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November 17th, 2014

With $10,000 Grant, Photographer Orchestrates Panoramic of Mile-Long Street

Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC: Charlotte Ballet Building, November 1, 2015. ©Jeff Cravotta

One of 138 images taken along Tryon St. in Charlotte, NC for a 100-foot long panorama. ©Jeff Cravotta

Photographer Sean Busher was looking for a project to herald the return of The Light Factory—a non-profit gallery and photo education center in Charlotte, North Carolina–when he hit upon an audacious idea: Recruit dozens of volunteers to create two panoramic images of both sides of Charlotte’s historic main drag. With months of preparation and a $10,000 grant, Busher pulled it off November 1. A two-sided, 100-foot exhibition of both panoramas is now pending at the Mint Museum of Art, the city’s main art museum.

Established in 1972, The Light Factory is a gathering place for photographers that hosts exhibits and offers classes. It closed in 2013 because of financial problems, but a group of local volunteers launched a Kickstarter campaign and managed to re-open it this summer at a new location.

Busher, a Light Factory board member, wanted to commemorate the re-opening and bring some publicity to the gallery. His idea was to photograph a single, vibrant moment on a mile-long stretch of Tryon Street in Charlotte. He dubbed the project “Moment Mile, the Ultimate Panorama.”

“I loved the concept, but I figured it would never happen,” he says.

Photographers line up November 1 to photograph Tryon Street simultaneously on signal. ©Rodney Nichols

Photographers line up November 1 to photograph Tryon Street simultaneously on cue. ©Rodney Nichols

But the more he explored the idea, the more excited he got about making it work. He needed funding, so he called the Charlotte-based Knight Foundation, which supports innovative journalism, media and art projects. Knight Foundation program director Susan Patterson surprised Busher by saying she had already heard of his project and wanted to help.

Knight Foundation provided a $10,000 grant, which Busher will use for marketing, and to cover the cost of printing and mounting the panoramic images. He also used some of the money to cover the costs of parking and a pizza party for the volunteers who showed up to help with the shoot.

Based on some shoot tests, Busher determined that he needed approximately 150 volunteer photographers spaced 36 feet apart to get the best panoramic, a measurement that provided some overlap to guarantee one continuous picture. He put out a call for volunteers, requiring them each to bring their own DSLR with a 50 mm lens.

Prior to the shoot, Busher made 4×6 test shots from each designated position along the street, and asked the volunteers on the shoot day to use his test shots as guides for framing their images. He also instructed volunteers to shoot at 1/125 or faster to ensure sharp capture. He didn’t specify aperture or ISO, but advised everyone to give priority to depth of field, rather than low ISO.

Busher woke up to cold, rainy weather on November 1, the day of the shoot. “We thought we were going to have to cancel the whole thing,” he says. “But about two hours before the shoot, the sun came out and it was beautiful.”

Out of the 150 photographers who volunteered, 138 showed up. Busher had created a website with a countdown for the first picture, scheduled for 6:15 pm, which was just before sunset and around the time the street’s Saturday night bustle begins. The volunteers took their positions along a 15-block stretch of Tryon Street, and monitored the countdown to 6:15 on their smartphones. After the first picture, they all crossed the street to photograph the other side exactly five minutes later. Then they gathered at a pizza restaurant where Busher and his team downloaded everyone’s flash cards onto computers.

“When you get that many people together a lot can go wrong—camera batteries, compact flash drives. It kind of had me freaked out,” Busher says.

He used Photoshop to combine the individual images into a panoramic. Because Photoshop only allows about a 500,000 pixel-wide image, he had to break the document into two different parts. Originally, he planned to stitch the pictures together as one seamless image, but as he was laying it out, he decided to juxtapose the images without stitching them so viewers get a sense of each individual frame.

“To get 138 photographers together at the same time to do something unified like this shows real dedication and support,” Busher says. “This couldn’t have gone better. I’m happy and relieved and thrilled.”

No date has been set for an exhibition at the Mint Museum, but Busher hopes to show the panoramas there this fall. He’s also looking for a corporate buyer for the panoramas. If he succeeds, he says, the proceeds will go to support The Light Factory.

–by Sam Boykin

November 14th, 2014

New Book Explores the Rich and Wacky History of Toy and Novelty Cameras

 

The Charlie Tuna camera,  manufactured in 1971.

The Charlie Tuna camera, manufactured in 1971, could be had for three StarKist tuna labels and $4.95. Photo by J.K. Putnam.

Early in his career, renowned fine-art photographer Stephen Shore made a project using a Mick-a-Matic, a snapshot camera shaped like the head of Mickey Mouse. True story.

It’s funny to imagine one of America’s foremost photographers out in the world making art with a Mickey Mouse head hanging from his neck. But many artists have used toy and novelty cameras. For Shore, the Mick-a-Matic allowed him to explore snapshot photography as a concept and phenomenon at a time when photography as an art form was formal and almost exclusively shot in black-and-white.

