My son has a funny/cleaver T-shirt from Threadless called the “i in Team”. I find it very humorous and great design but the “Team in I” is way more important.
A few weeks back, I was asked on The ASMP/ASPG listserve, what it was like to work with Arnold Newman. The response was highly positive and I felt there might be enjoyment gained but others than just those on the list serve. Here it is, I hope you enjoy!
Photo Courtesy of ©James Cook 2004
I first need to give you a bit of background. After leaving Cornell and moving to New York City I had applied to work with quite a few photographers and was offered jobs by Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz. I chose Dick over Annie, though Annie was VERY hot at the time doing all the Rolling Stone covers, and was glad I did. I came to find out that everyone had worked for Annie as she chewed up and spit out photographers quickly and I never met an assistant in New York whom lasted more than 3 months with her.
Avedon was the best & worst experience of my life. Everything in that studio needed to be perfect always. I never left the studio and when I did, I would come home and dream (or really have nightmares) about being at the studio. There are countless stories to tell but I want to get to Arnold. At that time I thought that I wanted to teach and was rather forthright about it. Avedon felt his studio was there to create little Richard Avedons and after 9 months we parted ways. At times I wish I were there longer but in truth, I learned greatly in my 9 months and went on to a series of diverse experiences that certainly exceeded staying longer with Avedon.
Having worked with Avedon — since I was one of the very rare few – opened many doors. I had my “hit list” of “GREATS” with whom I wanted to work and called on them every other week to see what opportunities existed. I chose that I did not want full time employment but wanted to freelance so I could work for an array of photographers and I did; Mapplethorpe, Horst, Bruce Davidson, Joyce Tenneson and many others. For nearly two years I called upon Arnold and always got the same response, “We have no openings at this time but please stay in touch”. One day I called and Arnold answered the phone. He said, “How good a printer are you?” I was actually a very good B&W printer and printed for Avedon, for Arthur Elgort’s book the Swan Prince and several others and I said so. He then asked, “How good a print spotter are you?” to which I replied, “I’m just OK but could probably be better”. He responded, “That’s an honest answer. Come in tomorrow!” and that is where it began.
First lesson learned, Always be honest and truthful, even if it shows your weaknesses. It is better than creating an illusion that you cannot live up to.
I came to the studio and met Arnold. He showed me the darkroom which had a poster on the wall of a B&W Enlarger set up in a Dungeon with shackles attached to the legs and I knew I was home. He wanted me to work full time but I didn’t want to so he said, “I will just hire you 5 days a week”. For the last 4 months that I lived in New York I worked for Arnold, largely printing but also shooting with him. I printed his Sidney Janis Gallery show that hung in late 1988. An interesting story of one of the prints in the show, I was printing images of the painter Francis Bacon who often did paintings showing decay and one print I let sit in the fix too long. It had bleached out in several places and look kind of interesting. Instead of hiding the evidence, I showed him my mistake and he loved it. We washed it throughly and went I went to the Sidney Janis Gallery’s opening, it was framed and hung as a “unique print”. Loved it.
Over the time I worked with Arnold Newman we shot sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for a American Airlines, about a dozen different female art collectors for Town & Country Magazine, but one of the best was a shoot at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. This is the think tank that Einstein was at and to Arnold — he was an Artist and he mingled with Artists and to him — Artists were just Artists but SCIENTISTS, THEY WERE GODS! We spent two days setting up lights for a group shot that was truly about 30 separate portraits. The group came in and each had the exact place in the photo (where I had once sat for the lighting tests) and had been lit specifically for them. Sadly, I cannot find this image online as I would love to share. After the shoot we went to dinner with the great sculptor and very good friend of Arnold’s, George Segal who was a professor at Princeton. Arnold told me before the dinner, “We are dining with the great George Segal. You are at the table because I have an obligation to feed you but you are not to say a word. He is my friend and I am having dinner with him and you are to sit there quietly” which I did with great delight!
Arnold had a brusk way about him and a huge ego but, at the core was a big teddy bear with a heart of gold. No matter what I did, he had a better way. No matter how well I packed the car with equipment, he always “needed” to move things around as he always thought there was a better way. He was like the slightly annoying but loving Jewish grandfather. He drove you nuts but you loved him, nonetheless. He had an abundant love for his family but his heart and soul was truly Augusta. I never knew a man who loved his wife so much. She was an absolute angel and when she died I knew that Arnold would not last long and he did not, I believe two years exists between their passing. Arnold’s studio was in the same Brownstone as his apartment so life and work were invariably intertwined.
