Working through the freelancing lulls

Freelance work is full of peaks and valleys. Learn to ride them calmly and you'll stay above water. Photo: Leroy Grannis.

I had this moment a few weeks ago, right before Christmas, where I suddenly felt like things were finally happening. Maybe you know that feeling, when you realize you’d been waiting for something and you didn’t even know it?

Here’s a little time line to help illustrate.

Dec. 8
I had a great introductory consultation with a local photo rep who I’m helping to bolster her online presence.

Dec. 12
Subscribers received the Jan/Feb issue of American Photo Magazine, featuring two of my stories (about Maisie Crow and selling self-published books) — the first I’ve written for the magazine since I stepped down as its Senior Editor two years ago.

Dec. 13
I posted my manifesto about photo events and what we can do to make them not suck so much on the Matchstick Workshops blog.

Dec. 20
The music video Peter shot and edited in our apartment and starring yours truly went went live on Genero.tv, a site running a contest to become the official video for two David Lynch songs.

Dec. 22
I started a little conversation with Larry Towell on his Kickstarter page about the need for photographers to take social change into their own hands, not just provide the images for it. Happily this gave me a chance to highlight the new online photojournalism funding platform Emphas.is, which I’m not officially affiliated with but have been supporting however I can since I found out about it.

Dec. 23
My discussion with Travis Schreer at Pictage launched as part of their The Photo Life Podcast series.

Dec. 23
I also confirmed that I’ll be participating in the Boston-based Flash Forward Festival, helping create an updated version of the Future of Photobooks panel I was part of in October for Flash Forward Festival in Toronto.

See, the thing about being a project-based worker (instead of a salaried employee, which I quit being in April) is that my work is now incredibly cyclical.

The freelance life feels ruled by ups and downs: uncomfortably long stretches where you’re not getting jobs, just plugging away at unglamorous foundation-laying tasks, then sudden bursts of activity that provide an excitement that’s sometimes hard to hold onto for very long. Then another lull while you wait to receive payment for all that work.

I’m a very results-oriented person, so it’s hard to work day after day without much outside feedback and without feeling like I’ve accomplished something really specific. When I’m working in an office, I feel like just finishing the day is an accomplishment; there’s a sense of relief and usefulness I get that is lacking when I work from home.

The events I listed above gave me a lot of positive reinforcement all at once, but they also left me wishing I could put some of those good vibes in a savings account, to withdraw a little at a time through the next months while I’m feeling under-productive and worried about next month’s rent.

In talking to other project-based workers, I find this is a common challenge: How do you keep positive and productive during the lulls? I have thought of a few things that always help me (although motivating to take my own good advice is sometimes the hardest thing). I’d love to hear about any practices you’ve found helpful, too 🙂

1. Set up a meeting with a trusted adviser

For me this is very often my career coach, but it also might be my therapist, a former boss, a favorite professor, or just an astute friend. Setting up a meeting (or phone call) is a small enough task I can make myself do it even when I’m at my least motivated. And often, I find that just taking that first step makes me feel better, so that I often find I don’t need as much encouragement by the time the meeting happens.

2. Accept that the lulls are natural

The majority of project-based work comes to you when it wants to, not when you need it. And that can suck. You know you’ve been keeping up with your contacts and updating your work regularly and that someone is bound to have a great project any day and think, hey, you’re perfect for it! But when you’re sitting there for a week or two and the phone’s not ringing, it’s so easy to think you’ll never get another job. But if you can listen to your better judgment — you know you’ve been in lulls before and that the kind of work you’ve chosen can take months or years to pay off — you’ll stay calmer and ultimately more productive.

3. Use the time to do those things you “never have time for”

Accepting that there are lulls doesn’t mean you can’t utilize that down time. What I find, though, is that when I’m stressed out about not having enough work, I tend to feel guilty doing anything but sitting in front of my computer making lists of things I should be doing. Instead, lulls are the time to do the things that make you feel good even if your brain doesn’t categorize them as distinctly productive. Go make a photo or paint a painting or write an email to a rarely-seen friend or try a new recipe or organize your craft drawer or go to the library or go for a hike. Taking care of your own mental health will ultimately do so much more for your career than sending one more email to some potential client.

4. Remind yourself of past achievements

You know, like writing a list of them on your blog 😉 I hope you’ll forgive me for writing a post that is at least 50 percent self-serving. I needed to remind myself of how good I felt about work a few weeks ago, and getting additional validation by sharing it with everyone who reads my blog is icing on the cake. Being able to help others (I hope) by sharing my own experiences is also a great way to make myself feel better. Perhaps that should be Tip Number 5….

