Another Batch of Stories

Video by Barry Schwartz

Here’s another set in my occasional series of online stories that knocked me out. A little photo-centric, but not always.

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A photograph is not evidence of the truth, rather, an interpretation, even though over time that interpretation becomes so embedded it seems indistinguishable from the truth. It helps to hve more than one photographer document the scene to know what really happened. By Michael Shaw in The New York Times Magazine.

The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo
Was Nearly Erased — Until Now
A celebrated book and a major museum exhibition revealed the harrowing tale behind the image of a wounded Marine. Their version was wrong.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/02/19/magazine/vietnam-war-photo-wounded-marine.html

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In a long and beautiful remembrance, as much about the South as art, “Michael Adno admired no artist’s work more than Alabama’s William Christenberry. And after Christenberry died in late 2016 at 80, Adno retraced his footsteps through west-central Alabama. Today, read through a two-year journey with Christenberry’s family and friends, recounting how he made a record of his native Hale County and what that ultimately meant outside the South.” By Michael Adno in the Bitter Southerner.

William Christenberry – Once It Comes Time

https://bittersoutherner.com/once-it-comes-time-william-christenberry-southern-photography

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Asking questions in professional contexts is never easy, but it can be more like a conversation than an interrogation, becoming a better experience on both sides. Journalists do this all the time, and there are a range of techniques that work for anyone. By Solutions Journalism in The Whole Story.

22 Questions that ‘Complicate the Narrative’

https://thewholestory.solutionsjournalism.org/22-questions-that-complicate-the-narrative-47f2649efa0e

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Freelancers all face the same challenges, including learning first hand about the myths of freelancing. “You can find plenty of positive things online about being your own boss, and we all know someone who says going freelance was the best decision they’ve ever made. With this article, we want to give you a more realistic view of this often glorified way of living.” By Rosa Koolhoven from Vanchneider.com.

The Downsides of Freelancing

https://www.vanschneider.com/the-downsides-of-freelancing

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Hugh Magnum was a traveling photographer during the early 20th Century whose photos, while forgotten and buried in a barn and chicken coop for almost a century, are remarkably contemporary. From the article: “’Through Mangum’s eyes, we see a diverse citizenry, and we see them depicted with democratic equanimity on the same glass plate negative in side-by-side portraits, which suggests that they waited their turn together, in the same studio at the same time,’ Margaret Sartor, an instructor at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, told Hyperallergic.” By Allison Meier in Hyperallergic.

An Itinerant Photographer’s Diverse Portraits
of the Turn-of-the-Century American South

www.hyperallergic.com/480842/an-itinerant-photographers-diverse-portraits-of-the-turn-of-the-century-american-south

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The world of art galleries looks like a cloistered clubhouse, closed to outsiders. It may well be cloistered, but it is also, and mostly, a business, easier to understand than to enter. Two writers have authored a book that explains it all, and have published a condensed version as a brief article. By Edward Winkelman and Patton Hindle in Artsy.

A Brief History of Art Dealing

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-history-art-dealing

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Sarah Meister is a curator in the New York Museum of Modern Art Photography Department. In an audio interview, Meister pulls back the curtain on what curators actually do, the culture of museums, and the relations they have with collectors, photographers, and other institutions. Interview by Jordan Weissmann

How Does a Museum Curator Do Her Job?
Meet Sarah Meister, a curator in MoMA’s
department of photography.

https://slate.com/business/2018/11/sarah-meister-curator-momas-department-photography.html

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SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a constant concern, worry, and obsession for anyone who wants to be found on the internet. How does Google rank us? How easily can we be found? What are the dangers of doing it wrong? What is Google thinking? HubSpot examines 22 SEO myths about what’s true and what’s not. By HubSpot, as a downloadable PDF.

22 SEO MYTHS You Should Leave Behind in 2019

https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/53/22%20SEO%20Myths%20to%20Leave%20Behind%20in%202019.pdf

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What does the music industry have in common with other creative endeavors? The music industry recently had a major victory in Congress in the quest for musicians to be fairly paid in the form of the Music Modernization Act. That victory was the result of all kinds of stakeholders working together for a single goal, and it worked. Those results could be replicated by others, if they work together. Michael Huppe, the president and CEO of SoundExchange wrote a piece about the power of working together in Variety.

