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Monday, 28 February 2011

Collaboration 1: We are the Youth







This week, I have a series of interviews about collaborative work.

First up are Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl at We are the Youth ( a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of LGBT youth in the United States). The above pictures are of Quincy, Trevor and Staci - their stories are on the blog and are simple but amazing - a mix of race, religion and sexuality.






What is your day job?
Laurel works as a studio manager for the Brooklyn photographer, Emiliano Granado. Diana works as a freelance journalist for various publications including New York Magazine, Westchester Magazine, City Limits and POZ. 

How did you get involved in this collaborative project?
I had been interested in documenting and photographing queer youth last year and had looked into getting permission to photograph a Gay Prom in NY. Diana and I were talking one day soon after that about how cool it would be to include interviews with the photographs and really turn it into a photojournalism project. So we both went to the Gay Prom, met 200 amazing kids and the project was born!


How did you gain access to the people in the project?
We gain access to the youth we profile in a variety of ways. A lot of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and a ton of emails to different organizations who then put us in touch with local groups that focus on queer youth. From there, everything kind of builds upon itself -- youth put us in touch with their friends or suggest we go to a certain meet- ups or groups. 



Is there anything you cannot gain access to?
We've been pretty lucky in terms of gaining access to the places and people we've wanted to connect with. We're looking to travel in the upcoming months and hoping to meet queer youth in more remote places where it might not be so okay to be out. We're assuming it will be harder to find queer youth in those areas but we'll have to see how that plays out.

What are the problems with photographing this subject?
We haven't had too many problems finding, photographing and interviewing queer youth, but one issue that comes up is the issue of privacy and how much people realize or don't realize they are sharing. We make it very clear to everyone we profile that if they're not comfortable with something in the interview, they need to let us know and we'll make the appropriate edits before publishing on the website. 


What do you hope to achieve by doing this project?
Our goal for the next year is to widen the demographic of the youth that we're profiling -- we're interested in traveling to more remote areas in the States, maybe the Great Plains and trying to find queer youth in those areas. Long term, we hope to achieve a change in how people view queer youth and the queer community in general. By widening the demographic of the youth that we're profiling we hope to say, "queer people are from all different places, they look all sorts of different ways and act different ways and are interested in all sorts of different things." We hope to fight the stigma attached to being queer by challenging stereotypes and do our best to create a full and encompassing portrait of the queer youth community.  




Were there any assumptions you had made before the project that you realised did not apply?
I'm not sure if this was an assumption per say, but I don't think we realized the extent of the youth organizing and activism that's going on today. We're constantly amazed at the people we meet and the way in which they network with each other. The queer youth community, in some ways, seems smaller than ever, mostly because of the Internet. Everyone knows everyone and queer youth are able to reach out to other youth and create change like never before. Sounds pretty obvious in this Internet-crazy age, but that's something that's really blown our minds! 



Were there any assumptions you made before starting the project that you realised did apply?
Teenagers are hard to track down!


How do you fund this project?


We've been funded by a grant from DoSomething.org, a great organization that funds projects started by young people. We've also done a lot of fundraising -- we did a huge drive through Kickstarter.com a few months ago and have gotten independent donations from strangers, friends and family. 

What constitutes success for this project?
I think success for us happens on a lot of different levels. Being published would definitely mean a certain level of success, but ultimately, just getting the stories out there and reaching a large audience is what we're aiming for. We want queer youth to feel good about telling their story and be proud of who they are. Having kids tell us how much the project means to them -- that's always really awesome and in a way, that's the biggest measure of success, just being able to impact people in a positive way.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The poor photographer



Going on from the previous post, can one be a poor and successful photographer?

What are the cheap projects that have succeeded with photographers living and working on just a pittance, with equipment that costs just a pittance?

Anything that uses macs, any photoshop after 5.5, any camera over $500 does not count.

Any ideas? Post them in the comments.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Skint and successful

"There are easier ways to make money than shooting long-term personal projects (waitressing for example)". 


So said Anastasia Taylor Lind in the blog posts on success (here and here). Other people said similar things, that financial reward was the last thing on their minds. I suspect this is partly because there is so little financial reward in photography of the documentary/long-term project kind, the kind where a five figure income is quite an achievement. There is a huge amount of smoke and mirrors in photography, and how much people earn and the relationship between earnings and success, and the necessity to be perceived as successful and the image of financial security as an element of self-marketing are all central to very many photographers' lives. 


I assume that every photographer scrapes a living at best - that waitressing (and for North American readers,  Anastasia was talking UK, small tips waitressing here) or shelf-stacking or anything that pays minimum wage is going to be a better bet than photography.

I assume that most people involved in photography, even quite well-known  names, have trouble buying cameras, computers or film - and I assume the less well-known find it difficult to buy film, printer ink and paper. I certainly do.


So it was heartening to hear so many people judging success in terms of communication, connection, of creativity and creating something fresh and making people see the world in a different way. Some of the people who said this do make money from photography, but still indulged in projects that interested them and stimulated them - and this part of their work, the non-money earning part, took over their lives.


So it is with this in mind that I interviewed a few people (Tony Fouhse, We are the Youth, Steve Davis and Gemma-Turnbull) who are doing  collaborative projects, more for the love than the money (there is no money). And I'll put these interviews up next week. 