San Francisco Photo Scene – WPO Festival

These are my notes from my favorite presentation at the three-day WPO Festival in San Francisco, titled “The San Francisco Photo Scene,” 11/19/2010. I learned a lot about opportunities to get involved with galleries and organizations in San Francisco from this panel. I hope you will too 🙂

I’ve listened to so many panels at so many photo events, and I often take notes (like those below) — which I never seem to have time to clean up and share with other people. So this time I decided to just publish them as I took them, so I had no excuse not to share them (and thus I hope you’ll forgive their lack of polish).

Meg Shiffler – Gallery Director, San Francisco Arts Commission

Gallery at City Hall: Especially features work by local photojournalists

Once a year SFAC collaborates with Arts Alliance at City Hall: Generally becomes an open call for exhibitions

Examples of past exhibitions: China Today – Mark Leong; Victor J. BlueOur World; Sean McFarland – Polaroids

Right now: Christina Seely – Lux

The List: How the Arts Commission publicizes new opportunities for artists (photographers and other, not just from San Francisco)

Hamburger Eyes: Photography that’s very immediate, very raw, used to be mostly analogue, publish a journal, curate exhibitions, Photo Epicenter (community printing lab)

RayKo Photo Center: Gallery for exhibitions, sometimes have open calls, very approachable, digital labs, studio space, store

Chuck Mobley – Curator, San Francisco Camerawork

First Exposures: Work with underserved local communities. If you’re interested in teaching and getting involved with community.

Internship Program: Always have from 10-15 interns every semester

Members’ critiques, portfolio reviews, group members’ exhibitions, annual publication, artists’ lectures, book release parties

Often get called by curators around the country when they need a specific kind of artists, especially from SF, so they created a resource page

Tues. Nov. 30: Richard Misrach: Destroy This Memory Lecture and book signing- PLEASE RSVP

SFMoMA Blog

FotoFest in Huston, PhotoLucida in Portland: SF photo people often attend; great opportunity to meet people from all over the world

Camerawork main space: Often open for guest curation, especially in the summer. For example: Kickstarter campaign to create catalog for Suggestions of a Life Being Lived

Thom Sempere – Director, PhotoAlliance

PhotoAlliance: Support organization for photo community. Don’t have any members and don’t have any permanent space. Philosophy came out of Bay Area photographic history…Friends of Photography, when folded few years ago, there was a gap in the SF community and within a year PhotoAlliance was formed.

Monthly lecture series: Nine years, over 150 photographers. Start each lecture with an emerging artist (about 15 minutes)

Also host field workshops, exhibitions, portfolio reviews (always second weekend of March)

FotoVision: Bay Area nonprofit, run by Melanie and Ken Light, emphasis on documentary photography and storytelling. Workshops, lectures, blog, book reviews, store.

RJ Muna – Photographer & owner, LeftSpace

“[Photographers in SF] seem to share our knowledge, interests. We have a better sense of community than most places in the country and the world. We have something special, and you should revel in it.”

“We are so used to technology, and a sense of the future (being at the tip of Silicon Valley), we sometimes can’t see it. When you look at the history of photography, so much of the recent evolution has been based in technology that has come out of the Bay Area: Adobe, Apple. They started from a sense of curiosity that is unique here.”

Discussion

Meg: Keep your eyes out for calls to artists. Even if you don’t get in the show and you’re rejected, do it over and over again. Don’t assume if you don’t make it one year, you won’t make it another year. Find out how a specific curator wants to be contacted. If it’s not on their website, the best person to call is their assistant. Know about the curator, past shows, the space. Think of it as applying for a job; you have to DO YOUR RESEARCH. We’re curated out for two years [at SFAC] and then moving the next year, so I think really long term. I might decide to work with an artist and not put their work up for five years.

Thom: Curators frequently pass work along to other curators. If you send work to curators once a year, you probably won’t hear anything the first year, second time they might vaguely remember you, third time they take a look at your work, and the fourth time they might want to work with you.

Meg: If you send an email, it should be no more than five sentences: 1) I’m interested in introducing you to my work. 2, 3, 4) Show that you know who the curator/gallery are. 5) Here’s my website, please take a look. I won’t necessarily respond but I will usually click the link. Six months later, if you have a new body of work, send another email (with only three lines!)

Chuck: Think from the point of view of a curator; the worst thing for them is to NOT KNOW about a local artist, so you’re actually doing them a favor. Curators also get called a lot to make nominations or to be on juries, so it’s good for them to know something about you. The roll of the curator at a nonprofit is a public service. These places exist for you and because of you, so don’t be intimidated meeting with them. At Camerawork we have an open-door policy; if you make an appointment, I’ll try to line up 10-15 minutes at least to meet with you. We also take submissions from anyone, not just people from the Bay Area.

Meg: WHAT NOT TO DO: 1) Don’t show up with your portfolio without an appointment. 2) Don’t send a million JPGs. 3) Don’t ask for a free critique of your work. If you want a critique, go to a review; that’s not my job.