Music Modernization Act Was Verse One,
the Rest of the Song Is Yet to Be Written

www.variety.com/2018/biz/news/music-modernization-act-verse-one-guest-post-1203006780/

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Along these same lines, the passage of the Music Modernization Act has put into law the ability to set up a rights clearinghouse for music creators – an endeavor that other creators could also benefit from, as a proof-of-concept for managing licensing and rights payments. Billboard magazine has an Op-Ed by The Open Music Initiative, launched by the Berklee School of Music and the MIT Media Lab, who have already begun work on a non-profit, open-source project to manage all that information, potentially unlocking trillions of dollars of fees to go to creators.

Why Success of the Music Modernization Act
Depends on Open Standards

https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8482056/mma-op-ed-open-music-initiative-open-standards

On The Street

When Tomás Kofman from For Freedoms emailed to ask if I would be interested in documenting two billboards in San Francisco, my initial reaction was: Yet another outfit trying to con yet another photographer out of time and money.  Tomás included links to examples from other photographers.  I quickly realized For Freedoms was the real deal. The real real deal.

The name refers to a series of paintings by Normal Rockwell of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms from 1941: Freedom Of Speech, Freedom From Fear, Freedom From Want, Freedom Of Worship.

I already knew about one of the founders, Hank Willis Thomas – I follow him on Instagram!    While I’d seen work similar to these billboards, never a project with this much range, focus, imagination, serious intent, and fun.

The billboards look like parodies, but they’re not. For Freedoms was onto something else. Parody, as a word, has become a confusing methodology the last few years, every week the world pushing back via outrage and disappointment, outfitted with bizarre reasoning and nonsensical explanations, leading to hurtful actions. Humor helps: the brilliant, biting work being done by comics, many of them spawn of the Chappell Show or Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.  Respectable news organizations, cognizant their respectability is on the line as a result of their past sins, have stepped up their game.  These kinds of changes have helped prop up my Pollyanna attitude: Everything Will Be Alright.  It’s taken some effort to maintain, however.

I’ve been sustained by a flourishing of good work of all kinds that, intended or not, funny or not, educates me and rearranges how I comprehend the world we have now.  Effective work does not have to be subversive to be effective (but it’s nice when it is).  The work For Freedoms produces is subversive: it looks familiar, quickly reveals it’s not what it seems, finally coming around to being exactly what it seems.  This can’t be easy.  Above and beyond, it’s art, and so is impervious to being pinned down as subversive or parody.  The work works.

The For Freedoms website presents a mission – and attitude – containing a tone reminiscent of the socially committed art projects of the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties, some of which were funded by the federal government, inconceivable in the present day.

The billboards had wit, charm, good looks, and smarts – what’s not to like?  I wrote to Tomás right away, and signed up.  The billboards needed to be shot and delivered within a single day in order for them to do their job on social media. My job was not to be an artist but to produce artful documents, revealing the context the billboards lived in. Both would look their best at dusk, so the hard part for me would be moving quickly enough to cover the few miles between the billboards in order to get all my photos the same evening before it got dark – and to keep myself from being run over while I was, on occasion, standing in the middle of the street, sometimes on a ladder.  It all worked out.

I’ve shot in the street before. In this case I did my work on the sidewalk or safeguarded between cars.  The only time I got scared was when, while on my ladder on the sidewalk, two large dogs in a beat-up RV a few feet away started barking then lunging at the glass on the passenger door so hard I was afraid they would somehow break out.  I was worried enough to glance around to see which nearby car I could climb on top of out of their reach.  There were none, and in any event had they got out I would never have made it more than a few steps.  I believe in sacrificing for art, but not my life. I got my shot and quickly crossed the street.

I do a lot of architectural photography, meaning my job is to document environments with accuracy, remaining respectful to the intentions of the designer.  A touch of artfulness is OK as long as it helps translate the 3-D world into a 2-D photo.  Billboards exist in a context that is both 2-D and 3-D at the same time, which, along with the style guide Tomás sent me made my goal easier to reach.  I got the shots, went home, and delivered images the next day. 

I believe in the importance of the give-back (I serve on two boards). This had been an opportunity to promote the better angels during a time when those angels seem to be just waking up from a long nap.  This assignment was a gift: being asked to produce photos supporting a smart, informed, broad-minded attempt to make the world a better place.  That’s as good as it gets. 

Christina Force, Photographer Consultant

Christina Force, photographer consultant.  Image by Sara Orme.

Photo by Sara Orme

 

Interview by Barry Schwartz

Christina Force spent years working in an agency before becoming a photographer’s agent and running a production company – both at the same time.  She now helps photographers navigate the world of advertising.

