Wally” McNamee, whose career at The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine spanned more than 40 years, died November 17 in Virginia, the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) has reported. McNamee was 85. The cause of his death was not given.
In addition to covering major news events including the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, McNamee covered presidential administrations from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton. He was named Photographer of the Year four times by the White House News Photographers Association, which also awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
McNamee began his journalism career in 1950 as a copy boy at The Washington Post. During the Korean War, he joined the Marines and trained as a combat photographer. After serving in Japan and Korea, he returned to The Washington Post in 1955, working again as a copy boy before joining the photo staff in 1956.
In 1968, he left the Post to join Newsweek magazine, for which he covered Washington politics, as well as the Olympic Games from 1976 through 1996. McNamee photographed celebrities including Willie Nelson, Elizabeth Taylor and Mick Jagger, according to the WHNPA. He was also part of a Newsweek team that won a National Magazine Award for a story about Vietnam veterans a decade after the war, called “Charlie Company: What Vietnam Did to Us.”
In addition to his various awards from WHNPA, McNamee won the National Press Photographers Association’s Joseph Sprague Memorial Award in 2005. His archive of more than 300,000 images is at the University of Texas.
McNamee’s survivors include his son, Win McNamee, who is the chief photographer for news at Getty Images.
What a Fire Taught Erik Almås About Success and the Creative Life
Erik Almås nearly lost his life’s work and his house in the fires that swept through northern California in October. On November 12, he wrote in a blog post that the experience changed his perspective on what’s important personally and professionally. And he offered inspiring advice to struggling photographers about how to keep things in perspective and persevere.
The following is an excerpt from that post. Almås writes:
“I know there are a lot of talented photographers who have given up on photography. Making a living taking pictures is as competitive as it gets, and a long endeavor if you choose to take it on.
What makes this process even harder is the social demands for immediate success.
Experiencing the certainty of losing my home…created a shift in my perspective on success and what having “made it” is.
In no particular order, and without being right for everyone, here’s a…list of what now resonates with me and the idea of “making it“
If you keep your focus on creating, you have made it. If doing what you do expands you and fills you up, you have made it. If you crave creating every day, you have made it. If you are excited about what you just created and even more excited to improve upon it, you have made it. If you are proud to show your work, you have made it. If you found an expression that consistently expresses who you are, you have made it. If you have done the above so consistently your expression starts to recognize itself, you have made it. If you question why and how and who and explore this through your work, you have made it.
So my shift and lesson is this: You can celebrate your successes… but don’t attached them to an event, a monetary item or any other social measure of success [because] it will leave you feeling like you are coming up short every time. Which in turn will make you want to give up…
The complete post, including Almås’s dramatic account of saving his work, and the impact the fires had on his neighbors, is available on his blog.
Mathieu Asselin, Dayanita Singh Win 2017 Paris Photo-Aperture PhotoBook Prizes
Mathieu Asselin’s book Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation has won the $10,000 First PhotoBook Prize in the 2017 Paris Photo—Aperture Foundation PhotoBook awards. Published by Verlag Kettler and Acte Sud, the book combines original photos, old Monsanto ads and archival material about the pesticide manufacturer. Dayanita Singh won PhotoBook of the Year for Museum Bhavan, her series of nine small, accordion-fold books contained within a clamshell box. (See: Photo Book Making: Dayanita Singh’s “Museum Bhavan.”)
Winners were chosen by a jury that included: Florencia Giordana Braun, director and founder of Rolf Art Gallery in Buenos Aires; curator Krzysztof Candrowicz, artistic director of the Triennial of Photography in Hamburg; photographer Mitch Epstein; Nathalie Herschdorfer, director of Museum of Fine Arts, Le Locle, Switzerland; and Cristiano Raimondi of the New National Museum of Monaco. They chose the winners from a shortlist of 20 books in each category. The jurors for the shortlist were Kathy Ryan, director of photography at The New York Times Magazine; Joel Smith, photography curator at the Morgan Library & Museum; photography Gregory Halpern, whose book ZZYZX won the 2016 PhotoBook prize; Christoph Wiesner, artistic director of Paris Photo; Lesley A. Martin, creative director of Aperture Foundation.
Two other PhotoBook Prizes were also awarded. The winner of the Photography Catalogue of the Year prize is the catalogue for “New Realities: Photography in the 19th Century” at the Rijiksmuseum in Amsterdam. The jurors also awarded a special mention to La Grieta (The Crack), a combination graphic novel and photo book, created by Carlos Spottorno and Guillermo Abril and published by Astiberri Ediciones.
New Ideas in Photo Book Making: Dayanita Singh’s “Museum Bhavan”
Who I’ve Hired: Leonor Mamanna, Bloomberg Pursuits
PDN recently interviewed Bloomberg Pursuits senior photo editor Leonor Mamanna about the type of photography she’s looking for and how she finds photographers. In this video, she talks about the work of two photographers she’s hired recently—Jess Bonham and Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock—and why they were the right photographers for the jobs she assigned.
Mamanna also offered some tips and advice for photographers who are interested in shooting for Bloomberg Pursuits. Here’s what she told us:
PDN: What’s the best way for a photographer to get on your radar, and to contact you to show work?
Leonor Mamanna: I am incredibly easy to find on the internet. You can find my email on the about page, you can see where I currently work, which is where you should be pitching to if you’re emailing me. Just send me a quick note about who you are, and where you’re based. Send me a couple of pictures or a PDF so I immediately know what you’re about, and what you’re doing, and what you’re interested in doing.
PDN: What are you looking for in photographers generally?
LM: I’m looking for a very clear sense of self. when I’m looking at portfolios or when I’m looking at websites, I want to be able to see what your vision is and what your passion is. We’re looking for all sorts of photographers. It runs the gamut for Pursuits. We’re a luxury title, but we’re looking for travel photographers, food photographers, portrait photographers, documentary photographers. So I’m not looking for one specific type of photographer. What I’m looking for is someone who has a really strong point of view.
PDN: What are some of the common mistakes photographers make when pitching you?
LM: I would probably start with pitching the wrong magazine. That is number one, and it’s probably one of the more frustrating things. Do your research. It’s important to be aware of who you’re pitching to and what you’re pitching to. Pursuits is a luxury title, it’s a luxury brand, and so the stories should reflect that. Get the last few issues, see what we’ve been doing, and really do your research before pitching. Otherwise I’m open to all sorts of pitches. We’re looking for pitches for print and for web, and it can be something that is existing that has not been published, or maybe something that you are interested in doing for us for the future.
PDN: When a photographer emails you, how many pictures do you want to see?
LM: If you are a photographer who really wants to be making beautiful portraiture, send me a couple of your favorite portraits. If you’re a photographer who is a big travel person, then send me three or four travel photos that represent who you are. But really the most important thing is for me to know where you are. I’m often looking for local photographers, so if you are based in Berlin, it’s really helpful that I know [that].
PDN: How important is it for photographers to come and see you in person?
LM: It’s not necessarily that important. I’ve fostered a lot of relationships with photographers I’ve never met. Sometimes I’ve worked with people for years before I meet them in person. It’s nice when it’s possible [to meet in person], but it’s a weekly magazine so our schedules don’t always allow for a ton of sit-down meetings.
PDN: Any other parting advice for photographers?
LM: I say this to young photographers, old photographers, and everyone in between: really knowing your audience before you pitch is so important. We get inundated with emails and mailers and questions and pitches, and we can tell when it’s not for us pretty quickly. and we can also tell when it’s a blanket pitch to many people. Magazines are not one-size-fits-all, so it’s pretty important to know who you’re pitching to.