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Workshop Preview: Learning the Business of Adventure Photography from Alex Strohl

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!

Get travel photography tips from Alex Strohl in his online tutorial.

© Alex Strohl

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.

Related:

HOW OUTDOOR-FOCUSED CREATIVE AGENCY HAMMERQUIST STUDIOS WORKS WITH PHOTOGRAPHERS

WORKING WITH TOURISM BOARDS TO MAKE VISUAL TRAVEL CONTENT

WORKSHOP PREVIEW: ROSANNE OLSON ON ANALYZING—AND RECREATING—EVERY KIND OF LIGHT

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Workshop Preview: Learning the Business of Adventure Photography from Alex Strohl

Carol Guzy Wins 2018 Robert Capa Gold Medal Award

Carol Guzy Wins 2018 Robert Capa Gold Medal Award

Photographer Carol Guzy of ZUMA Press has won the 2018 Robert Capa Gold Medal Award for her reportage about the effects of the war against ISIS on the civilian population of Mosul. The Overseas Press Club announced the news yesterday. Reuters photographers Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Carlos Barria won the Olivier Rebbot Award, and Kevin Frayer of Getty Images won the Feature Photography award.

The Robert Capa Gold Medal is awarded annually for the best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise. Judges cited Guzy for her “intimate, sensitive and haunting coverage of the innocents we often do not see reflected in images from amid the gore of war time.” A former Washington Post staff photographer, Guzy has won four Pulitzer Prizes, three NPPA Newspaper Photographer of the Year awards, and numerous other photojournalism prizes.

The Olivier Rebbot Award, for best photographic news reporting from abroad in any medium, went to Garcia Rawlins and Barria for their images showing the political violence in Venezuela. Judges said, “The potent and strikingly violent images invoked an auditory response from the jury.”

Frayer won the Feature Photography award for his coverage of the desperate exodus of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh. Judges described Frayer’s work as “One of the most comprehensive picture packages of the year.”

Judges gave citations—effectively runner-up awards—in all three categories. Ivor Prickett was the citation winner for the Robert Capa Gold Medal award; Reuters photographers Mohammad Ponir Hossain, Danish Siddiqui, Hannah McKay, Damir Sagolj and Cathal McNaughton won a citation for the Olivier Rebbot Award; and Meredith Kohut won a citation for the Feature Photography Award.

Jurors for the Overseas Press Club photography awards were photographers Adrees Latif (Reuters), Yunghi Kim (freelance), and William Snyder (Rochester Institute of Technology); Sandy Ciric, director of photography at Getty Images News and James Collins of NBCnews.com.

Related:
New Yorker, W and TIME Win Ellie Awards for Photography and Video

World Press Photo Announces Finalists for 2018 Awards

 

 

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Carol Guzy Wins 2018 Robert Capa Gold Medal Award

Photography Ads of Yore: At Last!

Photography Ads of Yore: At Last!

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. 

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This installment dates back to January 1985, when people were apparently casting about for reasons to own a computer. (For a larger view, open the image in a new tab.)

*In truth, most of our old issues are neatly arranged on a shelf in a brightly-lit conference room.

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Photography Ads of Yore: At Last!

Self-Portrait: Water Stress in Cape Town

Self-Portrait: Water Stress in Cape Town

By Morgan Trimble


 

In drought-stricken Cape Town, we’ve been living with just 50 liters of water per person per day since the beginning of the year. That’s 13.2 gallons. It doesn’t go far when you think about how often you turn on the faucet each day for drinking, cleaning, flushing toilets, showering, washing dishes, and doing laundry.

Like many households, we’ve shut off the water supply to the toilet and religiously collect our ‘grey water’ to refill the cistern instead. It’s an elaborate dance—siphoning drainage from the washing machine, scooping water out of sink basins, standing in a bucket to catch runoff from painfully brief showers… The apartment is littered with buckets, plastic cups, and tubs for collecting and moving water. We shower less. I schedule messy activities and workouts for shower days. We wear our clothes more often. The term ‘droughtfit’ has emerged—when you wear the same clothes until it’s really necessary to wash them.