By the time she was 19 Force was working at the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency in London doing layouts and typography, working on major campaigns.  The intense, always-on agency life took a toll, and after three years she needed a break. Force and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Pete, an art director she met at Saatchi’s, left their jobs and London behind.  They worked on a boat and at a French ski resort and backpacked around America, ending up in Australia, both working at Saatchi again.  She discovered she loved working with photographers more than any other aspect of agency life.  Gradually, her desire to work with photographers became so great she left the business, this time, for good.

I tried styling and I was not bad at it. One day, I was on a shoot with a photographer.  He was an amazing man, Graham McCarter.  I was on this shoot chatting to his clients, having a great old time. Because, you know, I came from an advertising background. When the shoot was over and the client had left, he turned to me and said, Christina, I think you need to be my agent. And he changed my life.  He’d been the official photographer on the 1973 Rolling Stones World Tour.  He’d seen stuff. All the photographers in Sydney really looked up to him. If he had a talk or a workshop, they’d all go.  So as soon as I became his agent, every photographer in town wanted me to be theirs because I had him on my books.

Force was 23.  A few years later her husband Pete got a job offer in Saatchi’s New Zealand office, where they have now lived for 25 years and where she started her agency, The Collective Force.  By then, they had two small children.  

And I thought, look, I’ll just work part‑time and I’ll just work in the mornings.  It’ll be a nice part-time job.  Within six months, I had a full-time PA, a full-time nanny, and had to find office premises. It was insane. 

In those years, photographers and agencies in New Zealand had not quite caught up to how businesses operated in the big international cities.

The art directors were muddling through trying to find photographers for shoots.  They’d turn up to the shoot and have to help carry the gear. And they’d sort of figure out where lunch was coming from partway through.  I love food. The first thing I did was make sure there was food on set.  And suddenly we had happy photographers and happy creatives who were fed, and happy models who weren’t falling over on the job.

Originally I was just going to rep and let the photographers do their own production. But I realized that most of them couldn’t produce their way out of a paper bag.  I ended up creating this production company [OPTNZ] to deal with this stuff. And I had to choose. Do I want to go out and sell and market these photographers? Or do I want to produce?  I preferred actually building relationships. So I chose to be the relationship builder and getting the work in the door. I employed producers to manage the work for me. It just grew unbelievably. I learned on the job and I made a lot of mistakes. But every time I made a mistake, we fixed it and we moved forward. And those aren’t really mistakes. I didn’t step on anyone’s shoes. I stepped on my income. Or I didn’t put a clause on a quote and ended up getting called out, things like that. 

I’d go around and I’d bump into creatives I’d worked with at Saatchi’s London.  They met me and, “Oh, my God, you’re here. How fantastic. You’re an agent? Oh, how fantastic.  I need a photographer for this job. Deal with it.”  And that was how I began my agency actually. That was really crucial.  I’ve talked to a lot of start-up reps about this.  They come to me and they say “I’ve picked these great photographers. Now tell me what I should do.” And I say “Why did you start with the photographers when you don’t know what your clients want?”

This led to Force becoming a kind of art buyer herself because of the unfulfilled needs of the photo buyers at agencies.

I always say to people starting out as agents, go and talk to the clients.  Ask the questions. And they’re going to love you. Because you’re actually helping them. And that’s the key to anything. 

It’s the key to photographers when they take a brief.  Instead of trying to tell the creative what they are going to do, let them talk to you. Ask them questions. Find out how they found out about you.  Was it your website? You might assume that, but it might be from word of mouth.  It might be from some random crazy shot you did years ago that bears no resemblance to anything on your website.  Photographers tend to assume when they take a job that that person has seen their website, but they may not have.  And then they start these conversations that are all based on assumption. And that is the scariest thing. That can just lose you a job. 

When young photographers talk to me and they say, well, how do I get an agent? I say, well, here’s the first thing you have to understand. If you’re not making enough money for the agent to make a living off of you, you’re not going to get an agent. So you have to have a certain amount of work coming in at a certain income level for them to take you on because they make their money as a percentage of your money. So you really have to be unbelievably busy or well‑paid before anybody will take you on.

I say, okay, show me the work you’ve shot for ad agencies. And they say I haven’t got any, I’m going to an agent for that. They get it all around the wrong way. What I do is I take them back to the beginning and say, okay, first of all, let’s make sure that your profile is good and that you’re ready for an agent…meaning how do you look to the outside world? How does your website look? How does your social media status look? Is everything out there saying what you need it to say about you? Is it reflecting who you are? And are you representing yourself authentically? And with regards to your outward looking profile – are you speaking the right language to attract the types of clients that are going to fall in love with your authentic work?