I will tell you this, when you work so closely with people, you become very close to them. I remember the multiple calls I received after moving back to Columbus when the phone would ring and it was Arnold saying, “Where are my brown shoes” and I would reply, “Arnold, they are in the small closet on the 2nd floor, third shelf up from the bottom, right side” and he would say “Thanks”. He was a wonderful man who I will forever miss and I feel uniquely fortunate to have worked with him. On my wall hangs a portrait of the great stop action photographer Harold Edgerton that Arnold took and I printed for the Sidney Janis show. Arnold had me print an extra copy and before I left New York City to return to Columbus he signed it “With Warmest Regards and Greatest Hopes for Your Future Success – Arnold”. It was an amazing few years in New York at a time in history when there were some great photographers living and working. I feel privileged to have been there then and those few months working with Arnold were certainly a highlight.
Last spring break, my 10 year old son decided that he wanted a change of scenery and wanted to change the look of his room. He didn’t like the color of the room so we decided to paint. One might think, what is there to say about painting a boys room? There is more than one might think.
When I worked in New York City, typically the 1st job give to any incoming assistant was to paint a wall. You ask, “Why? Are there a great deal of walls in New York in need of painting?” and the answer is, no. If you are working with a fashion photographer there is typically a cyc that requires painting occasionally but why your first job is to paint a wall is because painting a wall tells a great deal about how you may do the rest of your job. Painting a wall is not difficult but it takes time, attention to detail, patience and diligence. If you are going to do it right, everything needs to be taped off thoroughly, you need to put on several coats of paint, the coats of paint need to be applied evenly, the job is slow, tedious and can’t be rushed. If you neglect any of the methodical steps, you will ultimately end up with a sloppy job, poor edging, uneven coats, spots and drips. If you do these things well, you probably will approach the other jobs in a photo studio with the same diligence, which is critical. If you don’t, you might need to move along as you may not be cut out for the rigor and attention to detail that photography requires.
Do I like painting? NO! I hate it but, I know what is required and can do it well when asked.
Well, my 10 year old asked and now has a beautifully painted sea blue room.
So, go “Paint-A-Wall”. It may tell you more about you ability to be a photographer than you realize.
All the Best,
Recently, I was asked to provide a bid on a project. The agency, who contacted me, said that their client required them to provide them with three photographer’s bids. I appreciated being considered but, must admit that I do not like bidding scenarios. I think most bidding scenarios are created with a photographer already in mind for the work and then two other sets of numbers to make certain the one photographer isn’t going to gauge them. Nonetheless, it is the way of the world.
The project was of significant size and the client’s client was a large corporation so it was worth exploring the possibilities and therefore we put forth a bid. The bid was due on Friday and we were to have a decision by end of day Monday. Monday came and went, as did Tuesday and Wednesday and, at the end of day Thursday, we finally received out answer. They had decided to go with a photographer they had worked with before. Was I disappointed, yes. Was I surprised, no.
I was told by the Art Buyer that the long delay in the decision making process was that their client entered into this process intending, as I suspected, to rehire the person with whom they had worked with before but, when they saw my work, it gave them pause. For 4 days they deliberated on whether to go with the “known” or to venture somewhere new. As much as I would have loved them to go somewhere new, I understood the comfort in going with the known.
I was professional, understanding, considerate and calm. Getting upset was not going to change the decision and yet, I know so many photographers who blow up when a decision does not go their way. Being graceful, polite and civilized is a far better way to go.
A few days later a received an email from one of the Executive Vice President’s of the Agency saying,
“I am sorry the project didn’t go your way.
I referred you in to the project. I have been a fan of you and your work for many many years! I think it would be great to have you in some time to share your portfolio with our team so that we can make sure you are on the list every time moving forward.
Let me know who to coordinate with to get you in.”
I guarantee that if I had a fit over not getting that particular job, the preceding email would NEVER have been forthcoming. I can thankfully say that I win more projects than I lose but how you lose it is equally, if not more important, than how you win.
Who knows what the future will bring but you only have a fighting chance to win the game if you are in the game. At least I know, with this particular client, I am still in the game.