But we’re managing. It’s amazing how easily we can change behavior when necessary. Hopes are high in Cape Town that we’ll make it through this year without reckoning with Day Zero—the day the city will shut off the municipal water supply. Earlier this year Day Zero was predicted to come in mid-April, but with drastic savings, we should make it to winter (July) when our fate will depend on good rains finally coming.

Still, worrying about water is a serious mental load. I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks back envisioning this self-portrait: me in our grey water, floating amid the laundry drainage, the leftover shower water, the toothpaste spit, and the hand-wash runoff. It’s a grim take on those ‘milk bath‘ photos featured on the photo blogs.

Gross. But still a little beautiful. Stressful and a little hopeful, too.

On a technical note, it took about an hour to put this setup together, and, of course, I scheduled the shoot to coincide with my shower day to avoid wasting any unnecessary water. The camera is mounted on a tripod, balanced precariously on the rim of the bathtub (tripod legs cloned out). A camera-mounted flash bounced off the corner of the ceiling and triggered an off-camera flash bounced off the opposite corner. Self-timer alone wouldn’t work here, given the complexity. So I used Trigger Trap connected to my iPhone to set up a sound trigger. I set the camera to a two-second self-timer, so the shutter was voice activated, but I had time to close my mouth before the picture. I taped the phone to the camera with some gaffer tape. Amazingly, no electronics fell in the tub!

 

 

Morgan Trimble is a freelance photographer and writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. You can follow her work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This post has been republished with the author’s permission.

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Self-Portrait: Water Stress in Cape Town

Blinded by the Light: The Violence of Flash Photography

Blinded by the Light: The Violence of Flash Photography

By: Kate Flint

Susan Sontag was deliberately provocative when she coupled photography with violence. There is, she wrote in the essay ‘In Plato’s Cave’ (1977), ‘something predatory in the act of taking a picture’. She pointed out that we speak casually about ‘loading’ and ‘aiming’ a camera: ‘Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder.’ Sontag knew that she was using hyperbole, prodding her readers to consider the seizing of someone else’s identity that is implicit in each portrait that is shot.

But it is decidedly less of an exaggeration to couple violence with one particular photographic technology: flash. From the earliest decades of flash photography, when limelight or magnesium were used to illuminate darkness, flash was associated with explosive unpredictability. Even after Johannes Gaedicke and Adolf Miethe invented a far more reliable compound – flash powder – in 1887, accidents were commonplace, maiming and injuring photographers. Not until flash bulbs were introduced around 1930 did the means for producing sudden blasts of artificial light become easier and more dependable, and this increased with the advent of the Speedlite and other electronic flash guns.

‘Flash gun’ – that nomenclature takes us full circle, since some of the early contraptions for igniting flash powder were indeed designed to look very like a revolver. The name, and the linkage of violence and weaponry, stuck. The allusion is clear in the black humour of the words that decorate some military gun barrels: ‘SMILE. WAIT FOR FLASH.’ Weaponry and photography work in consort in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Foreign Correspondent (1940), in which a man posing as a news photographer kills a central European chancellor with a pistol fired at the same moment as he sets off his flash.

Photographic flash is, however, frequently aggressive in its own right. If one is close to it, one’s eyes are startled into temporary blindness, and indeed the photographer is likely to be as dazzled as the subject. The eruption of flash disorients. Numerous early accounts of flash photography retell how it startled bystanders and horses; jokes were told about how police could confuse its effects with those of Fenian dynamiters. The disorientation is used to great effect near the end of Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), where Jeff (played by James Stewart) turns his flash gun on his attacker, Lars Thorwald, flaring the bulb in his face. Hitchcock’s dramatic use of reverse perspective means that we experience the shot both from behind the lens, and also as if it were going off in Thorwald’s – and our – eyes. The screen is momentarily flooded with the red of the shocked retina.

