One of the increasingly recognized downsides of social media fame is ecological damage, as popular landscape destinations are despoiled by hordes of photographers and casual snapshooters looking for their own piece of Internet fame.
In the video below, the vlogbrothers tells the story of the Broccoli Tree of Huskvarna, Sweden. The tree became famous thanks to the work of photographer Patrik Svedberg who photographed it over a four year period.
Initially, Svedberg posted an image to his own Instagram account, but eventually his recurring series of Broccoli Tree images earned its own Instagram page–and north of 30,000 followers.
What happens next is, perhaps, all too predictable: people began to flock to the tree to take their own photos. Then, someone or some group of someones came along and sawed into the tree, leading to its demise.
As the vlogbrothers’ John Green recounts, it’s not the first time a famous tree has fallen victim to humanity. “To share something is to risk losing it,” he says.
Social media has made the sharing, and the losing, that much easier.
Assisting is a traditional pathway to a career as a photographer, but that’s not the only route. Photographer Christin Rose started as a photo editor, which led to a job as a photographer’s rep, then to work as production coordinator, and finally to a career as a freelance producer. All of those jobs prepared her for a successful (second) career as a photographer, she says.
Rose’s advice to aspiring photographers to say Yes to any opportunity that comes along. Take work as a photo assistant, a production coordinator, a styling assistant, or anything else related to photography, she says. “Do something in the industry. Just get in.” That will enable you to build relationships critical to launching a career as a photographer later on, she explains.
The work experience also adds up, and has contributed to Rose’s success as a photographer. Rose says her stint as a rep, working with Chris McPherson, Jeff Minton, Christa Renee and other photographers, taught her the business basics. As a freelance producer working for clothing retailer PacSun, she worked with creative director Greg Crawford and photographer Nicholas Maggio on advertising shoots all over California. “I got to learn so much about production, and it’s been invaluable in pursuing a career as a photographer,” she says.
Rose still faced the challenge (like all photographers) of building a professional portfolio. But the lesson for aspiring photographers who worry about being sidetracked in other industry jobs is that many paths can lead to a career behind the camera.
Photographer Nitin Vadukul, who created surreal and eerie images for commercial, editorial and music clients, died February 17 in New York City, according to The New York Times. His brother, photographer Max Vadukul, told The Times the cause of death was colorectal cancer.
Born Nitin Shantilal Vadukul in Nairobi in 1965 to parents of Indian heritage, he grew up in a suburb of London and began shooting photos as a teenager. He began his photography career working in a London special effects studio in the 1980s. Much of his early commercial work for clients such as Wace and BNP featured composites—created first using Paintbox and then, in the 1990s, with Photoshop. “Effects just for effects aren’t interesting,” he told PDN in 1993. “I use them in unconventional ways to get ideas across.”
He moved from London to Paris in 1990, and shot for international advertising clients. In the mid-1990s, he moved to New York, and brought his flamboyant, surreal conceptual style to portraits of actors and music industry icons he photographed for magazines such as Details, Rolling Stone, The Source and New York magazine, and for record labels. His subjects included Ozzy Osbourne, Rick Rubin, Dr. Dre and Eminem. Some of his music photos were included in Hip Hop Immortals, published in 2003 and in the 2012 exhibition “Who Shot Rock & Roll” at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.
After 20 years in New York City, he moved to Los Angeles in 2015.
According to The Times, he is survived by his brother and sister, his mother, and two children.
Prime Collective Drops Photographer Following Sexual Harassment Allegations
Prime, the cooperative photo agency, announced this week that it has dropped Christian Rodriguez from its roster in October 2017 after an unnamed female photographer reported he had tried to pressure her into posing nude. In an article posted March 7 on the website Medium.com, members of the collective noted that they had voted to remove him in November; his work was taken off the collective’s website. Since then, other women shared similar complaints about Rodriguez. “To date, approximately 32 women have come forward to share their stories,” the article states. Prime states that some incidents occurred within recent weeks, others took place years ago.
