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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blogging PhotoPlus Expo with Stella and Sari

I've been here all day and have a bunch of things to tell you about--just hope someone is listening. Sari Goodfriend and I have gone to 4 seminars, heard the amazing Harry Benson speak about his photographs, and talked to bunches of people. As per usual it seems that everything is going on at the same time and the seminar rooms are freezing, but I did hear some very interesting things.

The first panel I went to was moderated by Debra Weiss and was about working in advertising. As Debra said, "I don't believe the economy is the problem, it's technology and how everything is changing." Andrea Kaye, manager of art production at McCann Erickson, JoAnn Tansman creative director of BBDO NY and Matt Seminara a rep from Friend & Johnson based in NY all made basically the 3 same points:

*Get a point of view and stick to it. That is the single most important thing for a photographer, and I couldn't agree more. You need to be unique to distinguish yourself from the rest of the world.

*Professionals can do it on demand, which bodes well against the competition posed by the millions of amateurs with cameras.

*It's a business first and foremost. If it's what you HAVE to do instead of what you WANT to do, and you have the drive and determination, you'll be making the right choices. Remember, clients aren't your friends. They work in their best interest, not yours. But that doesn't mean you can't have friendly, professional relationships--they are the cornerstones to success.

If you're an established photographer and want to work in advertising you have to have a rep, that was pretty much agreed on by all. If you're just starting out, however, you need to have some work to show before you should consider a rep. Here in New York (as with most other places) there are small businesses and small agencies and small companies you can work for in order to get your book and portfolio together. But like anything else, you have to expend the energy to get what you want. It doesn't fall into your lap. The reason agencies rely on reps to find photographers is that the rep takes all the guesswork out of it for the art buyer/producer and saves them time. But if you're a beginner, how do you deal with that?

I think the lessons are the same no matter what kind of work you want to do. Do your homework, find out the right person to contact. Get your work together on your website and in your portfolio and plan a direct mail campaign that makes sense--that shows your work to it's best advantage.

If you want more about this, let me know.

Now I want to switch gears and talk a little about the amazing Harry Benson.

If any of you are wondering who he is, let's just say this: He came over to America with The Beatles, was standing next to Robert F. Kennedy when he was assassinated, photographed Richard Nixon as he resigned the presidency, photographed Dr. Martin Luther King's funeral, and took photos of a bald Liz Taylor after she underwent brain surgery. And that's just a short overview of his work. Think about the amazing breadth of his work..... He's a great, sly storyteller, with understated wit and a gift for getting the unexpected from people. And all he does is ask.

When asked how he seemed to become friends with the famous people he photographed he said that was only incidental. "My feelings and my energy are more important to me than Jack Nicholsons'."

Now that's a man who is in charge of his life.

Is everyone on Twitter these days? Does everyone understand what to do with it or is it just another aggravation in your life? Well I want to understand why I should be tweeting, so I went to this seminar and it opened my eyes.
Jack Hollingsworth, Rosh Sillars, Seshu Badrinath, Taylor Davidson and Jim Goldstein gave an easy to understand, answer all your questions pep talk about pioneering on Twitter and about the value of creating your identity and gathering like minded people to you. I'm excited and will try Twitter updates tomorrow as well as blogging.

Here's Sari's take on the seminars she went to...

Moderator: Holly Hughes
Panelists: Michael Foley, Debra Klomp Ching, Hanna Frieser, John A. Bennette

Took lots of notes here, but looking through them a lot of it seems to be common sense.
Just makes me wonder: exactly how many photographers are there out there with no common sense? Seems that every year these panels are presented to educate us on the most basic things like “don’t be a haughty jerk when you’re getting your work looked at by a big time gallerist or consultant at a portfolio review”. Duh!

But mostly, this was a really good panel, each one really well prepared to discuss their business and how they acquire their roster of photographers. It was actually an incredibly pleasant way to start the day. I frankly couldn’t believe everyone was so chipper and alert. Holly Hughes, Editor in Chief of PDN, was the moderator and she did a fabulous job. A-plus, Holly!