In addition to its somatic repercussions, flash can also enact a form of ethical violence. What, if anything, might justify flash’s unexpected interruption into daily lives? This is a question that has exercised documentary photographers since the mid-20th century. Among those who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression in the United States, Dorothea Lange saw its use as invasive, and Ben Shahn expressed his doubts – both about photographing someone else’s private space, and about flash’s aesthetics. ‘When some of the people came in and began to use flash I thought it was immoral,’ he said. ‘You know, you come into a sharecropper’s cabin and it’s dark. But a flash destroyed that darkness.’ His dislike of artificial illumination was to be echoed by art photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész, who firmly adhered to the doctrine of using only available light. To use flash, said Cartier-Bresson, was ‘impolite … like coming to a concert with a pistol in your hand’.

This aesthetic purism was in part determined by the association of flash photography with newsmen and commercial work. The introduction of the flash bulb greatly enhanced the ability of press photographers to work at night, facilitating the documentation of crimes committed under the cover of darkness. Flash was increasingly used by police forces for detective work, too. No one more famously brought flash and crime together than the man known as Weegee, working in mid-20th-century New York to record murders, accidents and arrests. ‘A photographer is a hunter with a camera,’ he said, anticipating Sontag.

Nowhere has this determined intrusiveness been more apparent than in the work of paparazzi. Popping flash bulbs has become visual shorthand for the achievement of fame or notoriety. This firing-off of a barrage of light can be a terrifying onslaught: think of King Kong – captured, brought to New York City, exhibited on stage, and then startled into destructive rage by newspaper photographers. Paparazzi flash has come to equal unwelcome exposure, and paparazzi themselves have come to exemplify the worst excesses of the exploitative and invasive photographer.

Yet even though the violence that is caused, or recorded, by flash photography might be cruel, unpleasant or shocking, we should note a paradox. Flash – particularly high-speed flash – can find a terrible beauty in destruction. The strobe light that the pioneering scientific photographer Harold Edgerton used to show a bullet piercing a playing card, an apple and a row of inflated balloons creates a display of shredded material that no human eye could ever see. Similarly, the Israeli-born artist Ori Gersht’s videos and photographs depict bullets shattering freeze-dried flowers and fruits that have been assembled to look like Dutch Golden Age still-lifes, and dispersing them into shards: the images bring out the inherent fragility of natural objects.

But if Gersht’s images, like so many of the Dutch paintings that he references, imply a memento mori message, the beauty vanishes when we are confronted with irrevocable physical violence. One of the most startling images in the handbook Flash Photography (1947) by the African American Gordon Parks shows the execution of a collaborator by a French firing squad in November 1944. Kneeling, tied to a post, a large handkerchief masking his face, at the back of his neck is a blur of precipitated matter. Parks’s caption is laconic: ‘One bulb was used on the camera. The photographer’s flash was well-timed to catch flesh and clothing as bullets tore them from the body.’ Instrument of aggression, and facilitator of its photographic capturing, the history of flash photography is disconcertingly inseparable from violence.Aeon counter – do not remove


Kate Flint is provost professor of art history and English at the University of Southern California. Her latest book is Flash!: Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination (2017).

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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Blinded by the Light: The Violence of Flash Photography

Quick Tip: How to Build Your Instagram Following

Quick Tip: How to Build Your Instagram Following

Photographer Kristen Angelo, who specializes in shooting for editorial and commercial clients in the cannabis industry, says Instagram was a key tool for building her business and marketing her photography. Using hashtags such as #cannabis and #cannabisculture, she identified potential clients, and got her work in front of them. That led to her first assignments with cannabis trade and culture magazines. She continues to use IG to build her brand and attract clients. “I would say that 90 percent of my connections evolved through Instagram,” says Angelo, who has about 4,500 followers.

Here are three pieces of advice from Angelo for building a following and attracting clients on Instagram:

1. Post new content regularly and maintain consistency with the type/style of work you share. When I first launched my Instagram, I posted new content about five times a day. Now I usually post content twice a day—a.m. and p.m.

2. Treat Instagram as an extension of your website portfolio. Share only your best work. Be a storyteller. No food, no pets, no memes, no smartphone snapshots, no political opinions, no drama.

3. Respond to comments and direct messages in a timely manner, and always with kindness and respect. And set the direct message feature to engage with accounts that might benefit from your work. Ask them if they’re interested in sharing your work with their [followers].

For more of her Instagram advice, see “Instagram Tips from Pot Photographer Kristen Angelo.”