The article went on to say, “While Prime is not an employer, we, as a collective of photographers who once uplifted Rodriguez and his work, regret that our association with him may have increased his perceived stature in the photo community, and contributed to his access to women in the industry. In light of these alarming new disclosures, we also now regret that we did not further publicize Rodriguez’s expulsion when it occurred.”
Rodriguez, who is based in Uruguay, has worked throughout Latin America and in Asia, and been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, National Geographic and other publications. National Geographicpublished images from his “Teen Mom” project, on teen pregnancy in South America, in its February 2018 issue. According to bios he gave to the TED Talks and LensCulture, he “explores themes of gender and identity,” has taught several workshops, and has been exhibited in a number of photo festivals around the world.
In 2016, he won a Getty Images Instagram Grant. (His winning series was published on PDN’s Photo of the Day, along with the work of the other grant winners. PDN has now removed his images from the post.)
Among photographers who shared their stories about Rodriguez with Prime is Andrea Sarcos. She told PDN that she has sought professional advice from photographers. Rodriguez responded, met her, and at the meeting offered “to hire me as an assistant.” He suggested they would travel together on assignments, but he also said, “Tomorrow let’s do a photo shoot in a hotel,” and suggested she pose nude. “I was just so taken aback,” she says. “I was coming to him as a photographer, not a model.” She declined.
After she posted the incident on the closed Facebook page of a women’s journalism group, Sarcos was contacted by a member of Prime who promised “to take care of it.” Sarcos says she has been in touch with other women who have shared their stories, some of whom agreed to pose nude for Rodriguez in hotels. Sarcos noted that Rodriguez made “word for word” the same offers of an assisting job, travel, and said he needed help in creating “conceptual,” “intimate” photos. Sarcos allowed PDN to use her name in hopes of contacting other women harassed by Rodriguez.
She says she is glad Prime has now “outed him publicly” through the publication of its article. “It was making me sick seeing people still supporting him financially and publishing his work.”
Egyptian Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Photojournalist Shawkan
Egyptian prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a photojournalist arrested more than four years ago while covering an anti-government protest, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported earlier today.
Mahmoud Abou Zeid, an Egyptian photojournalist also known as Shawkan, was arrested in August, 2013 while covering the protest in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square for British photo agency Demotix, according to the report. He is among 700 defendants arrested at the protest who now face charges of murder, attempted murder, and membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned organization. On March 3, the prosecutor requested the “maximum penalty,” which is death by hanging under Egyptian law.
“Seeking the death penalty for a photographer who simply covered an opposition demonstration is a political punishment, not an act of justice,” RSF said. “Shawkan’s only crime was trying to do his job as a photographer. He must be freed at once.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said on social media that the prosecutor’s call for the death penalty “is shocking.” CPJ has repeatedly called on Egyptian authorities to release Shawkan, and in September 2016 co-sponsored an exhibition of his work at the Bronx Documentary Center to bring attention to his plight. In November 2016, CPJ gave Shawkan its International Press Freedom Award, which recognizes journalists who have risked their lives to do their work.
Meanwhile, arrests of journalists continue to mount in Egypt, which ranks near the bottom of RSF’s Press Freedom Index. Reporter Mai El-Sabagh and cameraman Ahmad Mustafa were arrested in Alexandria February 28, allegedly for filming without a license. Egyptian journalist Moataz Wadnan, a reporter for Huffington Post Arabi, was arrested February 16 and has since disappeared in state custody, according to a CPJ report.
ImageBrief is Dead. Is Their Low-Balling Business Strategy to Blame?
ImageBrief, the company that helped photo clients crowd-source their image requests, announced it was shutting down earlier this week. Photographers who have worked with them in the past have until March 8 to remove all their images from the site. The company website has been stripped except for a log in, to allow participating photographers to remove their assets this week.
Founded in 2011, ImageBrief worked a little like Uber for commercial photo assignments: A customer would post a “brief,” describing what kind of image they needed, and photographers could submit images in response. For accepted images, photographers got 70 percent of the licensing fee, which is a bigger cut than stock agencies offer. Some photographers also liked submitting stock images that fit a specific request, rather than the even more speculative approach of uploading hundreds of generic images to a stock agency website.