In response to the American Society of Media Photographer (ASMP) President, James Cavanaugh’s post in the ASMP Winter Bulletin, endorsing cutting fees, I posted a retort to the damage that can come from this type of thinking. I felt it might be worthwhile to reprint it here so that those outside of the ASMP Architecture fold might also have the opportunity to read it. Several have asked for permission to reprint it to share with their students and others and I warmly embrace you doing so. Best regards, Brad
In the marketplace there exists vendors like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, who charge (don’t critique this on the pricing as it may not be accurate, this is for scenario purposes only) $75 for a polo shirt. There are buyers out there who will pay $75 for that shirt as there is a perceived sense of quality and stature that goes hand and hand with the brand. There is also brands like the Gap who charge $50 for a polo shirt and even Walmart who may sell them for $25. All are selling polo shirts.
If, due to market pressures, Brooks Brothers lowers their price to $50, where does the Gap go? Brooks Brothers will likely pick up some market share as certain buyers, who bought from the Gap can now afford the Brooks Brothers polo but, Brooks Brothers will also lose some high paying customers as their brand perception has been reduced. Where does the Gap go? Closer to the Walmart as they have now lost market share to Brooks Brothers. Where does Walmart go? Nowhere, as there market is quantity not profit margin. What happened throughout this scenario? Brooks Brothers lost their perception of quality, AS WELL AS their profit margin, merely to gain some new customers. As a result, the Gap lowered their price and thus lost their profit margins, as well. Ultimately, there will also be buyers of the Gap, who don’t care about Brooks Brothers and were happy to pay the $50 price tag but are now elated that the price has gone lower. Every vendor is losing, with the buyer being the great beneficiary. What happens to Walmart? Nothing, as their profit margin is so slight that they either sell it for that price or cease to sell polo shirts.
Hypothetically, a year later, Brooks Brothers moves the price back up to $75 but finds that they not only lost their newly found $50 customers (as they have now out priced them) but now their $75 customers are now buying Armani, due to the tarnishing of their brand. Their $75 marketplace has now been lost and they must now find a happy medium selling their polos for $65. The Gap, too finds themselves in the same position. Everyone’s profitability has been reduced This is why brands like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren don’t do it and why WE cannot afford to do it either.
What do they do? Well, they will offer 3 shirts for $200 instead of the $225 they would typically charge, still maintaining their $75/polo price tag. Don’t speak of them having sales, as the whole store is never ON SALE, only last season’s goods and sales never last in perpetuity.
How does this relate to me? One cannot compete with the Walmarts nor should one aspire to. There will always be those willing to charge almost nothing for A) it is a side gig or B) they have little to no overhead or C) they recognize what they have to provide, is of a lesser quality. If you are a newbie, enter the market as the Gap but aspire to be a Ralph Lauren. Charge a fair market value for your work because A) you deserve it, if your work is of any quality and B) because there have been the Brooks Brothers of the industry who have demanded their fees so that you can make a living in photography. Once you become a Brooks Brothers, stand by your fees so that the industry as a whole does not suffer. If you have to, find creative, outside the box thinking that will maintain your fee without diminishing your brand, like Brooks Brothers does.
Know that many of the “Brooks Brothers” of ASMP started out as the “Gaps” of ASMP and gradually, over many years, built up their fees so they could subsist and so new “Gaps” to ASMP and the marketplace could earn a decent living.
Please, do not let a poor economy bring the industry of photography to its knees by merely bending to market pressure. Let me know the last time you walked into a Brooks Brothers and demanded to buy a $75 polo shirt for $50 and the answer was, OK. If you wish to create value, you must create the perception of that which you bring to the table, not a false perception but, one of reality. We, as architectural photographers, bring great value and please do recognize that! Granted, we are not curing cancer or doing brain surgery but, we are assisting our clients to sell their wares, to generate new business, to help them win awards and sometimes, even get them published. Without architectural photography, the publications would merely be words, as would be the websites. They do need us and, believe or not, most value what we do. We need to value it too. Do not forget the value you bring and demand adequate compensation for that value. When you ultimately become a “Brooks Brothers” or a “Ralph Lauren”, you will be glad you did. Enough of the pep talk, now go out, create good work and DEMAND to be compensated accordingly.
All the Best,
The three words are: DESIGN, BUILD & TRANSFORM
The two people are: Emily Pilloton & Matthew Miller
The BIG Difference: Is Project H Design and its wonderful impact on the High School Kids of the Bertie County School District, North Carolina.