In the meantime, all this talk of money reminds me of Maxine Peake who wrote of the snobbery in drama colleges in the UK. The idea is that most British actors are now upper-middle class and there is no opportunity for working class actors. A similar thing has happened in journalism, publishing, broadcasting, film and, ooh, everything really. There is a view that because the creative industries are dominated by one type of person with one accent, one community and, ultimately, one mentality, there is a unity of perspective and belief that  is reflected in the plays, media, the television, the books. art and the films that we read, hear and see. You can hear this accent on Radio Four plays, you can read the mentality in the Guardian, you can see the community on BBC television. It doesn't make for a broad sweep of passion and imagination.


The reason these people, and only these people, can thrive is because the institutions they seek to join are so low-paying that only those with independent means can survive - who else can afford to work as an intern in a high-cost city such as London, who else can live on the four-figure (or three figure income) that photography provides so many of its wannabe artists/journalists/documentarians.

Does the same apply to photography? I don't know really. Sometimes I think it does, but then I read what people think of success and, though I know they are underplaying the financial aspects, I also do not doubt their sincerity for one second. And that gives me a little bit of hope.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Dogs Playing Poker








From kittens to dogs, dogs playing poker, more of which here with Cassius Coolidge Gallery of Dogs Playing Poke.

Which reminds me of Tom Lubbock on Caravaggio's Cardsharps.

Tom Lubbock used to write for the Independent, but sadly died late last year. I always enjoyed his writings for their clarity. You can find all his commentaries here: Tom Lubbock.

Photographers who shoot dogs playing cards? Not enough!



Tom Lubbock Obituary

Cassius Coolidge Gallery of Dogs Playing Poker

Thursday, 17 February 2011

What makes a great picture? Kittens


Andrew Buurman provides a late entry to the Success strand. Again, it's a very common question, an easy question to ask, but oh-so-difficult to answer. This is what Andrew says:

What makes a great picture? Kittens

When I was working as a photographer at The Independent the chief photographer was brilliant but could also be little terse. A student had written to him with the same question: What makes a successful photograph. He looked at the carefully prepared sheet of follow up questions and ,in large bold black biro, wrote "Kittens" and sent it back. 

Obviously it was a flippant answer though he had a point. The natural reaction when seeing kittens is ,what a friend would call, "a big girlie aaah".  It's one of the reasons you see gift shops with books of cats and dogs. This shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. These images cause a response, they get  a reaction.

These days we are bombarded with thousands of images per day.  Photographs can have more impact than the moving image because you can come back to them time and time again. You can  transpose your own values, ideas and judgements on them but what picture do we stop at? Surely one that creates an reaction.  War photographer Simon Norfolk produces beautiful large format photographs about the awful power of military technology. I've  heard him talk about the beauty wanting to initially draw the viewer in and then the subject slap them on the face.

On the front cover of my book  "Allotments" there is  a man looking lovingly  at the chrysanthemums that he has grown.  His name was Mark. He was a lovely man who had a passion for growing flowers. He encapsulated the way that most people think about allotments as a retreat, an escape, a rural idyll in a urban environment. I wanted the book to explore this as a metaphor for how we view England. It might not be a face slapping subject but I wanted the immediacy of the image to get the viewer to look at the pictures closer and ,maybe, get interested in my ideas of what allotments what they represent in the UK.

Mark was down the allotments quite a lot when I started the project and less so at the end. I later learnt, from his son, that he was ill.  When he passed away his son got in touch and asked for a print to put on his coffin.

The picture always gets a positive response whenever I show it. For me its a successful photograph even though there are no kittens.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

What is Success: Part 2 of 2

Part 1 to the question What is success? came yesterday. Here is Part 2.

Scroll down for answers to the question from:

Harry Hardie of Here  




"What makes a photograph successful for me is a very difficult question. It is not asking what makes a "good" photograph. However asking that question maybe answers the first question.

If what gauges whether a photograph is successful is how it changes or affects public opinion,  then one has to look at the pictures taken by, and which "star" Lynndie England, the US Army reservist who, either took or produced the pictures that came out of  Abu Ghraib in 2005. Should she get a Pulitzer? a World Press? Maybe, although that was not her aim as such...

For me personally a good photograph works in the way that, in literature, magic realism works. It is a photograph of a reality, of something based in the real, and yet alludes to something stranger or greater, however subtle, hence enhancing the reality..

It is also a question of layers, and understanding in the work, a successful photograph can be enjoyed or inform in different ways (on different layers) all at the same time. One minute its the content that engages you, then its where that content fits into history, and then the context of how, when and why the picture was taken, and of course the formal beauty of the photograph."



I think the word success is very difficult to define, because is it determined by the outside world's reaction to the work, or within the mind of the person producing the work? And if the register is set too far to either extreme, the work can either become self-indulgent or disposable. The artist can become too reactionary to internal or outside impulses.

At the same time, we are accustomed to a world of tangibles, of definite objects. Success is amorphous and changes shape with time. A failure can shift into success; a one-time success can erode into embarrassment.