The launch of ImageBrief raised an outcry among photo trade associations because it wasn’t clear whether customers were using ImageBrief to look for existing images they were unable to find—or unwilling to look for—in stock libraries, or sending photographers scrambling to produce custom images on spec. In 2015, Resource magazine reported on a request for images featuring specific products which Reebok had posted on ImageBrief’s website.
Photographers who tried to fill briefs like Reebok’s took on the risk and expense of shooting assignments, but with no guarantee of making a sale.
Rather than “turning the stock business on its head,” as the company boasted, ImageBrief often appeared to be offering commercial photography clients a way to crowd-source tailor-made images for the price they would pay for off-the-shelf stock images.
Before we gloat over the failure of a business built on the cheap commodification of imagery, we should note that ImageBrief has sprung back from challenges in the past. Over the years, the company added a “marketplace” where photographers could promote their stock images. The company also began touting royalty-free images for $49 and up.
Now the question is: Will ImageBrief’s would-be imitators view the company’s demise as an opportunity—or a warning?
Photographer Turns Truck into Camera and Darkroom for Project
Personal projects are a great way to challenge yourself. And as personal projects go, photographer Kurt Moser’s is a beaut.
Using Kickstarter funds, Moser has transformed a Russian URAL military truck into a functioning camera and darkroom. The truck has ben outfitted with a rare 1780mm APO-NIKKOR lens in the back that will expose Ambrotype plates that are 5 feet high.
Moser is going to use the camera/truck/darkroom to capture images of the Dolomites, a mountain range in Italy. Moser also plans to photograph the 80 and 90-year-old farmers native to the region many of whom have never been photographed in their entire lives (at least according to Moser).
When the project is completed both the truck and resulting Ambrotypes will be on display in the Berlin Museum and at other installations around the world. You can follow Moser’s journey here.
Photographer of Marlboro Ads Exhibits Photos Richard Prince Copied
Richard Prince, the controversial and often-sued appropriation artist, first achieved fame in the 1990s with his “Untitled (Cowboy)” series, for which he re-photographed ads for Marlboro cigarettes. While some photographers who worked on the campaign have complained about Prince getting rich on their images, photographer Norm Clasen is taking a new approach. He is now exhibiting the cowboy images he shot for Marlboro in the 1980s at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles. The show, which opens tomorrow, will be on display at the same time that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is exhibiting Prince’s “Untitled (Cowboy).”
Clasen says his show, cleverly called “Titled (Cowboy)” as a dig at Prince, is his effort to give credit to the sources of Prince’s work. He also hopes to stir a discussion about copyright, the fair use clause and protection for photographers.
He first learned eight years ago that Prince was selling rephotographs of images that Clasen and other photographers had shot for Marlboro—and that some of the rephotographs were fetching more than $3 million at auction. “I thought it was a practical joke,” Clasen says. Curators, critics and collectors view Prince’s cowboy images as “deconstructing the iconography of the American West.” Clasen says, “He came up with sort of a social statement, and got away with it.”
Last year, Clasen says, “It just dawned on me how much work [ad agency] Leo Burnett and the various photographers…had put into this campaign.” He shot his ad assignments on film, following real cowboys who had been selected and cast for the ads, and spent long days shooting on location. He explains, “I thought of all the pride the cowboys, the agency, the photographers put into this, and then for someone to sit in their living room and take a picture of it, crop part of it out and sell it for a million dollars, finally sort of got to me. I thought: If this isn’t morally, ethically and legally wrong, what is?”
At the M+B Gallery show, he is selling limited editions of images he shot between 1978 and 1991. He says he will donate some proceeds from the sale to American Photographic Artists to support their work on copyright reform. “I’m really hoping I can spur an educational moment with photographers and artists and writers all over the country, to see if we can’t make these laws more powerful to protect us.”