Related:
Finding a Voice and Community Through Instagram
How Photo Editors Use Instagram to Discover Photographers
Social Media Marketing Tips
What’s Your Niche? Cannabis Photographer Kristen Angelo

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Quick Tip: How to Build Your Instagram Following

Syrian Photographer Wins 7th HIPA Grand Prize of $120,000

Syrian Photographer Wins 7th HIPA Grand Prize of 0,000

© Mohamed Alragheb

Syrian photojournalist Mohamed Alragheb won the $120,000 Grand Prize in the seventh annual HIPA awards for his image of fellow photojournalist Abd Alkader Habak carrying an injured child away from a car bomb explosion. © Mohamed Alragheb

Syrian photographer Mohamed Alragheb has won the $120,000 Grand Prize in the seventh annual Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Awards (HIPA). The photographer was unable to attend the awards due to the ongoing hostilities in Syria. However, one of the subjects of the photograph, fellow photojournalist Abd Alkader Habak, received the prize on his behalf, and was given a special merit award for an extraordinary act of bravery.

The events that lead to the photograph unfolded April 2017, in the Rashideen neighborhood in Western Aleppo. Both Habak and Alragheb were documenting a people exchange down a peace corridor that had been allowed under ceasefire, when a massive explosion occurred near the two photojournalists. Habak returned four times to the scene of the explosion to remove injured parties as a result of this car bomb. In the winning image, Habak is seen running away from a recently exploded car carrying a severely injured child, his camera still hanging about his neck.

Communicating directly to PDN from Syria, Alragheb had this reaction to winning the Grand Prize. “First of all, I would like to thank the patrons of HIPA for the chance to showcase my photograph as a winner of this competition to the rest of the world. This award can be considered one of the biggest milestones in my life, despite my young age.”

On the impact of the award he said: “I hope that my win will afford me more chances and opportunities in photography and that I will continue to seek success in all avenues of the artform. On asking about his brave colleague he said “I would like to say that Alkader Habak represents a true Syrian revolutionary with his strong touch of humanity and his determination and drive to help others in need.”

Asked how the prize will affect him personally day to day, the winner stated that, “It will drive me to capture more powerful photographs and improve my skills as a photographer in the difficult circumstances we are currently experiencing in Syria”.

The Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award was established by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, in 2011. The theme of the 2019 Awards will be “Hope”.

Judges for this year’s competition included Khalil Hamra, AP photographer; Randy Olson, Documentary Photographer; Ami Vitale, photographer, writer and filmmaker; David Alan Harvey, photographer and editor; Ed Kashi, photojournalist and filmmaker; Gunther Wegner, founder of LRTimelapse; Jean-Francois Leroy, photojournalist; Peter Bill, time-lapse creator.

—Liam Bailey

Related:

Arash Yaghmaian Wins the $120K HIPA Photography Award for 2017

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Syrian Photographer Wins 7th HIPA Grand Prize of 0,000

Thomas Eakins: Brilliant Painter, Gifted Photographer… Sexual Predator?

Thomas Eakins: Brilliant Painter, Gifted Photographer… Sexual Predator?

By: Henry Adams, Case Western Reserve University


The recent toppling of a string of powerful figures for sexual abuse and harassment raises the question of how these people managed to conceal their behavior so long, in some instances after abusing hundreds of victims.

Why didn’t the victims speak up? And why, when they did, was justice so slow?

Clearly, there’s a powerful human instinct to ignore or cover-up allegations of this sort, whether they appear in politics, entertainment, sports, academia or media.

The art world isn’t immune.

Thomas Eakins is one of the most revered 19th-century American artists. His brooding portraits seem to strip his sitters of all pretension, revealing an inner vulnerability. New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman described Eakins’ huge rendering of a grisly medical operation, “The Gross Clinic,” as “hands down, the finest 19th-century American painting.”

But over the last few decades, enough evidence has emerged to suggest that Eakins was a sexual predator. Not only did he cross a number of lines with his subjects and students, but a disturbing pattern of alleged abuse has also emerged. Curiously, the very group that one would have expected to speak up – feminist art historians – have been notably silent.