Thom: Be sure to build your own community of people who you respect and who you can get genuine feedback from, not just portfolio reviews, etc. I don’t know of a single job I’ve ever gotten not from word of mouth.

Questions

Q: Do you have suggestions for students, how to get involved in the community if you don’t have a portfolio yet? A: Go be an intern, or volunteer at Camerawork, or talk to people at Rayko or Hamburger Eyes about how you can help out. Also learn some admin skills like contracts, registration, cataloging. Ever Gold Gallery was started by local students a few years ago.

Q: Also check out PhotoCentral in Hayward.

Q: Do you need to move to NYC or LA to have a successful career? A: (Meg) A gallerist is never going to ship something they can get in their own backyard. When I work with international artists, I’ll print the work myself and they can pay to have it shipped to them. (RJ) The number one thing that will get you on a gallery wall is having GREAT WORK. (Chuck) There are great communities all over, not just the major cities. (Meg) Watch for definitions on the calls for artists’. We do one every year that’s only local artists. (Thom) Doesn’t matter where you’re from, but you should be from SOMEWHERE. (Meg) If you’re submitting to a show and only have five images, don’t try to show the breadth of your work, show one cohesive BODY OF WORK.

3 Tips For Publishing a Photobook

I recently contributed a post to Seshu Badrinath‘s Tiffinbox blog, with a quick wrap-up of the panel I participated in at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto. Hope you don’t mind if I share it here, too.

From left: Darius Himes, Jason Fulford, Alec Soth, me, Andy Adams, and Stephen Mayes, talking photobooks in Toronto. Thanks to Larissa Leclair of the Indie Photobook Library for the photo.

With so many photographers taking publishing into their own hands these days, there seem to be a lot of questions and more than a few misperceptions about photobook publishing floating around.

I never would have considered myself an expert in photobooks until this February when I collaborated with Andy Adams of FlakPhoto to create the Future of Photobooks project, a month-long, cross-blog discussion about how photobooks would be made, read, and sold in the future.

Over the course of the project, more than 50 photo professionals and publishers wrote posts on their own blogs about where they saw photobooks heading. I read them all, organizing them and pulling out highlights for three final discussions hosted by guest bloggers. I felt at times like the blogosphere was giving me my own private class in photobook publishing 🙂

With a project like that, my greatest reward was getting to redistribute that knowledge back to the community, connecting with so many new people, and seeing people get excited about the discussions. Personally I have also been asked to speak publicly about phtoobooks, most recently on a panel at the inaugural Flash Forward Festival in Toronto — along with highly respected colleagues Alec Soth, Stephen Mayes, Darius Himes, Jason Fulford, and Andy Adams.

A number of important questions were raised during that discussion, ones I thought it would be helpful to share with anyone thinking about publishing a book or seeking a publisher for one. I’ve listed three big ideas below, but these are only starting points. It would be great to hear what you think about these, since the future of photobooks, now more than ever, truly is ours to shape.

1. Don’t expect your photobook to make money.

Aside from the very rare exception (things with large general appeal like Full Moon and A Child is Born) photobooks rarely turn a profit — in fact, many fail to break even. Darius Himes, founder of the non-profit Radius Books, pointed this out in his post for Future of Photobooks and again in Toronto. Photographers looking to have a book published often expect the same experience of lucky novelists, who receive an advance check before the book is even written. Photobooks are a completely different model. Novels cost a tiny fraction of a photobook to produce, and they have a much wider audience. Photographers (aside from Annie Leibovitz maybe) DO NOT get advances, and even top photographers with several books in publication admit they haven’t made any money from them.

2. Decide what you want to accomplish with your book.

Once you get over the idea that your book is going to make you any money, do you still want to make it? If so, why? Do you want it to be a culmination of a specific project, essentially a hand-held exhibition? Then you might need to work with a publisher that can help you find professional designers and editors. Or you could consider working with a printer directly, and producing a small editioned run of artist books. If you want your images to achieve a specific outcome, to be seen by lots of people or a few of the right people, partnering with a non-profit organization is a good option. Or you might even set aside the idea of a physical book for a viral video that can travel much further. If you simply want to be able to share your images in a tangible way, perhaps with friends and family or editors and clients, then a self-published book is great. All of these decisions and more will depend on your ultimate goal for your book — so figure that out first.