Richard Prince, “Untitled (Cowboy),” 1999
Richard Prince, “Untitled (Cowboy)” 1999.
Clasen acknowledges that he doesn’t own the copyright to the images: He shot them under work-for-hire agreements with Philip Morris, as did all the other photographers who shot for the campaign. At the time, he says, “I was very fairly compensated by Leo Burnett” for his work and the copyright to his images, “and in those golden days of advertising, photographers were well compensated.” He adds, “I wasn’t educated enough myself,” and notes, “I never thought stuff like this would ever happen. I think all photographers have to take a look at this example, and find a better way to protect themselves.” (Clasen won’t discuss details of his communications with Philip Morris about the show. Philip Morris has never pursued legal action against Prince.)
In particular, Clasen would like a discussion about interpretations of the fair use exception of the Copyright Act. In 2013, a Federal appeals court ruled that Prince’s appropriation of several of Patrick Cariou’s photos for a series of paintings Prince called “Canal Zone” were covered under the fair use exception. (Prince later settled with Cariou over other photos he copied to make the series.)
“I’m rounding 80. I’m saying to myself: What do I want out of all this?” Clasen says. “I want to say: Let’s make it better for all photographers. If someone doesn’t do something, people are going to pick up on what he [Prince] is doing, say, ‘I can do that,’ and it’ll be out of control.”
Quick Tip: How Celebrity Shooters Brainstorm Portrait Ideas
Celebrity photo shoots are a challenge because photographers often get five minutes to shoot. For photographers who like to shoot conceptual portraits, the secret is preparation.
Chris Buck is known for his quirky, humorous portraits that push the boundaries of editorial photography. He doesn’t shoot to satisfy or flatter his celebrity subjects; he’s shooting for his clients, and to satisfy his own creative urge. “There might be three set-ups, and one of them is for Chris Buck. I get hired for that,” he says.
To plan those set-ups, Buck tries to check the location in advance, to see what lighting and props are available. (He relies heavily on props because they tend to relax his subjects). He does research, and comes with lots of ideas–some of them outlandish–for how to photograph his subjects. For instance, he photographed Billy Bob Thornton urinating on a backdrop. Buck asked the actor to do that, and Thornton complied willingly, but then indignantly refused to pose while holding a bowl of potatoes (which Buck had learned was the staple of Thornton’s diet when he was a starving actor).
“I throw everything at the wall, and see what sticks,” Buck said. “I write lists of ideas, and when I go in, I refer to that list, but once I’m there, I’m open” to other possibilities.
Andrew Hetherington shoots concept-driven portraits of celebrities for Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He comes up with portrait ideas by Googling his subjects to learn what he can about them and to see how they’ve been photographers in the past.
On an assignment to photograph Donald Trump for The Hollywood Reporter early in Trump’s run for President, Hetherington wanted to avoid the trademark glare. He looked instead for a way to convey another Trump characteristic: hunger for attention. “I was looking for simple gestures, with no props involved,” Hetherington says. His plan was to ask Trump to put his finger to his lips—“a ‘shush’ kind of thing”—and to cup his hand to his ear, as if he was trying to say, “Can you hear me now?” Trump went for it, and one of the “shush” portraits ended up on THR’s cover (shown at right).
Hetherington says sometimes he comes up with just two or three ideas for a portrait, and other times, as many as ten ideas.
“I like them to be thoughtful,” he says. “They might not all be practical, depending on the location and time constraints.” Or depending upon the whims of the celebrity and his or her publicist. The important thing, though, is to go in with options. Hetherington also runs his ideas past his prop and set stylists. “It’s important to have a strong team,” he says, because good stylists can add new ideas.
Editor’s note: IMAX is hugely popular, while virtual reality movies are gaining steam. But what about film inventions that never took off? When will they get their due? Sure, there are the Razzies, which honor the worst acting performances and directing jobs. But there’s no (dis)honor for film innovations that backfired. We asked four film experts to each write about a different flop. Some ideas were on the right track and would eventually be realized in one form or another. But others are probably best relegated to the dustbin of history.