How should this sort of information be dealt with when it emerges? What’s behind the urge to suppress it? And how should it color our view of an artist?

Eakins quietly fired

The son of a Philadelphia instructor in penmanship and calligraphy, Eakins went on to study art in Paris. Upon returning to his hometown in 1870, he rose quickly to a position of local eminence. In 1882, at the age of 38, he was appointed director of the art school of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1886, however, he was abruptly fired from the Pennsylvania Academy with no public explanation. He then spent the rest of his life as an outcast from proper Philadelphia society. He’d gift portraits to his sitters, who would routinely destroy them. Critics derided his art as ugly and depressing.

But at the turn of the century, a dramatic shift occurred. Painters such as society portraitist John Singer Sargent came to be viewed as superficial and dishonest, while Eakins was seen as a paragon of the authentic. The first biography of Eakins, published in 1933 by art historian Lloyd Goodrich, depicted him as an exemplar of sober honesty and moral probity.

Thomas Eakins’ 1899 painting ‘Wrestlers.’
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

For more than half century, Goodrich’s monograph remained the primary source on Eakins for a curious reason. Shortly after the biography came out, the documents Goodrich had drawn on disappeared and were presumed destroyed. This meant that in subsequent books, Goodrich’s account needed to be used as the authoritative source.

In 1985, however, Eakins’ papers were rediscovered among the effects of his pupil Charles Bregler and shortly thereafter became fully accessible to scholars. In addition, after Goodrich died in 1987, his notes from interviews with people who had known Eakins became available. They included a great deal of material he had excluded from his published account.

While some cracks in Goodrich’s account had come to light earlier, the Bregler Papers and Goodrich’s notes made it clear that nearly everything about Eakins’ life and art needed a major reassessment.

A disturbing pattern of behavior emerges

Loosely speaking, the accusations against Eakins fit into two categories.

The first involves nudity. Eakins seems to have been an exhibitionist voyeur – someone who exposes themselves in unlikely or inappropriate situations to shock others and perhaps achieve some sort of psychological dominance.

He often undressed in front of his students or inappropriately exposed himself in front of his subjects. For example, according to his student Samuel Murray, he once walked completely naked into a room where a young woman was posing for her portrait and declared, “I don’t know if you ever saw a naked man before. I thought you might like to see one.”

Goodrich’s unpublished notes detail repeated instances in which he pressured women to undress in front of him, from his young female students to the elderly women who posed for his portraits.

He collected a large number of nude photographs of himself and his students, and he had photographs taken in which he is carrying a naked female model while unclothed. In his classes he often used obscene language, told dirty jokes, and spoke at great length about the male genitals in anatomical dissections.

The second deals with episodes that are much more troubling and bizarre.

The most disturbing involves Eakins’ niece Ella Crowell. In 1897, she committed suicide with a shotgun. The Bregler Papers revealed that she had once accused Eakins of sexually molesting her and that Ella’s parents believed her account.

Thomas Eakins’ 1888 portrait of his former student, Lillian Hammitt.
Wikimedia Commons

The papers disclosed another troubling series of events. One of Eakins’ students, Lillian Hammitt, was picked up by the police on the streets of Philadelphia wearing a bathing suit and claiming that Eakins had promised to marry her. In 1886, Eakins’ brother-in-law, Charles Stephens, accused him of incest with his sister Margaret, who had died a few years before. Eakins’ sister Caroline also reported that he would repeatedly enter her bedroom wearing a shirt but no pants. Once, when she fled to a more distant part of the house to escape him, he shot and killed her cat.

By the end of his life, Eakins wasn’t on speaking terms with any of his siblings. Another brother-in-law, Will Crowell, admitted in a letter that he had threatened to kill Eakins.

While Eakins disparaged those who attacked him, he was a little like someone who starts a fight in a bar and then ducks out the back door. He consistently avoided specifically addressing the charges against him. Instead, he let his students, associates and family members engage in arguments about his behavior.

Silence still reigns

The belief that Eakins engaged in some form of sexual abuse is not based on conjecture but on large numbers of concrete accusations made in his lifetime.

What’s striking, however, is the persistent avoidance of these issues.