Success for myself is not just about doing good, professional work.For lack of a better word, there's an element of magic. An innocuous detail that pushes the image into another level. When we're lucky, when we trust our instincts, we're hit with an electric charge. Does
this last? Oftentimes it doesn't. When the initial burst of clamor fades, but there's still magic in it, people still respond, you still feel something when you see it. That to me is success.



Thank you for asking what you called a stupid question, but which is arresting in the sense that I really had to pause and think how to answer it in an intelligent way. Success for work normally is taken to mean that it achieves whatever its maker intended, n'importe quoi. It could be all the things you mentioned: personal, financial, moral, social. Since it's always a good idea to ask what the question really is asking, I ended up looking at where the modern concept of success had come from. What is "success"? Do I really know my English, or am I like my friend from college days, who confessed having no clue about some of the words she regularly used. 

Looking it up (knowing it is derived from Latin), I found this explanation for the original meaning of the word, which designates "that, which comes after" :

 "Imagine a procession [pro + cedere = going forward], led by a dignitary. Behind him are his underlings, i.e. those who are "under" him. They therefore "go under" or "succeed" him. That is the original meaning of success/succeed in English. It is still used in that way to mean somebody following another in office, e.g. the succession to the throne. According to this site: {link}"succeed" was first used with the modern meaning (i.e. of accomplishing a desired end) in 1586."

In that dry sense, success is simply that what comes after, what follows. So, taking it from there, I guess that if very little follows from setting your work free in the world, it is said to have little success. If much comes after, you have a huge success. Having a lot of success can be like having a crowd of followers; it depends very much on what your viewpoint is, what you care to see, and how you value what comes after. For some work it might mean getting the secret service on your tail... in some cases a desired end, in some cases maybe not.  Sometimes your success - the amount of stuff and people who start following your work and sometimes even yourself - might hamper freedom of movement, much in the way a long train of a dress would. Lots of people get tangled up in that kind of stuff. 

For me, personally, at this point in my life, real success would most likely consist in getting many things to follow from a photograph - of whatever nature you desire these things to be  - yet without this long train of things restricting the free movement of the work, slowing down whatever you sent it out to carry forward in this world. I see work as that dignitary heading the procession. In the word dignitary hides the word dignity. If you look it up - e.g.  in the free dictionary - you see that it has a threefold meaning, and each of these can be said to apply what is considered successful work. 

Some work is esteemed in and of itself, it has so called intrinsic qualities.

We all want to believe our own work has that noble quality of true worth. This is the kind of success that waits to be discovered - or not. 

Some work is esteemed for its formality in bearing and appearance.

This is work that creates the impression that it is important, that we ought to pay attention and respect to it, rather than banking on its intrinsic quality. We could all name a few works that could be subsumed under this header.

Some work is esteemed for the rank or the station achieved.

Very few people contest the success of an Ansel Adams these days. Some living photographers act like they have already achieved that status. This is the kind of success one should be very suspicious of, where you should start to have doubts of a royal nature. It is the shiny kind: it tends to reflect mostly on the people who hang around merely for the advancement of their own interests. 

Of course this is a grossly cynical generalization of successful work and their makers, but it reinforces the metaphor of your work being put out in the world to carry something forward, to create things happening in its wake. Sometimes your work can be advanced by other people or events for reasons beyond your control, which can be a good or a bad thing, again depending on your perspective, taste and aims. 

However, what I have come to learn, is that it is takes courage to defend the integrity of your work when entering the public arena, which is the ultimate place to see if the work really has that kind of stamina and worth, the ability to carry something around. Personally, I am interested in works that light up the place by itself, rather than shine in borrowed lights, in work that brings energy into play, and does not drain the available resources, in work that creates space rather than takes up space.  



I think the answer is that it changes as hopefully I mature as an artist/photographer. As a student it was to please the tutors. After college it was to succeed as a 'professional photographer' at any cost. It then became about competition/approval. Now and this sounds a bit wanky, It's about pushing myself and making something which I believe in and that feels true. I am an artist who has chosen to use photography as my medium. I believe in photography as an art form which is why I sometimes get so critical about the 'photography world'. I gave up on the financial side years ago, although I wouldn't complain if some big fuck off gallery wanted to sign me up!



Funny enough I had this conversation with a friend a few weeks ago. I think ultimately for me it is having an audience, sharing my work and having a reaction or emotional engagement with it. My work is deeply personal but if someone else can identify something in it or with it then I am very happy and therefore successful.

Would I like to make money? Yes, that would be nice but regardless I will keep doing this, it is part of who I am (I know, a cliche, but true nonetheless).


If people can connect with my pictures and enjoy them that is enough for me. It’s like you are walking down the street and you smile at someone and they smile back. There is nothing given and nothing taken. It is just like a little nudge, a recognition of humanity and life. That is what photography means to me. It is my profession, it is my religion, it is my karma, it is my life.


Since Sleeping by the Mississippi was my first project and I had virtually no audience, the goal was to try and finally make something good enough for a pretend audience. Up to that point I’d done some decent work, but I never felt a full project was really good enough for a broader audience. My primary goal was to make something worthy of showing to anyone beyond my little circle.