3. Be prepared to provide your own capital and, ideally, audience.

During our discussion, several photographers expressed chagrin that they had been asked to make an initial investment in order to publish their book with a publishing house. Although that may seem unfair, Darius and Jason both said that finding funding for a book was an important first step for them as publishers — as non-profits they worked together with the photographer to do that, but it’s not uncommon for publishers to ask the photographers to do it themselves. Funding may be the area that new technology can have the most effect on, through online pledge drive software like Kickstarter, or pre-sales through social media as with Lay Flat and Publication. And even when the actual funding isn’t provided online, that can still be an important place to build support and audience for a book project. For instance, look at Phil Toledano’s Days With My Father, which drew over 1 million hits as a website and allowed Phil to approach publishers with 15,000 emails from people who said they would buy the book in hard copy. Or Simon Roberts, who enlisted his fellow Brits through his blog, asking for ideas for photos to include in his We English book, thus creating an automatic base of support: Fans who were involved in the project were more likely to buy the book and share it with friends.

What steps are you taking to publish your photography book? If you are working on a book project and want to share it, please comment below 🙂

How to get the most out of a portfolio review

I’ve been helping out with NYCFotoWorks for the past few months, and one thing I agreed with Marc and Josh about immediately was the need to help photographers get the most out of the portfolio review, Oct. 28-30 in NYC. I’ve encountered a lot of doubt from photographers about how to approach reviews and a lot of misconceptions about what to expect. So here are a few tips; and for the veterans in the audience, I hope you won’t mind a little refresher.

There are two things that I suggest photographers consider before any sit-down with a respected member of the industry: What do you want to get from this meeting, and what do they want to get from it?

Below are some responses from the other side: editors, reps, and gallerists attending the NYCFotoWorks portfolio review. The variety of their preferences demonstrates the importance of doing your research before a meeting. And, conveniently illustrating my above point, almost all of them want the photographer to be able to explain what they want from the review, not just their work.

For additional insights from reviewers, check out this video, too.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=14854331&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

1. What kind of questions should photographers be ready to answer? Or is it more important they have their own questions?

Marianne Butler – Freelance photo editor: Where do you live? How long have you been shooting? Who have you been working for? Any personal projects you are working on? What do you like to shoot most? It’s also important to have background info on specific photos in their book: assignment or personal work? How much time with the subject? What else did you shoot that day? If digital work was done on the photo, and did you do it yourself? They should ask some questions of the person reviewing their portfolio to find out what they are looking for and to see where they might fit in. If they are meeting a photo editor for a specific publication, it’s helpful to have some knowledge of the magazine and the sort of photography they run.

Leslie DelaVega – Essence Magazine: It’s more important for me that they have their own questions. Usually the questions I do ask are pretty basic: where they’ve worked, gone to school, etc.

Michele Hadlow – Forbes Magazine: I like hearing a little bit about some of the images I will see; jobs or personal shots that were particularly challenging or enjoyable. I don’t mind getting questions but nobody should feel like they have to ask anything.

Jocelyn Miller – Conde Nast Traveler: They should be prepared to tell the reviewer about the specific assignments in their portfolios. I want to hear the stories behind the pictures. I want to know who they’ve worked for in the past, who they’re working for now, and their goals for the future. They should also take the opportunity to ask questions they have of the editors.

Karen O’Donnell – People Magazine: I would ask what kind of assignments they are looking to shoot, what are their main interests photo-wise, and what kind of editorial work they would like to be working on. They should have their own questions, too.

Travis Ruse – Inc. Magazine: It’s more important that they have their own questions.

Marcel Saba – Redux Pictures: They really should have their own questions to ask, and hopefully a lot of them.

Kristina Snyder – Photo agent: Yes on both. I usually open a review with a question: What are you trying to get out of this visit? Why are you here paying money to see me? Do you want to know how to improve your book? Judgement of overall quality of the work? Feedback on look of your book? They should also be able to answer questions about the kind of work they’re looking for: editorial or advertising? People often don’t know how to answer that. Also, too many photographers come expecting to be discovered and aren’t prepared to take criticism.

Wendy Tiefenbacher – Kiplinger’s Magazine: I like to look at their work. I’m most interested in any recently finished personal or professional projects and any work they’ve done for other magazines or clients. Any questions I would ask them would be based on looking at their photography, though I do like to know where someone lives.

Catherine Wyatt – ClampArt: Any photographer should be able to give the basics of how they create their work: film vs. digital, type of print and paper, ideal display size, edition, etc. They should also expect to answer questions about the subject matter displayed in the works. On the other hand, if the photographer has specific questions to ask, the review session is the perfect time for those. It really depends on what the artist is trying to get out of the session. Does he/she want an opinion about the work and the direction it should take or does he/she feel very strongly about the work and is now interested in finding representation?

2. What are you most interested in: hearing specific story pitches, seeing a wide range of work, or getting to know the photographer personally?

Marianne Butler: I really just want to learn about their work, find out what they like to shoot, and get a feel for what working with them might be like. I like to hear what they’ve been working on lately because they may have a project or some unpublished work that could be right for something I’m editing/assigning. I don’t really like hard sales pitches.

Leslie DelaVega: I’m more interested in the body of work, however specific or wide. I am a proponent of seeing that photographers have a wide range of interests.