Basically what you have to do is prove yourself.  You have to prove that you can answer a brief.  You might have this amazing photographic style that’s beautiful, but can you actually translate that into a brief that’s full of all sorts of parameters and restrictions and compromise? Can you still produce the results in the way that you represent in your outward profile? 

You have to prove that you can take a brief, that you can work with clients, that you can communicate, that you can work professionally, that you’re not just an artist. And it varies from industry to industry.  In the ad industry, yes, you get paid more. But that’s because you have so much you have to do before and after that shot is made.  Editorial’s a little easier. You know, there’s various different types of photography and industries. 

It’s all about who you’re targeting and what you need to do and what you’re capable of doing. 

Force spent a lot of time on the road in Asia, Australia, and the U.S., showing the portfolios of her local photographers for projects to be shot in New Zealand, including coming to Los Angeles four times a year.  As is true for any rep, the challenge was getting her photographers to the point of having a creative call – a conference call between her and the photographer, the agency, and the actual client.  The critical element was always the photographer’s participation, even if the project was theirs to lose.

I repped this amazing photographer. The art buyers loved the work so much.  The photographer was their favorite pick for a massive automotive campaign. They actually kept this photographer’s portfolio; it was so inspiring that they had decided to use it as a style guide for the entire campaign, which involved something around the lines of three different TV campaigns and several advertising print campaigns.

We had the creative call. And the photographer had the job, you know. It would have worked. But in spite of me coaching this photographer on what to say…it was just devastating because we were on this call and the art director is saying things like, “So, what I’m thinking is that we’re going to need to have this kind of landscape like this one in your portfolio. And we’re going to put the vehicle here. So does that make sense?” And the photographer just kept saying, “Oh, but I don’t shoot cars.” It was so lacking in confidence. The photographer just wasn’t — wasn’t a good communicator. She was an artist. 

The photographer would have done an amazing job because we would have surrounded her with the best people. But the fact is these guys — let’s look at it from their perspective, right?  You’ve got a client who’s actually going to take a risk and shoot a massive campaign in another country, with an unknown shooter, outside of the United States of America.  If the photographer is displaying a complete lack of confidence, that’s too much risk.  That pushes the creatives and art producers over the line. They are responsible for the outcome.  So they ended up bringing a photographer over and shooting – well, three photographers over actually, and several directors. They booked out every crew in the country that wasn’t already taken up on Lord of the Rings.

When Force began to do folio shows at agencies in the U.S., her love of food paid off, but not in the way she thought it would.

I think they thought I was probably some sheep farmer from this country that knew nothing about photography.  Back then, websites were not common. Art buyers in L.A. were still collecting printed promo pieces and stacking them in a basket. It was the nineties.

I pulled some strings with companies in New Zealand that were marketing themselves in America.  I said do you want to get your products in front of a very discerning audience? So I had all these crazy beautiful organic New Zealand cheeses and wines turn up where I was staying. I made it all about New Zealand. I just tried to brand it. No one had done that.  It really helped position us. I thought I was selling New Zealand. But…what was different was the fact that photographers from New Zealand had a different look. It was quite different to Northern European photographers. It was quite different to American photographers. The final realization was that they weren’t necessarily going to hire my photographers because we were in New Zealand.  They were hiring my photographers for their look and then bringing them over to the United States because that lessened that risk factor. 

Over 17 years the Force Collective grew to a staff of nine people, routinely producing projects with budgets as high as $500,000. Then the world economy crashed; it was time to downsize and reimagine a professional life.

So I was left with my core, highest paid staff.  Every quote that went out the door had everything at full rates. If it felt like it was going to be a low-budget job, we would pass it onto the photographer and say, listen, you can take this or leave it. But we’re not going to produce it for you.  We can’t afford to compromise the quality. And you can handle the job yourself. So we started saying ‘no’. The first day we said no, a $300,000 job came in from Canada and we won it. And then we had agencies in New Zealand that were using us simply because they just knew that we were going to look after the job from the beginning to end. And they knew that in the long run, we were going to save them money.  And that year was my best year ever. 

From the minute I made that decision and we turned down the first job, the jobs just came flooding in.  And they were all massive jobs.  At the end of the year, we’d done so well, and I just said, well, that’s it. I’m closing the doors. My producers who worked for me bought the production company.   I left on top.