Now I have a bigger circle. But since I have a few bodies of work under my belt, the danger is becoming stale. The goal with the new work is to make something that feels fresh and unforced. Of course I also want to make something good.


Anastasia Taylor-Lind

The value of a photograph is in that it is a form of communication between 2 people (a way of communicating something between the photographer and the viewer).... this is the point of photography. Considering this, photography has little value if no one sees it. Johnny Cash would not have served the world if he had sat in his bedroom singing his beautiful folk songs to himself. So, the most important consideration of whether a project is a success to me,  is if it is seen.

Money is in many ways irrelevant..... there are easier ways to make money than shooting long-term personal projects (waitressing for example). That said it is also hard to quantify how "much" money one makes from a story. I guess the most obvious way is through editorial sales... how much money do you make from people BUYING the pictures. But a project can also make money through awards, grants and scholarships that give cash prizes or expenses to shoot a new story. One can also raise your profile within the photographic community and expand your client base, or be commissioned for an assignment on the strength of a specific story. At the very least, each new project strengthens your portfolio.

I personally don't believe that images, or the act of photographing can effect tangible change, although photography can certainly be use to "make a difference". Marcus Bleasedale's work from the Congo is a very good example of this. Certainly, in this case, it is not important how many people see the images, but WHO sees them. But i think it is the way one uses the pictures in a campaigning context that bring about that change, not the photographs themselves . Photographs are humble things, and i think it is naive to expect too much of them. If i was primarily concerned with changing the world, i would have become a lawyer, or a doctor, or a human rights activist.

I guess, on a personal level, I am happy for myself if I feel a story communicates in some small way the experience of being in a particular place, at a particular time to someone else, who wasn't there. Photographs of course have great value as historical documents. They are also of great value to the people in them. Perhaps family photo albums are the images with the most value in the world. It is important to me, and I suppose you could say it is a measure of the projects success, that I send prints to the people in my photographs, that they like them, that they put them on their walls... and that the experience of  having a photographer (me) living with them and photographing them is a positive one. For me, photography is mostly about traveling around the world, on my own, and making friends. If I develop friendships that last longer than the time I spend shooting a story (as is often the case), then that project is also a success.



Gemma-Rose Turnbull

Success is measure in tiny incremental goals along the way. It’s someone discovering how to focus a camera, or someone being excited by the photographs they have taken. Someone relishing the opportunity to share their story. For me it’s taking time to get to know and care about the people I am working with, rather than running through their lives and taking their images from them for my own personal gain. 



Your question is not stupid and I think I asking myself this question all the time. for a "young" photographer I think that success of a project or image is getting a feedback from someone that visited the web site or saw one of my exhibitions. I know that my works are not that commercial. In this point of my career i wish to get to more and more people and don't think about selling prints and most of all I wish to enjoy my act of photographing and get satisfaction. I'm working as a printer in one of the wellknow photo shops in Jerusalem so I have everything that I need for my photography. I wish that someday I could live from my art but right now it's only a dream.


It's a complex question of course, and in the end it depends on what you consider success.
In the end for me it's pretty personal.

I  suppose I should write about Sweet Nothings as it's the work of mine that's received the most public and private attention. I made the work at the end of my time living in Turkey ( though in reality I'm back there pretty often).

Somehow I managed to both consciously and intuitively make this series. I was somehow driven by a sense of clarity, and a desire to be completely simple... The physical act of making the work required for me to work with  cumbersome equipment, loading and changing film in not such easy circumstances, perhaps this physicality appears  somewhere in the images  too.

More importantly are the girls in the images far beyond me and my camera...what happened in front of me/my camera was something else.

Of course I set the scene if you like, and I have asked of the girls to look directly into the camera's lens, but all the details of their expressions and body language were and are the thing that I feel make the pictures...these accumulative and individual aspects of these young, vulnerable, proud, shy, girls set in this landscape on the borderlands.

I remember each and every one of them, I remember the before and the afters....our brief encounter together touched and impressed, and still impresses me.

Since making the pictures they have taken on a life of their own,...in the end the responses I receive on a personal level are the ones that resonate most powerfully the responses often of ordinary, people who are not necessarily photographers, how they feel somehow connected with the girls in the photographs.

Finally, I imagine when I return to the girls will really be an important moment, of whether or not the images, and I suppose the remembering of having had their images made, will be the real test.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What is Success: Part 1 of 2

In relation to this post on crowd-sourcing, and this post on outcomes,  I asked some people about success in photography. This is what I sent people

I'm sending out a little questionnaire on what constitutes success for one of your projects/photographs?

It might be financial, or how many people see the picture, or the effect it has on those who see it, or new audiences it reaches, or emotional, or how your family see it, or how you see it, or be due to some tangible or intangible aesthetic critieria. It could be political or something completely different.

It's a stupid question I know, but it arose out of a blog post I did  which got no answers. So I'm coming to you for answers. I would be ever so grateful if you could answer - I'll put all the responses I get up on my blog.

These are the answers people gave. I found these answers heart-warming.

Part 2 will come tomorrow. All answers are in alphabetical order. And if you are reading this and have a different answer or even the same one, do post it in comments.