This material is still left out – surely deliberately left out – of most standard sources on American art. No textbook breathes a word on the subject. Even the Wikipedia article on Eakins systematically omits his sexual transgressions.

How can we explain this?

Thomas Eakins’ 1900 portrait of Mary Adeline Williams.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

One possible explanation is simply that issues like sexual abuse are highly disturbing. They make one queasy. Moral issues like theft are not hard to think about in a logical way. With incest and sexual abuse, a more primitive instinct of avoidance seems to come to the fore.

Another possible explanation is that people often have trouble admitting that they were wrong. During the period before the discovery of the Bregler Papers, effusive praise of Eakins was expected of scholars in the American field, and a great many women and men engaged in it.

In 1983, for example, art historian Elizabeth Johns won the Mitchell Prize for a book celebrating Eakins as a moral, disciplined, self-made man. Though this was written before the Bregler Papers were discovered, she has never publicly changed her stance.

Even Linda Nochlin, a major figure in feminist art history, wrote an essay praising the way Eakins pictured women who look abused and declared that she felt he would have been sympathetic to her as a Jewish girl at Vassar. Sadly, this was unlikely. According to Weda Cook, a sitter for one of Eakins’ most famous portraits, the painter “didn’t like Jews.” He was also a friend and ally of the reactionary arts administrator Harrison Morris, who believed that modern art was a conspiracy of Jewish artists and art dealers.

In the past, I’ve written about Eakins’ pattern of sexual misconduct. One surprise has been the hostility of many female art historians to this criticism.

Why does it matter? Ella Crowell has been dead for more than a century. Why should we care if she was sexually abused?

My own feeling is that there’s a moral dimension to this question – that presenting a sexual predator as a moral paragon is unhealthy and that to do so twists our moral values.

But I would also argue for a somewhat different position. When we deal with contemporary events, it’s easy for a sort of witch-hunt mentality to take over. With an artist long dead, we can maintain a more dispassionate approach and search for understanding the mechanisms of unhealthy behavior.

While we can recognize that Eakins was a sexual predator, we can also point to another long-suppressed fact of Eakins’ life: His mother suffered from bipolar disorder throughout his childhood and died of “mania” shortly after he returned from Paris. As a child, Eakins had spent long periods with his mother and was charged with caring for her while his father worked.

Bipolar illness has a strong hereditary component, and we know that Eakins himself sought medical help for depression. Surely, spending long periods with a mentally ill woman must have been traumatic.

Finally, there’s the issue of Eakins’ paintings, which are widely regarded as one of the great achievements of American art. No American painter made works that are so extensively autobiographical, and so much a portrait of himself, his family and his intimate circle.

The ConversationIf we’re going to grasp what makes these paintings so tragically powerful, we should be honest and open in examining the man who made them and the impulses that drove him.


Henry Adams, Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History, Case Western Reserve University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Thomas Eakins: Brilliant Painter, Gifted Photographer… Sexual Predator?

Throwback: Reviewing the Sony Digital Mavica

Throwback: Reviewing the Sony Digital Mavica

Do you remember when digital cameras recorded files to floppy disks? Back up, do you even remember what a floppy disk is?

Seemingly aeons ago, humans used these hard plastic disks to store data and Sony was the first to incorporate that storage media into a digital camera. The company’s Digital Mavica line was path-breaking, bringing digital imaging to a wider audience.

Lazy Game Reviews takes us on a trip down memory lane (get it?) as he reviews the Mavica FD5, which was introduced to the world in 1997–the same year that IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess, presaging the slow but inevitable takeover of the machines.

The FD5 recorded images at 640 x 480 with a 4.8mm f/2.0 lens (47mm equivalent). There was no zoom or autofocus but you did get a 2.5-inch display.

The camera originally retailed for $599 (though you can grab it used today for under $100).

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Throwback: Reviewing the Sony Digital Mavica

The Dangers of Instagram, Broccoli Tree Edition

The Dangers of Instagram, Broccoli Tree Edition

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.

Via: DP Review

Don’t Miss: Photographing Wise Trees Around the World

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The Dangers of Instagram, Broccoli Tree Edition