About a year and a half ago, I had the good fortune of turning on a show on the USA Network called “Character Approved“. This show highlighted the work of 12 Cultural Trail Blazers who each in their own way are changing the world around them. These individuals included the likes of film maker of “An Inconvenient Truth” Davis Guggenheim, CEO of TOM’s Shoes Blake Mycoskie and …. Emily Pilloton of Project H. I was inspired by what each of these individuals were doing and how they were making a difference and I, too wanted to make a difference. I was extremely impressed by the work Emily was doing and reached out to see how I might be of assistance to Project H. After a series of back & forth emails, Emily informed me of this wonderful Farmer’s Market, titled “The Windsor Super”, in Windsor, NC that would be completing in late summer and they would love to have it photographed.
Well, like most construction projects (especially ones built by students and instructors) the completion date kept moving but at the end of September it was complete and my assistant and I traveled down to Windsor to photograph the structure and the Opening Day Ceremony on Oct. 1.
If you don’t know what Project H is, here is their Mission, as taken from their website:
Project H uses the power of design and hands-on building to catalyze communities and public education from within. We are a team of designers, builders, and teachers engaging in our own backyards to improve the quality of life for all.
Our six-tenet design process (There is no design without (critical) action; We design WITH, not FOR; We document, share and measure; We start locally and scale globally; We design systems, not stuff; We build) results in simple and effective design solutions that empower communities and build collective creative capital.
Our specific focus is the transformation of curricula, environments, and experiences for K-12 educational institutions in the US, centering around our cornerstone initiative: our Studio H design/build high school program within the Bertie County School District, North Carolina.
We design, build, teach, and transform.
Well, when we arrived, Emily was painting the handrail and Matthew was sanding down the vendor’s stalls of this AMAZING structure. This structure was the Windsor Farmer’s Market which they had designed and built with the high school students of the Bertie County School District. Emily approached and introduced us to Matthew and I can tell you first hand, that these two special people were as nice as any two people you may ever hope to meet.one could meet. What made it even more fun was that it turned out that Matthew was from my wife’s home town of Wheeling, WV. What a small world. They put on the finishing touches and then we endeavored in a day full of shooting through dusk. Little did we know that documentary filmmaker, Patrick Creadon would be there, wrapping up a year long documentary on Studio H and Project H. His documentary, Studio H, will; hopefully come out later this year. We later sat there as the skies darkened and, over pizza, discussed Matthew’s desire to Solar Decathlon but, with a $50,000 house that could actually be a viable alternative to those in need of housing in lieu of the unpractical entries, due to cost, that appear year after year. These are good people to the core.
The following day we were there at sunrise to capture it and remained for the Grand Opening at 10AM. The city turned out, including many of the students who worked on the project. The town Mayor gave Emily and Matthew the keys to the city (which doubles as a bottle opener) and a very special day was had by all. It was incredible to be a small part of the celebration.
Emily Pilloton, Project H and the Windsor Super is featured in an article in the March Issue of Architectural Record on Activist Architects and, as mentioned, the movie, Studio H, will be out sometime in 2012. I am certain that this is merely the tipping point for many great things to come. It was great to be an asset to them at this special juncture and hope that I may continue to contribute and remain an asset to Studio H Design for many many years to come.
Every year, I have countless college seniors come by to meet and show me their portfolios, many of which show very good work. Then I pose the question, “How long did it take to create those 12-20 images?” The answer is always the same, “This is my work, which I did over the last year.”
That’s wonderful, but in the professional world, you need to be creating 12-20 AMAZING images day-in and day-out, everyday, regardless of circumstances, since that’s what is demanded (expected?) of you as a professional.
This is not only true in the world of the collegian, but equally true in the professional world, especially with the adoption of the “Prosumer.” This type of photographer has become so pervasive that the American Society of Media Photographers has adopted an “Associate” level for part-time professionals because (as one of my fellow ASMP members said), “We would rather have them, as they say, inside the tent peering out as opposed to outside the tent peering in.”
To aspiring architectural photographers:
The ability to capture the innate beauty of a significant piece of architecture over just a few days, and then return with exceptional results, comes from the experience gained over a period of many years. It also requires the knowledge of light, lighting, and architecture. In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell referred to this as the 10,000 Hours Rule. This is why most of our great architectural photographers — Peter Aaron, Nick Merrick, Tim Hursley, and others — are in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Yes, digital has changed the landscape, but the ability to SEE architecture is one acquired over time.