Scroll down for the answers from:






For a living I work as a commercial photographer...I take photographs that people hire me to take. For my self expression, I tend to consistently work in extended photographic projects. I need the structure: a working title, a goal, an arc that I am trying to discover, a way of working and a way of getting the images made. When I have that structure, I find it easier to put one foot in front of the other and get digging deep into that project. But what to do when it is done? Will anyone care? Will this work reach anyone, or really just speak to me?
After spending my days making photographs for others, my projects really need to be fascinating to me. They can allow me to dig in to something, learn about myself or learn about the thing itself that I am digging in to. And if the fascination continues...if it has legs and continues to feed me...that is when I tend to think it is successful. I'm enriched, I'm digging, I'm the one trying to figure the things out...so its me who needs to be happy. When I'm done...that's when these projects need to get shared out into the world. Sometimes people grab on and relate to them...other times not. A solidly negative critique, where the viewer is saying " I really just don't see what you are up to here " is a blow for sure. It hurts. And often times those are the projects that don't get celebrated up into the stratosphere. But if they served my purpose at the time...I can still feel good about them. Would I call them successful? No. But I would call those projects useful. But when a completed project goes public and is embraced or reflected upon in a variety of different ways by a variety of different people...and you can feel people's fascination with it...in ways different than your own...wow...then I think that project is successful.


Stan Banos

Seriously, I just want to make a picture I like- simple as that. It has to be aesthetically appealing- or at the very least... amusing. Anything else is the proverbial icing on the cake. All other considerations, political, topical, or otherwise, can change with the wind. If others like it- great, all the better. If not...

I've been doing this too damn long now without support or fanfare (except for the occasional shout out from the blogosphere- which is no doubt, much appreciated), so really, it might sound "selfish," but you do it for yourself. I mean, it would be great if my stuff could be used to "better" the world, but it really doesn't go there. My "professional" life deals with that, and that effect, is of course, always questionable at best. It be nice to be considered for the occasional show, or rejected less often, or...* Maybe someday, someone, somewhere will connect with it. That is what photography does best, to whatever extent it does- preserve the past. Shit, I bet Maier has inspired a helluva lotta people!!!

It's fun... most of the time... some of the time, however much of the time, it's still a kick- when it's not frustrating.
What was the question again?



The success of my photo projects is multi-faceted and depends on several factors. Otherwise, I don’t know why I would pick up the camera and involve myself in telling a story.  For money?
When I feel that I have found a project that resonates to me on a personal level, I am driven with the compulsive and therapeutic need to involve myself fully. For example, in my two projects, Lapdancer and Last Stop: Rockaway Park, I had the dire need to connect emotionally with my subjects. Human connection with the tool of the camera is my first aim. The process of working for many years on a long term project like the two I have just mentioned gave me the opportunity to discover a reflection of my own persona in the people whom I photographed.  These shared creative experiences were psychologically therapeutic, providing a reflection of myself in the subjects.
            Of course, I have the personal wish to create images that are not only evocative and aesthetically pleasing to my eye but also to others. Simply, I want to have an end product that makes me feel good about my work
            When the project is complete and is an entity unto it’s own, I would like my work to act as an impetus to more complex ideas about the subject and evoke more interest in the story.  I want the work to be thought provoking and informative. I also have the need to inform myself and open my mind. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that I have engaged in long term projects. I feel conflicted about whether I have clearly and honestly said all that I needed to say in a story.


Andrew Buurman

What makes a great picture? Kittens

When I was working as a photographer at The Independent the chief photographer was brilliant but could also be little terse. A student had written to him with the same question: What makes a successful photograph. He looked at the carefully prepared sheet of follow up questions and ,in large bold black biro, wrote "Kittens" and sent it back. 

Obviously it was a flippant answer though he had a point. The natural reaction when seeing kittens is ,what a friend would call, "a big girlie aaah".  It's one of the reasons you see gift shops with books of cats and dogs. This shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. These images cause a response, they get  a reaction.

These days we are bombarded with thousands of images per day.  Photographs can have more impact than the moving image because you can come back to them time and time again. You can  transpose your own values, ideas and judgements on them but what picture do we stop at? Surely one that creates an reaction.  War photographer Simon Norfolk produces beautiful large format photographs about the awful power of military technology. I've  heard him talk about the beauty wanting to initially draw the viewer in and then the subject slap them on the face.

On the front cover of my book  "Allotments" there is  a man looking lovingly  at the chrysanthemums that he has grown.  His name was Mark. He was a lovely man who had a passion for growing flowers. He encapsulated the way that most people think about allotments as a retreat, an escape, a rural idyll in a urban environment. I wanted the book to explore this as a metaphor for how we view England. It might not be a face slapping subject but I wanted the immediacy of the image to get the viewer to look at the pictures closer and ,maybe, get interested in my ideas of what allotments what they represent in the UK.

Mark was down the allotments quite a lot when I started the project and less so at the end. I later learnt, from his son, that he was ill.  When he passed away his son got in touch and asked for a print to put on his coffin.

The picture always gets a positive response whenever I show it. For me its a successful photograph even though there are no kittens.