Michele Hadlow: I would say getting to know a photographer is what I am most interested in. A wide range of work is nice, as well, so I can get an idea of what type of projects he/she would be a good fit for.  Pitches are not helpful at all right now, I am afraid.

Jocelyn Miller: Seeing a wide range of travel-related work. I want to know about their upcoming trips and also get to know the photographer personally.

Karen O’Donnell: Seeing a wide range of work.

Travis Ruse: Seeing work that is: a. relevant to Inc. b. inspiring to me but not necessarily perfect for Inc. c. that the photographer has a personality that could work with our subjects.

Marcel Saba: It is all the above for me. Since we are an agency and act as agents at the same time, we like to see a variety of work to determine the photographer’s strength, style, and composition.

Kristina Snyder: I try to figure out where this person is in their career: a working photographer or just coming out of the gate? And what kind of photographer are they? Do they only shoot paid projects or do they shoot personal work a lot, too. I work with all kinds, so I want to know what their psychology is, their expectations, what they aspire to be.

Wendy Tiefenbacher: I don’t like seeing a wide range of work. Though I don’t mind looking at someone’s portraits AND a personal project. Or still lifes and portraits. Or a book of still lifes, portraits, and a photo essay. I’m not usually interested in someone’s personal history or getting to “know them” unless they were a circus performer or astronaut in a previous life. I would be very interested in someone pitching a story BUT ONLY if they were familiar with my magazine and were pitching a story related to what we do. Not just some random story that has nothing to do with my magazine (which happens to be personal finance).

Catherine Wyatt: I am most interested in being of some help. Every reviewer goes to a portfolio viewing hoping to see something new, striking, dazzling, and sell-able. Of course, it is very rare for a one-time meeting to turn into a greatly successful gallery/artist relationship. Since this is the case, it is important that the reviewer sees a photographer’s best work and gets to know the photographer on a personal level. I want to know the meaning and story behind your pieces, but I don’t want it to take up the whole time we have together. I want to see a series of photographs but not so many that I don’t have time to talk to you about the pieces. A good balance of hearing about the work, looking at the work, and talking about the work is best.

3. What is the best way for a photographer to follow-up with you after a  review and how often should they be in touch?

Marianne Butler: After a meeting, an email or a promo card/note is nice. Photo editors all feel differently about how often to be in touch, so this is just me, of course: I get turned off by “checking in” emails. If there’s a new website, or they’ve completed a new project that they think I should see, then sending another email is cool. Other than that, if I don’t already have a working relationship with a photographer, a few times a year is enough.

Leslie DelaVega: Email is best.

Michele Hadlow: Email. It will be hit or miss depending on when the email lands in my box, but an email a week or so after our meeting and a reminder down the road if you have a new project or website update that I should see.

Jocelyn Miller: I want to know when they are traveling; they should email me a month before their trips.

Karen O’Donnell: I think email is the best.

Travis Ruse: Mailed promos are good. Email is also ok. They should stay in touch if I encourage it. Send new work that is appropriate for Inc.

Marcel Saba: Stay in touch by email and send updates of their new work.

Kristina Snyder: I get so many emails from all over world. If I want to see what you’re doing, email is OK, but just a couple photos, lo-res, of recent work that is hopefully relevant to what I do. That means doing research on the kind of artists I work with. And don’t expect me to answer every email.

Wendy Tiefenbacher: If I like someone’s work I always give them my business card and, as long as they don’t pester me, I like them to stay in touch. To be perfectly honest – New Yorkers may have less of a chance of being hired by me than someone from Cleveland or Texas or Kansas. Some more out of the way place where it’s much harder to find a good local photographer. But you never know…

Catherine Wyatt: The best way to follow up is either by a quick email or by mailing a thank you note. Some reviewers will prefer physical cards; others prefer digital, so it’s up to the photographer. I also like knowing where a photographer’s career is going. If you are included in a group show or have a solo show coming up, please let me know. The same goes for any new works you have in progress or book deals in the works. Of course, I do not want a weekly update on what you are shooting now, but rather just the headlines.

Still have questions?

Leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to address them in the video interviews with reviewers and photographers that I’ll be conducting during the review.

Portfolio reviews :: Are they worth it?

I’ve been helping out recently with the NYCFotoWorks portfolio review, Oct. 28-30 at Sandbox in NYC. There are a lot of portfolio reviews out there, so when Marc Asnin and Joshua Herman approached me about helping get the word out for NYCFW, I had one big question: How is this any different from all the other portfolio reviews?

As editor/publisher/blogger, I receive dozens of press releases every day, each one claiming that its event is brand new, one-of-a-kind, and oh so innovative. Guess what — they’re not.