A dear friend of my wife’s family lost her battle with cancer last week. She was fairly coherant until the final days and therefore was able to plan her own funeral. She wrote this piece called “Togetherness” that I was touched by so much that I felt it worthy of reprinting. Here it is:
In this era of Social Media there is much to be aware and of which to beware. This concept was made ruefully apparent in a recent movie release, CATFISH. Via IMDB
“In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Ariel’s brother, Nev. They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives. A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, CATFISH is a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue.”
SPOILER ALERT: Ariel’s brother, Nev, comes to find that the woman he was communicating with, along with all of her purported friends, was an extremely elaborate ruse propagated by a single lonely woman, Angela, who seems to have fabricated these fictional people on Facebook as a way to escape the regrets that came with sacrifices she had to make in order to have a family and a stable life.
Why do I waste your time with a silly movie plot? Because it relates to the professional world as well, where “Fake it till You Make it” is frighteningly rampant.
I personally know of photographers whose “client” lists are largely embellishments, if not outright fabrications, and their work gives the “impression” that they are doing incredible things for incredible architects. Whereas the truth behind the images is that it was either a personal or portfolio-building project or the architect had nothing to do with the photography. These embellishments are promoted via Twitter, Facebook and blogs — not unlike Angela in the film CATFISH.
As Guy Kawasaki said in his book Enchantment, “…enchanting gullible people – is immoral.” Sadly, social media is the perfect forum for enchantment, but not in the wrong hands.
So, before you readily go out and hire your next photographer, scratch at the facade and find out how much substance is beneath the surface. You may be surprised that it is largely a facade. Caveat emptor.
All the Best,
About a week ago I received a very unexpected phone call from an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr. Jones. He relayed that he had been looking for a photographer for the last year to do a portrait of him. He said he had a portrait of his deceased wife whom he wanted to try to replicate stylistically. Mr. Jones was somewhat hard to understand on the phone but he insisted that he wanted to come down to my studio and show me her picture and we could go from there. We set a time and two and a half hours after our appointment time, in walked Mr. Jones, a sweeter person I cannot imagine meeting. He shared with me this picture of his wife and explained that since she was looking upward in her portrait, he wanted to be looking slightly downward so that when the two pictures were hung on the wall they could be staring into one an other’s eyes. Yes, I am a romantic at heart and at that point, my heart melted.
Here is the portrait he shared:
Now, keep in mind I am primarily an architectural photographer but I LOVE TO DO PORTRAITURE, as well.
Well, we spend the morning trying to replicate the look and feel of a 1960s portrait and then Mr. Jones arrived. He was a bit nervous about the sitting but, was excited nonetheless. We helped him button his collar, fixed his bow tie and helped him with his jacket. We asked him to look off and think pleasant thoughts and one could just tell by the twinkle in his eye that he was thinking sweet memories of his wife. I asked him look off to the left, I had him lift his head slightly, I tried to have him bring up a smile but it all was not working. At one magical moment, he turned and looked back and I said, “Stop, don’t move”. I could see that this new & unexpected body position not only complimented the picture of his wife, it complimented Mr. Jones, as well. I often find, whether portraiture or architecture, having an openness to being able to see is ever so important. It often happens that I will be walking through a space I have walked for three days but not at that particular time and I see something I never saw before. You can plan and plan but the ability to see is what it is all about.
When he saw the results, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “I didn’t think someone could take a picture like that of me. I think I picked the right photographer.” I wish I had a recording because in black and white, his heartfelt joy cannot be expressed adequately.
Here was the result:
As he left, one could tell that he was very moved by the experience. The fact was, we were moved too. Something special happened right before our eyes, almost divine, and as he left, he said what a true pleasure it had been. He said, “You made my, day, my weekend and my week” and, I will tell you as I told him, “YOU made ours”.
I encourage you to look beyond that which you expect to see, as things will appear out of the unexpected that will astonish and amaze you. Look with your heart and it will help your eyes to see, and sometimes the little things you do to help make someone else feel fulfilled, to help create a memento that may last for generations, can be one of the greatest gifts you can give someone else but, also one of the most emotionally fulfilling things you may do for yourself too.
All the Best,