 David Campbell

Overall I think this is a very difficult question to think about in the abstract. I doubt there are criteria that would effectively judge success across the board for all projects. Indeed, I think reflecting on 'success' should be part of the thinking surrounding each project. It brings to the fore the question of 'what is it that photographs do, and how do we know?'. So the first step for outlining success re a specific project is for the photographer to ask - 'what am I trying to do with these images, who is my audience, and how can I reach them'. Although this might strike you as a bit vague, I believe strongly that posing the question and reflecting on the issues is an essential first step. 

The next thing to say is that metrics have their place but they have to be used very carefully. Numbers can be become 'facts' far too quickly. One of the problems with numbers about attendance, circulation, readership, page views, unique users etc is that they often tend to assume that more is necessarily better. That is not always the case. It depends on how you answer my original question about who is the audience and how you reach them. If the audience is specific and limited, then having huge numbers may be irrelevant if that mass reach doesn't get to the right people. An example - consider Marcus Bleasdale, working in conjunction with Human Rights Watch, and putting on an exhibit of his Congo images in Geneva so that the staff of global mining companies could view them (see http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=102102). In that case it might have only taken a few hundred, maybe less, people to be affected for the work of those photographs to be counted as "successful". 

At the same time, while Marcus's photos might have helped change the policy of one company, they did not end the war in eastern Congo. And that points to the fact that the all too common, and frankly rather mindless universal claims, about photographers "wanting to change the world" - as though a single thing or person or picture could alone alter the course of history - need to be dispensed with in favour of much more reasoned judgements about what particular photographs can do. Who wouldn't want to change the world - but we all need to carefully assess our place in the world and what our work can do. 

I strongly believe that forcing this issue into the open and asking how we pose the questions and proceed with the discussions is the best way to address the concern. We won't find a set of metrics that will provide a neat, quantitative answer, and if anyone proposed one I would be both nervous and sceptical. Making overt the aims and audience for a project is the essential starting point. 


'Success is the moment you let go.'



'Success' for me is the emotional high I get from seeing other people enjoy something I have done. Sometimes this is bolstered by some financial gain, sometimes not, and certainly after my 'Snakebox Odyssey' the pleasure of delivering the profits directly to the headmaster in Ghana who is building his own school.



  "I could work forever on most projects. Success is determined by how I feel about a project a few months after I abandoned it, abandonment being necessary from the fact that whatever I might add or change, the change would be small and irrelevant. Sometimes, I feel
the project has been a success right when I abandon it, and in those cases that feeling of success remains. For example, I'm still very happy about my 'Higher Education.' What that success really is I can't easily describe; it might come closest to me being happy with the
project, me feeling that I accomplished something even if it might differ vastly from the original idea. It's a feeling of 'That's it!' when seeing the work - instead of 'I think this should have been different,' say. Usually, it's connected to the many changes and iterations the project went through, when there's a process and I'm a different person than when I started it.
  "How other people view the project or whether there is an audience I don't care about so much. If people like the project that's nice, but it doesn't matter all that much for me. I will say, tough, that it gets slightly irritating when people like a project that I deem a failure.
  "It's different with writing, I should add. Writing is such a different beast. There is no abandonment, I just know when it's done, and I suppose there are much more formal qualities that I could use to describe whether something is a success or not."



a photograph is succesful,

- when it changes someone's perspective
- When you've been true to yourself
- when you've been daring
- when it wins contests.
- when it gets sold in exhibitions.



Good question! My personal idea of success has changed a bit over time--a few years ago I was fairly caught up with numbers; I thought the more people who saw my work the better. It caused me to become overly invested I think in submissions--success meant being in as many things as possible, with a large viewership. Now that I'm older and (maybe) wiser, I care more about the effect my images have on people. Of course I always cared that people were touched by my photographs, and in some ways even during my "numbers game" time the emails that I'd get saying my images had had an impact meant more to me than any acceptances to shows and the like--I just think I didn't equate that with "success" per se, but more with the personal impact those emails had on me. 

My idea of success has now become sort of warm and fuzzy and self-helpy, in that I've turned away from the more typical definitions of success (recognition, power) to recognizing that "true" success is whatever feels the best, and though recognition feels fantastic, in the long run what's more fulfilling is knowing that someone saw something they could relate to in my photographs, something that moved them, and also that the pictures themselves mean something to me. So I suppose the short answer to your question is that the emotional impact is the most important thing to me now, and ultimately whatever is most important to me is what I'd like to think of as success. Though honestly a little money wouldn't hurt either...



I'm going to dash off my first thoughts on your question because I'm pretty busy and my brain is so full these days.  The proviso, of course (and I state this on drool, over and over) is that I reserve the right to contradict these thoughts at any time.....

It's kind of all selfish.....success to me is going out into the world, having interesting encounters with people, lots of social intercourse and coming  away with some images that remind me of that. Souvenirs, if you will.

That I like to insert myself into places and situations that might make others uncomfortable seems to give the images a certain amount of weight and, seemingly, contribute to a broader social discourse.  This is a side effect.

 

This is a difficult question, with no one answer.
For someone like myself who works on long projects, I have to at some point make a decision about when to stop shooting. This is never easy, my projects evolve over the course and my head is constantly buzzing with new ideas. So, is this when I can call it a success, no.