Force began to let go of her agency, as well, referring jobs and photographers to other agents and the production company, until, a year later, an art buyer who had been a client bought the Collective Force.

After that year, I got an email from a lawyer saying “I have someone who’s interested in buying the Collective Force.  Are you interested in selling?” I discovered that the person who was buying my business was an old client of mine who had been an art buyer in an ad agency and said if I was to ever buy a photographers’ agency, it has to be the Collective Force. Because I had built a business around systems and processes, it didn’t matter if the photographers weren’t onboard.  He was buying the name, all those relationships I’d built over fifteen years, and my database.  And he just carried on. So both my businesses are still flourishing.

I got rid of the office and the overheads and moved to working from home. It was the most incredible, liberating experience. It was fantastic.  Moving into helping photographers develop their businesses and their profiles and their marketing, and getting more work and being happier about what they did was such a perfect fit for me. It was something I should have done years earlier.  But without the experience I had, I could never have done what I do now. 

Systems and processes are what most successful businesses need to stay profitable, including – and beyond – photography, production, and repping.

I discovered where my systems processes bent came from just last year when I was on holiday with my mom and dad for their 50th anniversary. If you look on the back of a camera, there’s an ISO number.  Most manufactured goods have an ISO number on the back. And that’s the quality assurance standards system that has been developed by companies worldwide from a British standard system which was originally BS 758.  Now, if you’ll just bear with me. 

My dad wrote British Standard 758.  I had no idea until last year when I was on holiday with them.  And I did some research on it and I found out that it’s on every camera that’s made, every shower cap you find in a hotel room.  It’s not the quality of the production. It’s the quality of the process. 

My dad was there at the beginning of computers being mass produced.  In 1979, he was working for General Electric. And he was the Quality Assurance Manager.  And he realized there needs to be a system to monitor and assure quality. He needed to sort it out because, you know, it was a rapidly growing technology and being implemented in so many places and there were still people working in factories dropping cigarette ash on circuit boards! 

To be quite honest, I think it comes from the fact that he, maybe, and I, definitely, am a little disorganized. We get easily overwhelmed. So we need a way of sorting things out more clearly, and it’s what helped me explain things easily to clients.

There are a few analogies I think are lovely.  The first one is that when I do a particular talk on closing a deal and helping photographers understand how to get a job across the line, I actually start with systems and processes. I believe if there’s anything in your business that you do more than once, then you need to write it down. That way, when an assistant comes in to replace your current assistant, you don’t have to waste time explaining it every time. You’ve saved yourself time.  So if there’s anything that you do more than once, you write it down.

A good consultant finds ways to explain to each photographer how their particular problems are uniquely their own, yet just like everyone else’s.

What I do more than anything is getting them back to who they are. That’s my main point of difference. I’m not just building folios. Photographers come to me saying “What do you think of my folio?”  And I say “Who are you talking to?”  And they’d say, “Oh, I just want to get advertising work.” “What do you want to shoot?” “Well, stuff that they want me to shoot.”

That’s not a target market.

When I was an agent, I could never take on a photographer that I didn’t really 100 percent believe in.  I couldn’t do it. It didn’t matter how famous they were, I couldn’t do it.  I had to really be inspired by their work.  Then I could sell them.  Because I could never sell something that I didn’t believe in.

So I ended up in this place where I delve into helping photographers find out who they actually really are as an artist, and then taking it from there.  Who’s going to pay for that style of work?  And then who are those brands and who are their ad agencies? Right. Now we’re in a good place to build a website because you won’t get in the door with a folio if you don’t have a decent website. And then we can move forward.

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Ex-photo rep and production company founder, Christina Force is a New Zealand based photo-consultant who works with photographers and agents worldwide. Her online mentoring programmes help photographers anywhere rediscover their passion and promote their best work to targeted clients.

Christina has been a guest speaker at many AIPA conferences and seminars, in addition to The New Zealand Contemporary Photography Association, NZIPP, Axis Ad School, Unitec, Whitecliffe College of Art, CACT Sydney and The New York Academy of Film. She has been an International Photo Award judge since 2011, and has been interviewed for various publications including Capture Magazine, D Foto, The Photographer’s Mail, Pro Photographer, Better Photography, Campaign Brief Australia, and Agency Access. Christina’s mission is to help serious photographers get paid to shoot what they love, and she specialises in sharing her 30 years of experience working with ad industry creatives around the globe.  http://christinaforce.net/