Michael Foley started it off with a nice humble tone by stating that he, too, had been an artist and knew what it was like. His background working at Frankel Gallery in SF and here in NYC (I believe he worked at Yancey Richardson), gave him the business education he needed though to run what is recognized as a very cool gallery here in Chelsea. As each panelist did, he listed his preferred ways to be contacted (email for him with a direct link to a website, please) and offered some basic, yet sage advice about approaching galleries, such as:

*Know who you are, what your work is about and be able to talk about articulately.
*Don’t be pushy – be informed about their gallery
*Be humble and hold a conversation
*Ask what the gallery owner does and why they do it. (not 100% sure what that means, but basically seems to be like “keep up your end of the conversation – don’t be totally self absorbed).
*Send ONE jpeg – NOT a whole PDF.
*Be ubiquitous –you’ll have more chances if your work is out there.
*Go to openings and make contact with the gallerist.
[personally, I’d say, GO BACK after the opening because at the opening it’ll be too crowded]
*It’s a social industry – get out there and socialize. [I’d add that even if you’re not in NYC – there are plenty of opportunities to shine in your own art community]

Michael ended with a slide of a postcard that he had received from Joel Peter Witkin in response to a letter he had written to this artist he so admired when he was young and “naive” [his word].
It said “If I were to encapsulate what anyone must do, it would be to have a vision of life and depict that vision .“ How true.

Each of the panelists likened the gallery-artist relationship to a marriage, however not all of them agree on the need for pre-nups. (i.e. contracts). Debra Klomp Ching of KlompChing Gallery ( said she and her partner Darren Ching, have “agreements” with their artists but she resoundingly stated that they will only work with artists they like. Meaning, beyond just the work, but personally.

She also gave a little hint of what to expect if you actually DO get some face time with her or Darren and I quote: “When people say they want a solo show, gallery representation and a book deal, I say, so what have you done so far and why don’t I know your name?” Ouch. So, people you gotta be more than prepared, you gotta be sharp!
Debra also said she does not appreciate looking at work prints or a Blurb-type book [although Blurb has unarguably enabled a huge population of photographers to publish their own work in a great affordable way). However, because Debra is really appreciating the work “as an artifact”, she wants to see your actual prints and the quality of them. Understandable if she’s going to be selling them to people who will hopefully pay a lot of money.

Next to speak was Hanna Frieser of LIGHT WORK up in Syracuse, NY. They are a non-profit whose magazine I’ve seen, but I didn’t know that they also function as a gallery and an artist residency. Their main focus is helping artists at crucial moments in their careers, like when they have to print a huge body of work for a show or a book. Light Work has printing facilities and a full staff of 7 to help artists get these things done. Sounds utterly amazing. There is no formal application, Hannah explained, rather just: a letter of intent, a resume, artist statement, and of course…the work. This is competitive though – they receive 350 applications every year for only 12 spots. Hannah spoke, as other gallery owners did, about many wonderful and inspiring artists that she has either worked with or knew about and was considering for the residency program. Among them were the following which I found particularly inspiring.

Angelika Rinhofer, Binh Dahn, photosynthesis images of Vietnam images on Leaves, and Myra Green- used the backing from Polaroid (possibly Type 55), then photographed that image – mostly concentrates on African Americans. Very faded images- you have to work hard to see them. Reminded me of Roy de Carava in that regard.

Lastly the dapper, mildly sarcastic and endlessly amusing John A. Bennette presented some of his personal photography collection and spoke about his pathway to becoming a curator and photo consultant, based on his love and passion for photography. He seems to give a lot of support but also some harsh advice to photographers in portfolio reviews and when he’s out and about. He said he doesn’t go to openings too much anymore though because he finds them “stressful”. I don’t blame him – for anyone who’s been in Chelsea on a Thursday in the summer. What a mob scene! So John’s advice today was the following:
*Put your camera down and think about what sort of art you are creating and what kind of art you make.”
*State beliefs about yourself – don’t try to please the reviewer
*When at a portfolio review: bring only one body of work – don’t show one body for 10
mins and then say you have another body of work to show.
*Likes to get a CD at a review – printed label on the disc. He was adamant about this funny little tidbit: He said DON’T USE a SHARPIE on your disc!! Get a label printing machine for 50 bucks.
*Donate to auctions – he particularly recommends one he is involved with of an organization called “Friends without a Border”. They have a nice catalog, but I didn’t get to stick around to see it because a client called and I had to duck out early to send an estimate. Psyched about that, but it’s challenging to do double duty and be inside all day. I’m sure anyone who’s here knows what I mean

Over n’out…

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Blogger Byron said...

Thanks you two! This really helps. For those like me who live a little outside this world it's great to these notes to better understand an industry, that at times, seems to exist on another planet.

October 22, 2009  
Anonymous Kathryn Wagner said...

Wonderful perspective! Thanks for a bit of insight into your PhotoPlus experience, I really enjoyed this.

October 22, 2009  

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