Stephen Mayes – Liveblog from Flash Forward

 

Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo and one of my favorite photo thinkers, is presenting a lecture titled, “Restructuring the Photographic Process,” during the Flash Forward Festival today, June 3, at noon EST.

If you’d like to see what he has to say but can’t join us in Boston, please check in here, where I’ll liveblog his talk and any subsequent discussion.

[liveblog]

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Panel discussions that don’t suck. Any ideas?

I’m leaving San Francisco soon for a month and a half of travel, which will happily include a stop in Boston, where I’m joining the Future of Photobooks panel discussion during Magenta’s Flash Forward Festival, and in Charlottesville, VA, where I may be organizing a panel for LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.

As I wrote in my “manifesto” last year: I love photo events, but they kind of suck. And since I’m on my way to these panel discussions, I’m especially interested in how to make sure they don’t suck, either. (FYI, Matchstick has been tabled for the near future, but I’m still dedicated to those principles.)

Can we all agree to stop being this guy?

Ok, so I’m being a little hyperbolic, but I’ve sat through A LOT of panel discussions. When they’re good, they inundate the audience with so much information you leave feeling excited but overwhelmed; when they’re bad, they drag on while inept public speakers give overly vague or insultingly obvious “advice.”

In an attempt to improve on this scenario for the Future of Photobooks discussion, I’ve been brainstorming with FlakPhoto‘s Andy Adams and moderator Stephen Mayes. One of my ideas: Instead of each panelist talking about their own projects and providing disconnected overviews of a topic, we will each present a specific case study that we think exemplifies an important theme in the larger topic. For instance, I’ll talk about Simon Robert’s We English, a great example of how photographers can create a dedicated pool of supporters (and buyers) for a book through early online engagement.

I also love how Andy has been linking a larger online discussion to a real-world talk. For his recent Photo 2.0 discussion at the New York Photo Festival, he created a Facebook event where he asked people to send him discussion topics, which he folded into the talk. Now he’s asking his FlakPhoto Network to chime in about how best to integrate social streams with our Future of Photobooks discussion.

Do you have other ideas about how to improve the panel discussion template? Have you experienced panel discussions that worked really well, and what did they do right? Also, I’m particularly eager to get feedback on the questions below:

1. Discussion with the audience, helpful or annoying?
I’ve had varying degrees of success creating real dialogue between the audience and panelists, but I know that it’s key. Yet I often dread Q&A sessions when I’m in the audience, since “questions” are too often posed by people who just like to hear themselves talk.

2. Background Tweet streams, distracting or useful?
We are considering streaming tweets about our discussion in real-time, so the audience can comment instantaneously and content can easily be shared with those not in attendance. I often find these side conversations distracting, but I have faith we can find a way to make them work.

3. Setting intentions, too touchy feely?
I think it would be helpful to ask the audience, before we start, to take a silent minute and decide what they most want to get out of the talk. Why are they there? What questions do they want answered? That way they can zero in on the information most important to them and have a focused question to ask during Q&A. But, then, I live in San Francisco, where this kind of touchy feely stuff is totally normal 😉

How to fall in love a little with everyone you meet

 

Communicating through a screen can be hard, but a good story works in any medium. Image from video by Peter Earl McCollough.

I’ve been thinking about storytelling a lot lately. Partly because I recently read If You Want To Write by Barbara Ueland, which kindly nudged me into believing the title of its first chapter: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” And partly because I’ve been reading a lot of inspiring writing, lately (the best parts of which I’ve shared below).

As I wrote in one of my first posts on this blog, “this year I’m determined to make friends with my lurking creative powers.” While I was traveling last summer, that largely meant publicly calling myself a “photographer.” Lately I’m remembering how much I love writing and realizing that I might make a damn good audio producer if I put my mind to it (to which end, I recently bought myself some professional recording gear).

A majority of the books I read are novels, yet I know that “documentary” storytelling will always be my true passion. Ira Glass sums up why in his introduction to The New Kings of Nonfiction, a fantastic collection of inspiring non-fiction pieces he recommends to potential This American Life contributors.

“While this is the golden age of [great nonfiction] reporting and writing, it’s also a golden age for crap journalism. And for some of the most amazing technological advances for stuffing it down your throat. A lot of daily reporting and news ‘commentary’ just reinforces everything we already think about the world. It lacks the sense of discovery, the curiosity, the uncorny, human-size drama that’s part of all these stories. A lot of daily reporting makes the world seem smaller and stupider.

“In that environment, these stories are a kind of beacon. By making stories full of empathy and amusement and the sheer pleasure of discovering the world, these writers reassert the fact that we live in a world where joy and empathy and pleasure are all around us, there for the noticing. They make the world seem like an exciting place to live. I come out of them feeling like a better person — more awake and more aware and more appreciative of everything around me. That’s a hard thing for any kind of writing to accomplish. In times when the media can seem so clueless and beside the point, that’s a great comfort in itself.”