My suggestion for how to distinguish NYCFotoWorks was to help photographers get the most out of the event by emphasizing education — Marc and Josh were definitely on the same page.

Not surprisingly, when I started emailing colleagues to ask for their help spreading the word, some of those same concerns came back to me. Jonathan Worth, as always a vanguard of efficiency and online sharing, suggested I post our email exchange for the general benefit.

Jonathan’s thoughts

“How do you feel about the pricing on this? I’ve been pretty outspoken about these events in the past, especially where they’re clearly a cynical business ruse. This one looks massive.

“I think the list of contributors includes some awesome people (some of my faves), but also a few that I’d have to be paid  to sit through a meeting with — a couple who I think, frankly, should be shot, not sought out for advice.”

My response

“I have the same feeling about portfolio reviews, and when Marc and Josh came to me about helping with it, I specifically wanted to know what made this one different…other than a very impressive list of reviewers. The thing we were on the same page about was this idea of educating photographers who attend about how to get the most out of the experience.

“It really is amazing how many artists can’t talk about their work well or have done no research on the person they’re meeting with. So I’m sending out feedback from the reviewers about what they’re looking for before the photographers get there. Then I’m filming interviews with reviewers and participating photographers that can be shared with the whole photographic community.

“Any list of reviewers is going to be a little hit or miss. The nice thing about NYCFotoWorks is that photographers get to choose between five and twenty-four reviewers they want to see. Of course, it’s first come first served, but the chances a photographer would get stuck with a bunch of people they don’t like are slim.

“As for the price: It’s no more than it would cost to FedEx your book to that many people, or the cost of your time to set up that many high-profile meetings in two days. I’ve talked with Marc, the founder, a lot. Yes this is in part a new business venture for him and Josh, but he’s also genuinely dedicated to education and using his wide experience and network to help other photographers. He’s doing what more photographers should be doing: seeking out new revenue streams so he can do more of what he really loves, teaching photography to young kids.”

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=15505774&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

What I’ve been working on

Above is a short video of Marc, talking about his ideas for the NYCFW Portfolio Review. I produced this, with help from the talented Simon Biswas, because I wanted people to get to know the person behind this project. Marc doesn’t pretend to be anything but what he is — a Brooklyn boy, born and raised, and damn proud of it — which is why his message of being yourself with editors rings true.

I have also collected reviewers responses, which I think will be really helpful to anyone attending any portfolio review. You can see all the responses here.

Your thoughts?

I’d be happy to hear what people think about the value of portfolio reviews. What should and shouldn’t you expect to get out of them? And what about reviewers: Do you honestly find new people to work with from these events? What are the biggest problems with them?

Where have I been – Part 2: Road trip!

For the past four months I’ve been traveling around the U.S. and a bit in Europe — almost non-stop. In April I quit my job and June 1 I traded my awesome San Francisco apartment for a borrowed car and couches around the world. This post and the previous one chronicle my adventures.

Montreal, Quebec: July 22-24

A friend-of-a-friend kindly put Peter and I up for two nights and we spent a day walking around the old city, which is particularly interesting in contrast to the huge abandoned industrial silos along the waterfront. Hands down our favorite discovery was the Habitat 67 building (above) built for the 1967 World’s Fair, which was originally a model of affordable urban housing, but of course is an elite gated community now.

Niagara Falls: July 25

I’d been to the falls when I was young, so I knew what a sprawling tourist trap it is. Peter, however, expecting simply the falls and some walkways, was aghast to discover a “Las Vegas on a cliff” instead. We left after an hour or so, but got some good photos in the meantime.

Detroit, MI: July 26-29

After a quick tour through Flint to see the Dort Mall and hit an amazing Salvation Army store, we landed in Detroit, which I’ve been interested in visiting for a while. Most people look at me funny when I say that. They usually have only heard about the violence and depopulation, but Detroit is a beautiful city with a strong personality, a vibrant art scene (much like Berlin), and cutting-edge innovation (such as its urban farms, pictured above). We stayed with my friend Kim Storeygard, who designed the entertainment mag I edited in college and is now a designer for the Detroit News, and hung out one day with photographer/videographer/organizer extraordinaire Stephen McGee.

Chicago, IL: July 30-August 1

Photo by Peter McCollough.

Peter got some great shots of the water sculpture in Millennium Park and the film set of Transformers 3 (above), while I mostly caught up friends from college (I went to Northwestern in Evanston, just north of Chicago) and indulged in some seriously deep-dish pizza.

Madison, WI: August 2-4

Still from our video at Devil's Lake. Courtesy Peter McCollough.

Stopped by Devil’s Lake and tried out my new (waterproof) Kodak PlaySport, had dinner with Andy Adams and his wife, and watched my friend Molly (who I’ve known since kindergarten) pack up her apartment for a move to Bloomington, IN.

Minneapolis, MN: August 5-10

Photo by Peter McCollough.