First motion, then sound, then … smell?
Leo Braudy, University of Southern California
In the 1950s, the popularity of television exploded, and the film industry started experimenting with technologies to lure audiences back into movie theaters.
In this context, two 1959 olfactory innovations – AromaRama and Smell-O-Vision – emerged.
For budding smell entrepreneurs, the reviews couldn’t have been encouraging.
After New York Times film reviewer Bosley Crowther emerged from his first AromaRama experience, he wrote that he “happily filled his lungs with that lovely fume-laden New York ozone. It never has smelled so good.”
I saw AromaRama’s “Behind the Great Wall” and Smell-O-Vision’s “The Scent of Mystery” during their brief runs in New York, and the only scents I can recall are the pungent smell of an orange being sliced and the dank odor of a Chinese bay.
Instead of enhancing the cinematic experience, the smells ended up supplying something briefly weird and not very interesting, no different from a noisy special effect.
In 1981, filmmaker John Waters satirically revived the technique for his film “Polyester,” dubbing it “Odorama.”
Waters sidestepped the expensive scent distribution systems of his predecessors by creating a simple scratch-and-sniff card that would be cued by numbers on screen. The 10 smells – which included roses (#1), farts (#2) and pizza (#4) – tried valiantly to be distinct. But to me they all vaguely approximated the aroma of oregano.
Some years later the Los Angeles County Museum had an anniversary showing of “Polyester.” My wife and I had small roles in the film, so we went along. Sure enough, as soon as the show started, almost every member of the packed audience pulled out their treasured scratch-and-sniff cards.
Even though adding odors to movies never took off, at least the connection between smell and memory remained strong.
Letting audiences twist the plot
Scott Higgins, Wesleyan University
Artists have long sought to erase the boundary between a film and its viewers, and Alejandro Iñárritu’s 2017 Oscar-winning virtual reality installation “Carne y Arena” has come close.
But the dream of putting audiences in the picture has fueled a number of film fiascoes, including an early 1990s debacle called Interfilm.
Billed as a “quantum leap into the future,” Interfilm premiered in December 1992 at the Loews New York multiplex with the short “I’m Your Man,” written and directed by inventor Bob Bejan.
It was something like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book brought to the big screen, courtesy of then cutting-edge LaserDisc technology. Armrests were outfitted with three-button joysticks. Every few minutes the video would pause and viewers had 10 seconds to vote on one of three choices for the story path.
Even though the movie was only 20 minutes long, it required 90 minutes of footage stored on four laserdisc players to accommodate the 68 story variations. For a $3.00 admission, viewers could stay through multiple showings and relive the film from different perspectives.
As you might surmise from the lack of joysticks in today’s cinemas, Interfilm’s “quantum leap” got tripped up.
Despite backing from Sony Pictures, few exhibitors were willing to take on the $70,000 cost of retrofitting a single theater. The film was shown in standard definition via video projection, which couldn’t come close to matching the quality of the 35mm film playing next door. And some audience members would exploit the voting system by racing between vacant seats to cast multiple votes for their preferred storyline.
But the films themselves may have been the biggest stumbling block. Director Bob Bejan shot “I’m Your Man” in less than a week, using his office building as the location. His follow-up, “Mr. Payback,” which opened at 44 theaters in 1995, allowed viewers to choose between ways to punish characters: cattle prodding, pants burning or monkey brain eating.
Film critic Roger Ebert concluded that the “offensive and yokel-brained” “Mr. Payback” was “not a movie” but “mass psychology run wild, with the mob zealously pummeling their buttons, careening downhill toward the sleaziest common denominator.”
That same year, Sony Pictures pulled its support, and shortly thereafter Interfilm was no more.
A giant flying film projector
Stephen Groening, University of Washington
In the 1960s, American Airlines hired the film equipment manufacturer Bell & Howell to design an in-flight entertainment system that could compete (and contrast) with TWA’s large single-screen system that had premiered in 1961.