Maybe I forgot for a while how much I love telling stories because modern mass media make our world seem less interesting to me. I’m glad I’ve been reminded by Ira and others that’s not real journalism, at least not the kind I signed up for.

Maybe I’m also scared. Telling people’s stories, especially in a way that holds the attention of the iPhone generation, is one of the hardest things I can imagine myself doing. Malcolm Gladwell explains why in his introduction to What The Dog Saw, a collection of some of his best New Yorker articles.

“The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell. I say trick but what I really mean is challenge, because it’s a very hard thing to do. Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge. We have to. There’s just too much out there. But if you want to be a writer, you have to fight that instinct every day. Shampoo doesn’t seem interesting? Well, dammit, it must be, and if it isn’t, I have to believe that it will ultimately lead me to something that is.”

I learned very early that the only kind of knowledge worth anything is the kind you get from asking other people questions. This passage from Ira Glass gave me chills because it so exactly describes my own experience.

“I have this experience when I interview someone, if it’s going well and we’re really talking in a  serious way, and they’re telling me these very personal things, I fall in love a little. Man, woman, child, any age, any background, I fall in love a little. They’re sharing so much of themselves. If you have half a heart, how can you not?”

If I ever taught a class on how to interview people (which I’d love to do), I might title it, “How to fall in love a little with everyone you meet.” Maybe I’d write this quote from Ueland’s If You Want To Write on the chalkboard the first day.

“[T]he only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, in the poet, in them. For by doing this, you keep the god and the poet alive and make it flourish.”

She is actually talking about how she convinces her students (all non-writers) that they can be good writers. In a way, this blog is a chance to listen to myself, to honor the poet, the storyteller inside me. Now that I’m thinking so much about storytelling, I realize that telling people’s stories is still daunting to me, but teaching people how to tell their own stories is anything but.

For the past several months I’ve been working with Heather Elder, a commercial photographer’s rep in San Francisco, to build her a dynamic blog and online presence. Instead of coming up with “social media marketing strategies,” I helped her define her voice, the personality of her company and her photographers, and what kind of knowledge she could share with the photo community that people would really appreciate. It’s been a great experience for both of us, especially since she’s been having great success.

People ask me a lot what I actually do these days. Being a freelancer, my work includes magazine writing, social media strategy, and curriculum development. But recently, I think I’ve finally found a phrase that sufficiently describes what I do, how I can help people.

I am a personal publishing strategist. In our internet age, everyone is a publisher. From your Tweet Stream to your self-published photo book, you are distributing a huge amount of content every day. It’s important to be honest, consistent coherent, and transparent in what you publish — so the right people find you and, potentially, hire you. That’s where I can help: by teaching you to listen to yourself with love and to share your story with skill.

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.

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?

Future of Photobooks :: The power of crowds

The month-long, multi-blog Future of Photobooks project we hosted on RESOLVE was the trigger that really got me thinking about the growing potential of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

Andy Adams, the founder of FlakPhoto, was my co-conspirator and I learned a lot from working with him. His connections are vast and well organized and he will work tirelessly to mobilize them for a project. See for proof the more than 50 bloggers who contributed posts to the Future of Photobooks project.

As RESOLVE editor, I sometimes felt like an army of one, so working with Andy also brought my attention to the logistics of collaboration: recognizing and playing to each other’s strengths, streamlining communication, giving credit often and publicly. I PLAN TO CONTINUE TO EXPLORE THE SUBTLETIES OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION ON THIS BLOG AND SHARE WHAT I FIND WITH YOU.

Probably the most eye-opening aspect of the Future of Photobooks project was seeing the power of group knowledge being harnessed to create a valuable resource.

By asking bloggers to write on their own platforms, we decreased the burden on us as editors and also connected automatically with a wide range of audiences. And instead of one or two cool links and interesting ideas on a couple blogs, we ended up with enough for three link-packed posts, plus three separate discussion topics, which were also moderated by top bloggers.

Finally, rather than asking readers to follow this trail of posts all over the blogosphere, we indexed all the articles in a central post, along with all the related posts on RESOLVE, creating a stockpile of information about new directions in photobook publishing.

While we were helping readers learn about photobooks, I think it’s safe to say that Andy and I were the ones who learned the most. I know that for me, because I had to read every post in order to synthesize the information for the summary posts, I often felt like I was getting a personal class in photobooks.

And once people saw the impact of the Future of Photobooks project, they asked Andy and I to share what we’d learned: I gave a presentation about it at the Apple Store in San Francisco, he just presented at FotoFreo in Australia, and we’re both joining a panel this fall at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto.

As someone who was trained as a magazine editor in the traditional sense, this new concept of an editor as an organizer, coordinator, and refiner of not only words but also relationships and activities is super exciting. I hope you agree, and will follow along as we explore those ideas here.