We stayed at Tim Gruber and Jenn Ackerman’s lovely house in Minneapolis, while they were in Las Vegas documenting the Miss Universe pageant. We were sad to miss them, but having a place to ourselves after couch surfing for weeks was a welcome respite. Peter made several photo pilgrimages to The Mall of America and I met up with Clark Patrick for stops by Shelter Studios, Flashlight Photo Rental, and the beautiful botanical gardens. I have to admit, though, that the true highlight of our week in Minneapolis was seeing Top Gun in the theater at 10:30 am on a Sunday. “Danger Zone” has been stuck in my head ever since.

Badlands National Park, SD: August 11-12

Before I wanted to be a magazine editor, I dreamed of being a paleontologist. And not just like every little kid wants to be a paleontologist — like, had a complete set of archeology artifacts trading cards and several encyclopedias of dinosaurs and went on a dig in Arizona with my dad when I was 14. Anyway, seeing the Badlands has been a lifelong dream, and I spent much of the time telling Peter more than he ever wanted to know about paleosol, erosion, and prehistoric fossils. The area is also visually stunning, including the West’s characteristically low clouds, one of which I had a silent conversation with for 30 minutes. Then I took its picture (above).

Medicine Bow National Park, WY: August 13-14

On the way from the Badlands we stopped by an old nuclear missile launch facility and silo, where we were predictably looked up and down suspiciously when we said we were from San Francisco, and then talked down to throughout the tour because we weren’t even old enough to know what the Cold War was, were we? We also drove through the heart of the Sturgis Rally, the largest annual gathering of Harley Davidson enthusiasts, and drove past Mount Rushmore, which you can see from the road and is pretty underwhelming. After stopping in the smaller Medicine Bow park to the east (there are three), where beautiful red rock formations push out of the pines, we camped off-site high in the alpine mountains for two days. We found frost on the ground both mornings, but didn’t see another human being the whole time.

Salt Lake City, UT: August 15-16

The Mormon temple (above) is a beautiful building, although somewhat eclipsed by the modern skyscrapers around it that house the church headquarters. We wandered through the visitor’s center also, where tales from the Book of Mormon are represented by wax figures, well-produced video re-enactments, motion-triggered speakers, and devout teens around every corner to be sure you have all the information you need. I don’t subscribe to any religion, but I find them all fascinating cultural phenomena — the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maybe most of all, since it is a distinctly American religion and (thus not surprisingly) also the best marketed one. We had dinner that night at a vegan restaurant that represented the distant other end of the Salt Lake cultural spectrum, then drove out through the Salt Flats, with a stop by the Bonneville Speedway for a glimpse of  the Speed Week festivities.

San Francisco, CA: August 17-18

We drove all day across Nevada, stopping only in Imlay to see an eccentric old man’s tribute to American Indians constructed out of “white man’s” trash. After a couple nights at Peter’s mom’s house in Sacramento, we finally headed home. I almost started crying as I felt the cool breeze coming up the mountains to greet me.

Read about the beginning of my travels here!

Where in the world have I been?

For the past four months I’ve been traveling around the U.S. and a bit in Europe — almost non-stop. In April I quit my job and June 1 I traded my awesome San Francisco apartment for a borrowed car and couches around the world. This post and the next one chronicle my adventures.

I returned home to San Francisco a few weeks ago and have fallen in love with the city all over again. I’m still processing what exactly this time away has meant to me on a personal/professional level, but I think if I get a few of the basics down on (digital) paper, it will free up space in my brain for bigger questions.

New Orleans, LA: April 23-27

NOLA really is a magical place. It feels like another world — and century. I never saw it pre-Katrina, but aside from the Ninth Ward, which I saw during my day tour with Taylor Davidson, scars from the storm didn’t exactly jump out at me. I saw spraypaint marks on many houses, but they usually seemed to simply add another layer of patina to a city that has long been known for its beautiful dilapidation. I was specifically lured to NOLA to experience Jazz Fest and see Paul Simon (and Garfunkel) live for the first time. (Amazing.) Ultimately the festival was a little exhausting; I preferred listening to local bands at bars that felt like back yards, riding bikes through moss canopied streets, and eating steaming crayfish under paper lanterns and stars.

Death Valley, CA: May 13-16

Photo by Peter McCollough

A friend suggested I join him and a small group for an annual outing, this year to Death Valley. For me, being in nature is about removing myself from many things that bother me about “civilization”: too many people, constant noise, electronics addictions. I was reminded by this trip that not everyone sees it that way. After driving 10 hours overnight, getting lost for three hours on an ATV trail, getting smirked at by a local gas station owner for driving into Death Valley with only one spare tire and no radio, then being misled by numerous purposefully misleading markers, we finally arrived at our mid-desert warm springs rendezvous point — where we found 40 other people, playing house music and getting intoxicated under Christmas-light strung palm trees. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is stunning, but I don’t understand the point of going someplace so remote and unwelcoming just to do the same thing you could do in the city any Saturday night. After several hours of slow caravaning and numerous blown tires the next day, the group stopped in Big Pine — and Peter and I bailed out to stay in a motel. After dinner at a diner we walked about three blocks off the main street and found ourselves in a beautiful, silent, dusky mountain pass. Finally, nature the way I wanted it.

