Men Being Emotional

I hope Ariel doesn't mind me turning her into a bit of a metaphor ... going through my pictures from LOOK3, I was struck by this image of her, surrounded by men who tower over her, yet at the center nonetheless, in the spotlight.

I spent last week at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia. I contend that LOOK3 is the best photo festival in the U.S. (if not world); however, I’m not exactly impartial. I helped organize last year’s LOOKbetween, a symposium for young photographers held in LOOK3’s off year, and liveblogged, Facebooked, and Tweeted for the festival this year.

I could go on about why I think LOOK3 is so great (limited attendance, small town setting, inclusion of younger photographers, passionate heart, amazing organizers), but I particularly want to talk about something I noticed in the talks and slideshows at this year’s event…as someone (I wish I could remember who) said to me after talks by Christopher Anderson and Ashley Gilbertson, “Today could have been titled, ‘Men Being Emotional.'”

Chris kicked off Friday’s Masters Talks with his usual thoughtful eloquence, focusing on his latest work, Son, an extremely personal project centered on his family (wife, young son, and ailing father). Ashley followed with an impassioned talk about his years of conflict work and especially his most recent project, Bedrooms of the Fallen, which quietly but undeniably demonstrates the price we pay for war. Their presentations were mentioned as a festival high point by almost everyone I met.

This got me thinking about photography that is more emotionally present, something I wrote about a few weeks ago here. There seems to be a trend, with photojournalism in particular, of going beyond an objective capturing of “who, what, where” to a subjective account, seen through the photographer’s own emotional lens.

Now, there is nothing to say that this is necessarily a movement from “male” to “female,” but I do think that to be emotionally engaged with your images you have to be vulnerable (a big idea in my life right now). And I think it’s fair to say that vulnerability is associated more with women than men, that it is something we are more inclined toward, or, probably, more encouraged by society to feel and express.

Which brings me to the second high point of LOOK3: the closing-night conversation between Sally Mann and Nan Goldin. Sally opened with this: “It occurs to me that Kathy Ryan put us here on stage together for a reason. We are perceived to be so strong and unflinching. Yet, I know that I’m fragile as ash. And I have the perception you feel the same.” And things only got more raw and more real from there. (Read the full conversation here.)

They admitted they envied each other’s lives, they commiserated about their work being dubbed pornographic, they talked about their pussies (and I don’t mean their cats). A few times I wondered nervously what the men in the audience were thinking. But then I thought, who cares? I’m sick of women acting like it isn’t hard to work in a male-dominated field, of not wanting to admit we’re vulnerable because it further calls attention to our “femaleness.” There was something so empowering and exciting about seeing these talented, wise, proud women talking just like they would if they were alone. “This is really how women talk to one another,” I thought.

What triggered my final “aha” moment was a slideshow presented on Saturday night: Steve Giovinco’s On the Edge of Somewhere. The artist’s description reads, “I photograph psychologically intimate and emotional relations between couples,” and the voice over clarified that the couple in the photographs was Steve and his wife. I liked the work, but I kept thinking, “This is just like Elinor Carucci.” Elinor’s My Children was shown a few slideshows ahead, so I doubt I’m the only one who saw the resemblance.

I don’t want to get myself in trouble by saying there is a “female” way of making photos, but if we had to draw some pattern from contemporary women photographers (at least in the fine-art world), it would be of making personal, vulnerable images, often of themselves or their loved ones. And here was a man doing exactly that! Women entering any male-dominated field have long been influenced by the men already there: insisting they are “just like men” or else working in conscious contradiction to “maleness.” I wondered if that flow of influence is starting to reverse?

Even more exciting is the idea that, like most walls in our modern society, the one between “male” and “female” art and artistic subjects/approaches is coming down. We are all given room to be vulnerable if we want, to make “family” photos that are still respected by the industry, or to do the opposite, if that’s your thing. More freedom and less pigeonholing can only be a good thing for art, right?

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 😉

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 🙂