When the shooting stops, I like to give myself a long editing period, living with the images, re edit after re edit until I start to feel that I am giving a  genuine voice to the work. This involves questions around the social, political and emotional content and narrative that I am trying to construct. 
On top of all this, is the language of photography, am I adding something to my knowledge of the medium. If I feel this has all come together, and has moved forward my dialogue between photography and myself, on a personal level, I feel a sense of success.

But with documentary work, judgement of success can never rest with the author alone, it demands a audience and a dialogue.As I tend to work on projects centred on countries at any given time, the most valuable and rewarding aspect that allows me to judge whether the work, is the response of the audience from that country, the people it's about and addresses. Only then do i know whether I have really succeeded. 



I think success for us happens on a lot of different levels. Being published would definitely mean a certain level of success, but ultimately, just getting the stories out there and reaching a large audience is what we're aiming for. We want queer youth to feel good about telling their story and be proud of who they are. Having kids tell us how much the project means to them -- that's always really awesome and in a way, that's the biggest measure of success, just being able to impact people in a positive way. 

Saturday, 12 February 2011

World Press Photo




World Press Photo time again and more controversy on its way. The winner is good I think, except some think it's too much like Steve McCurry's Afghan girl and others think the way the image was used (and the publication it was used for) should be taken into account in the awarding of prizes.

So Politics, Theory and Photography asks the David Levi Strauss question: 

"The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end?" 

But if that were the case, how many of the winning entries could one have in the World Press Photo? Indeed would there be a World Press Photo?  And if not, would that be a bad thing?


The overall feel is somewhat reactionary, a glance of the death that comes at the end of the affair. It's like the climax of the film without the preamble. I remember reading a story about how 3 separate photojournalists were embedded with US forces in Afghanistan and they all came back with the same image - the soldier dying in the helicopter shot, the same one that Larry Burrows did in his Yankee Papa 13 essay. But Burrows showed something beyond just death.


Many of the winners have that same kind of feeling, that showing something terrible (that should be shown) but so what? But perhaps press photography has always been like that, it's about the eye-catching picture, never mind the back story. And there seems to be a lot of death in the ones that I like. All photography is gee-whizz photography in the end, however you look at it.


Anyways, some favourites are the Suicide in Budapest, the Tibetan burying the earthquake dead, the victims of the Merapi eruption - and they're still waiting for the big one, the really big one. Then there's the Niger meat market and the children in prisons in Sierra Leone 

My overall favourite has to be Kim Jong Il and his son, and next Beloved Leader in Waiting.
Here you can just see what Kim Jong Il is thinking. It's the same as the rest of us. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

What is success?

Many claims are made for photography and the role it has played in world events. Some say photography ended (or at least helped end) the Vietnam War. It brings photographic evidence to human rights abuses, it convicts and it accuses, it bears witness and it provides a memory. Photographers justify their projects by talking about how their work brings awareness to a subject, so creating outrage and action that results in change.

On the other side, there are many criticisms of photography.Susan Sontag famously labelled photography imperialistic, treacherous, voyeuristic and predatory - all in a bad way. Barthes, John Berger, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Allan Sekula were equally dismissive (and Susie Linfield summarises their thoughts succinctly right here), while more recently Broomberg and Chanarin called for a rethink of documentary and photojournalistic practice - which Tim Hetherington responded to here.

Then there are the more academic and artistic outcomes of a project; the language of artist statements where photography can be an exploration, an examination or an investigation. It can deepen our understanding of space, relationships, beauty, humanity; it can challenge the way we see or understand the world.

The only problem with all these words is that they are just that. The musings of Susan Sontag make for a great reference for an essay, but essentially she pulled these words up out of a hat. They required no research or evidence. Similarly all the claims that have been made for photography are just that - words with very little reference to reality, with no evidence to back them up. These pictures are exploitative? Are they? How are they exploitative? In what way, with what outcome? These pictures will raise awareness? Will they? How? Who for? And is that a good thing? And if it is, why is it a good thing?

In the past, success was measured by targets. In the UK, this is what Tony Blair was all about, hitting targets. So if you have a blog - this blog for example - the number of pageviews would be a target. The trouble is half the page views might be 3 seconds (if that) of people looking at, in the case of this blog, pictures of Amanda Knox, Lamprou's British wife and Juliana Beasley's Lapdancers. Naked women and crime in other words.

Similarly a photographer might measure his or her success by how much money they made and how many people saw their pictures in The Sunday Times or whatever. However, the reader seeing the pictures of flood victims in Pakistan or demonstrations in Cairo might consider them a confirmation of the essential backwardness of Arab/Pakistani/Asian/non-white/Muslim peoples. So how good a guide are the numbers? Maybe having the pictures published will merely confirm the stereotypes of viewers (this is part of what Broomberg and Chanarin wrote about) and so publication will actually be harmful.