Seattle, WA: May 25-31

I hadn’t been to Seattle since I was very young, but I remembered loving it. I was there primarily for an annual Memorial Day Weekend reunion with my friends from college. We pick a different place every year and we ended up in a beautiful cabin near Mt. Rainier for 2010. I was surprised by just how lush and green Seattle is, with lots of stunning views from almost as many hills as San Francisco. I also stayed a few extra days with a friend who lives in an inspiring co-op house that shares/reuses almost everything and is populated by artists and bakers and musicians. Trip Highlight: visited the aquarium and embarrassed my friends by sitting on the floor with the kids to watch the giant octopus feeding from up close.

Athens, OH: June 3-7

A very old photo of me and my parents on their 100-acre farm in Ohio. When I think about home, this is what I see.

I was home briefly seeing my family and picking up my grandfather’s old car, which my parents kindly donated for my travels. Not too many epiphanies here, I just have to give props to the town, which I still may move back to some day; Ohio University’s photojournalism program, which I dream about teaching for some day; and my parents, who made this trip possible through their selfless, constant support.

Charlottesville, VA: June 8-14

The beautiful meeting LOOKbetween tent and barn. Photo by Brendan Hoffman.

I feel so lucky to have been able to help Andrew Owen and Jenna Pirog plan LOOKbetween. During the off-year for LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, they decided to organize a weekend event that deconstructed the usual hierarchies of photo festivals and focused instead on emerging photographers. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can reconceive the usual photo fest structure to make it more helpful and dynamic, so I was excited to try out a few things during the Saturday discussion sessions. Our invited guests included 90 top emerging photographers plus dozens of top editors, curators, and thought leaders. All discussions took place outside at the beautiful farm where the event was held (and most guests camped). Most importantly, there were no “experts,” no “panelists,” no “moderators.” We divided people into 8 groups, gave them very general topics, and asked them to talk amongst themselves for 90 minutes. Then we brought everyone together again and recapped each topic for 20 minutes, asking only the emerging photographers to speak. I can think of lots of ways to make it better in the future, but as an experiment, I was really happy with the results. Everyone, even the “masters,” learned a lot and many people said it was the best discussion they’d heard at a photo event 🙂

NYC: June 15-18

It’s always great to be back in the city where I lived for three years and still have many friends. I have to say, though, that summer in NYC is a special kind of hell sometimes — like any time you have to wait on a subway platform.

Istanbul, Turkey: June 19-26

My first trip to Istanbul and the furthest east I’ve traveled. I was in Istanbul for the week-long Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, helping document the event and hanging out with an amazing group of renowned photojournalists. The historical parts of the city are really beautiful and there’s a vibrancy that makes for great street photography, but being stared at constantly and the wide cultural lines drawn between men and women eventually began to wear on me.

Berlin, Germany: June 27-July 6

One of my best friends from high school has lived outside the U.S. for years, and I’m glad I finally caught up with her in Berlin. It’s a true bohemian city, cheap enough that you can get by working 20 hours a week with plenty of time left over to develop your art/music/poetry — like NYC in the 70s, but way safer. If I had to leave SF tomorrow, I’d go to Berlin…but really the best part of being there was seeing my friend in her natural habitat, not for a few hours one night of the year when we’re both distracted by family/holiday stress.

London, England: July 7-10

Pondering the future of photojournalism over pints at the Frontline Club. From left: Paul Lowe, Edmund Clark, Simon Roberts, Patrick Smith, Adam Westbrook, Will Widmer.

I’ve been to London before so this trip included no sightseeing — instead, I finally met in person with several people I have known for years online: Adam Westbrook, Paul Lowe, Jonathan Worth, and Simon Roberts (who I’d actually met, but many years ago). Several of us got together at the Frontline Club one night, which, packed with memorabilia from former Frontline correspondents, was the best kind of sightseeing a journalism geek like me could do.

Portland, ME: July 14-21

Photo by Peter McCollough.

After meeting up in NYC, Peter and I drove to Portland and took a ferry over to Peaks Island, where my family has an old, uninsulated, telephone-free cottage, which I’ve been visiting every summer since I was born. It was a much-needed week of rest: bike riding, sea-glass gathering, rock sitting, and raiding the local library book sale for lots of great collage materials.

Read about the rest of my road trip here!