The result was Astrocolor, an in-flight entertainment system featuring a series of 17-inch screens suspended from the luggage rack.
In its promotional campaign, American advertised Astrocolor as “democratic” and emphasized freedom of choice. Because the screens were positioned every five rows (and every three rows in first class), the set-up didn’t discriminate against those seated in the back of the cabin. And because the screens were small, passengers were free from the tyranny of TWA’s large screen; they could easily decide to not watch the movie and pursue a different activity.
But this was before the advent of the MP4, the DVD, the magnetic videotape and the laserdisc, and airlines needed to use 16mm celluloid prints to exhibit films on board.
So the film was bizarrely threaded along the length of the cabin next to the overhead luggage compartments. Each screen had its own projector that back-projected the film onto the screen in color and in the film’s original aspect ratio. At any given time, nearly 300 feet of film ran through the complex system of gears and loops.
This meant that passengers in the back of the plane saw a scene nearly five minutes after the passengers in the front. And with so many moving parts and a filmstrip that could reach 9,000 feet in length, the failure rate was 20 percent.
Astrocolor had effectively turned the airplane into a giant film projector, and maintenance of the complex in-flight entertainment system could hinder an airline’s flight schedules.
Even though Astrocolor can be seen as a failure, the irony of calling it a “flop” is that the designers at Bell & Howell were onto something. The small screen system has since become the dominant model of in-flight entertainment, and the single-screen system has disappeared.
Going big – and going home
Thomas Delapa, University of Michigan
Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have experimented with supersizing the screen and pushing the limits of what are called “aspect ratios,” or the ratio between the width and the height of the screen.
The 35mm motion picture standard dominated the silent-film era and survives even in our digital era. In classic Hollywood, this meant a square-ish projected frame: approximately 1.33 width ratio to 1 high. Rick and Ilsa in “Casablanca,” Scarlett and Rhett in “Gone With the Wind,” and Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” all played in the cozy virtual world of the 1.33 sandbox.
But film innovators eventually started looking for ways to go wider and bigger. There was French director Abel Gance’s three-screen Polyvision process for his 1927 epic “Napoleon.” There was RKO studio’s 70mm- wide “Natural Vision” film gauge that made a brief appearance in the 1920s.
But of all the “before-their-time” widescreen inventions that popped and fizzled, few were as grandiose as the Grandeur process, which was developed in the late 1920s. Utilizing a 70mm-wide film strip – twice the width of the standard 35mm – it was easily the most ambitious attempt of its time to make widescreen go mainstream in the U.S.
The Fox Film Corporation (what would become 20th Century Fox) was Grandeur’s primary sponsor. The technology premiered in New York City in September 1929, when Fox screened a program of newsreels that included a splashy tour of Niagara Falls.
Flashy entertainment followed in 1930’s “The Big Trail,” an epic Western starring a then-unknown former college football star who called himself John Wayne. In Fox’s gargantuan 6,000-seat Roxy Theatre in Manhattan, the Duke galloped across a 42-foot-wide-by-20-foot-tall screen, creating an enormous virtual vista that dwarfed those at most of the 1920s “picture palaces.”
Despite Grandeur’s gushing greatness, U.S. theater owners were less buoyant at the prospect of doubling down on new projectors and screens to accommodate its really big show.
Not only had Wall Street just infamously laid a gargantuan egg, but owners had just shelled out big-time money to convert to accommodate the “talkies” of the nascent sound era. Grandeur’s case wasn’t helped by the smallish box-office returns of “The Big Trail.”
Widescreen experimentation would largely disappear for the next two decades, only to be revived in the 1950s, which marked the beginning of big screen’s steroid era. Launched in 1953, CinemaScope nearly doubled the frame ratio to 2.35 to 1. Then there was the three-projector Cinerama, and a reprise of 70 mm filmmaking in Oscar-winning blockbusters like “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Grandeur’s main mistake was epically bad timing. In today’s evolving digital era, widescreen formats of varying sizes are de rigueur around the world – if not exactly grandeur.