So after targets came outcomes. In the voluntary sector in the UK, or in education, or the arts, or when one applies for grants, one must become familiar with the idea of outcomes. Outcomes are measurements of the change you have brought about - they are applied to charities by fund providers. In education, outcomes would be the changes effected by teaching (and they would go beyond mere exam results). So if you are an arts charity working with disadvantaged young people and are applying for funding you have to have specific outcomes relating to how your puppet-making workshops are going to result in increased school attendance, self-confidence, decreased mental health problems, ability to resource help groups and so on. The charity can't say, oh we're just doing it to make people happy and creative - or if they do do this, then they have to say exactly how they are going to do this, and provide some way of measuring it. In the UK, anyone who applies to the National lottery fund must learn how to do this (and questionnaires figure largely in outcomes measurements).

It's a nightmare, but it does make things somehow more tangible. The question is what outcomes are there in photography, what are the measurements we can make.


It seems to me this ties in with what photographers determine success to be. Is it something financial, or how many people see the picture, or the effect a picture or project has on those who see it. Or is it how many new audiences it reaches, or touches? Or maybe success is measured by some internal tangible or intangible aesthetic critieria. Or possibly even how it might change people.

So with that in mind, I emailed a few friends in the world of photography, put the question What is Success to them and waited for their answers. I don't know how many of the answers are measurable but I was quite touched by the responses. Which I will put next week.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Raghu Rai on Street Photography





I have been asking people what makes for success - and been getting great answers that will go up in a post next week.
Earlier in the week, I interviewed Raghu Rai for a piece in next month's BJP (he is a lovely man - I started off calling him Raghu and by the end of the interview I was calling him Mr Rai - but in a good way). He has done loads of amazing work, both street work and photojournalist and documentary work (the top picture is from Bhopal, the world's worst industrial disaster and greatest corporate evasion of responsibility ever). We talked about many things, but this is what he said about success.

“If people can connect with my pictures and enjoy them that is enough for me. It’s like you are walking down the street and you smile at someone and they smile back. There is nothing given and nothing taken. It is just like a little nudge, a recognition of humanity and life. That is what photography means to me. It is my profession, it is my religion, it is my karma, it is my life.”

He also mentioned this poem and that photographs are like children - with a life of their own.

On Children


 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Jack Lalanne



"If it tastes good, spit it out." From Jack Lalanne's guide to good eating.

My wife used to shout out his name when I took my top off. I never understood why. I do now. Yes, Jack Lalanne is real and he is dead. RIP Jack. Read his obituary here.

Monday, 7 February 2011

We are the youth



Until I started at Auburn, I went to a private, Evangelical Christian school in Memphis. I realized I was gay in probably the 7th grade. But if I had come out then, I would have been expelled. The general consensus at my school from Romans 1 was that it wasn’t a sin to be attracted to men, but that it was a sin to act on that attraction. And so I always said to myself I’m in the clear as long as I don’t do anything or tell anybody.



This is from We Are the Youth

We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of LGBT youth in the United States.
This comes via La Pura Vida

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Elisabeth Meyer





I love these pictures from Alaska, by Norwegian photographer Elisabeth Meyer. They can be found on the Preus Museum's Collection (which also has some other fantastic collections including Julia Cameron, Frank Sutcliffe and much much more). Thank you Mrs Deane for pointing me in this direction.

Also worth looking at are the Bolette Berg and Marie Hoeg pictures. Wonderful.


Copying pictures: Three Varieties











So here are two versions of  Mr Brainwash after Greg Friedmann's Run DMC portrait (read all the copyright implications of this here) , and here are 6 pictures by Michael Wolf with some Chinese copy artists. Finally a little bit of Kim Jong Phil.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Open-i and emphas.is: A new funding model?

It was fascinating to go on the Open-i webinar and hear the discussion of emphas.is and their crowdsourcing for photojournalism and documentary projects.

The most interesting question was asked by Paul Lowe who wondered if there wasn't another way to judge the success of photographs other than in pure numerical terms. It's lovely having lots of people see one's pictures in a newspaper or magazine, but given the almost inevitable nature of the owners of most magazines and their editorial stances, it's not so wonderful really is it. Does having a massive spread in Time or Newsweek or The Sunday Times really help anybody outside the photographic rhetoric of making a difference and bearing witness? I don't know if it does.

So what can we have for a new measure of success? This was the question posed by Paul Lowe. Another listener to the webinar asked if emphas.is would be funding local, community based projects or be more focussed on the kinds of expensive overseas projects that magazines might once have funded. In other words, would emphas.is be doing anything new rather than simply act as a replacement for crumbling old models. Would the funding be going on flights and transport, or would it be focus on more locally based photographers, with all the local involvement and knowledge that this might entail. And if it would fund those projects, wouldn't that make for a new measure of what success might be, something more akin to the outcomes that NGOs are involved with, something more tangible that the number crunching of how many people have seen the pictures or how many copies have been sold.

I'm not quite sure how you could measure the effectiveness of a project, but it sounds like a wonderful idea for finding a new model of how photography works, a model that could help build new involved audiences,  and so move photojournlism away from the preaching to the converted stance it so often takes at present.

I'm not sure if this is what the guys at emphas.is have in mind, but if it is, it would make the project a truly exciting, innovative and international platform for new work, one that would direct funds across a broad  spectrum and reach places that photography does not go to at present, providing knowledge, experience and insights into corners of the world in the most cost-effective way.

It would be a renewal in other words. And photography needs that.

And does anyone have an answer to that question - How can we judge the success of a photographic project.