Other artists are drawn to the unpredictability of toy and plastic cameras. Photographers “love these toys, they love the authenticity of the unexpected,” says Buzz Poole, co-author of Camera Crazy, a new book that recalls the history of mass-market cameras, from the Eastman Kodak Brownie Camera, released in 1900, up through present day toy cameras. The book is a delightful look at the fascinating and, at times, ridiculous forms cameras have taken. In addition to popular and well-known cameras from Diana, Holga and Lomography, there is a Fred Flintstone camera, soda and beer can cameras, a Charlie the Tuna camera, a Looney Tunes camera that talks, and a spy camera shaped like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups package. “That is just a weird product,” Poole laughs. “[The manual] tells you how to trick people into stopping so you can get a clear picture of them without them knowing.” (more…)

October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

September 15th, 2014

New $10K Grant Will Send Newborn Babies Home From Hospital As Photo Collectors

A new $10,000 grant to support programs that engage new audiences with photography has been awarded to Pittsburgh photographer Matthew Conboy. The photographer won the grant, which was established by the non-profit Crusade for Art, for a proposal to send newborn babies at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh home with signed prints from local photographers.

Conboy took his inspiration for the project from a program created by a local hospital. There, they send each newborn home with a “Terrible Towel,” the yellow towel waved by fans at Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football games.

“While I am a proud Steelers Fan, I believe that babies could be sent home with something else that could change their lives and the lives of those around them: art,” Conboy wrote in his proposal.

The jury that awarded Conboy the grant included Museum of Contemporary Photography curator Karen Irvine, Colorado Photographic Arts Center executive director Rupert Jenkins, and New Yorker photo director Whitney Johnson.

Irvine and Crusade For Art executive director Jennifer Schwartz hailed the creativity of Conboy’s idea in a press release announcing the award. “We are excited to award this grant to someone whose idea feels completely original and unique,” Irvine said.

Conboy chose 12 local photographers—including himself—to participate in the program. Their work represents a broad spectrum of photographic interests. The program will run for one year, and Conboy estimates the group of artists will send 3500 newborn babies home with an original artwork. He also hopes to expand the project to include other hospitals in the region “and beyond,” he says.

September 12th, 2014

Friday Fun: David Yellen Shoots on Location with a Snapping Turtle and Uninvited Alligator

10_COVERThis month’s PDN cover features Ernie Brown Jr., aka The Turtleman, posing in a swamp with a large, irritated snapping turtle on his knee. For photographer David Yellen, the shoot–to promote Animal Planet’s Call of the Wildman–was more harrowing than it looks.

It took place last February on the edge of a swampy pond in northern Florida. Location scouts had certified the pond as alligator-free. But Turtleman announced upon arrival that there was an alligator about. “We called bullshit on him, but he said, ‘See those air bubbles over there? They’re going to start moving.’ And five minutes later we saw the alligator’s eyeballs,” Yellen recounts. Animal wranglers took up their guard with alligator nooses. Turtleman, who specializes in ridding people’s backyards of unwanted reptiles, started diving for the gator. “He was saying, ‘I’m going to get this guy,”” Yellen says. “Luckily, he didn’t. It was a nine- or ten-foot alligator.”

With the alligator lurking around, Yellen struggled to get just the right picture of Turtleman holding the 80-pound snapping turtle. “I kept getting closer, wider, and lower,” Yellen says. “I was really pushing it.” Yellen, who had never worked with a snapping turtle before, didn’t know that large snapping turtles can extend their necks 12 inches or more. Behind him, the animal wranglers, the producer, and eventually Turtleman’s manager issued increasingly urgent warnings for Yellen to “watch out.” He was also looking through a wide angle lens, so he was getting closer to the turtle than he realized. “I thought they were being paranoid,” he says of the worried crew.

Finally the turtle got Yellen’s attention by taking a lunge toward the camera, and missing by not much. The resounding snap of its jaws unnerved Yellen, but he pressed on. “I was like, I don’t care, I’m going to get this. I just didn’t feel like I was getting it. I felt like it needed to be more intense, and I needed to try harder. So I got lower and closer.” He got so low that pond water finally flooded into his waders. “It was disgusting,” he says. With his camera—a Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One back—within half an inch of the pond’s surface, he finally got the image he was after. “It’s not an intense stare-down” with the camera, he says. “[Turtleman] is not totally connecting with me. He’s just out there in the wild, and it kind of feels like that.”

October 9th, 2013

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue a Key to Walter Iooss’s Access to Top Athletes

iooss coverWhen you’re trying to get access to top professional athletes, there’s no calling card like a steady gig shooting swimsuit models for Sports Illustrated.

Walter Iooss Jr, whom we interviewed in our October issue about his close professional relationship with basketball legend Michael Jordan, has been photographing sports and athletes for 50 years, and photographing the models for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue for about 40 years.

“You have to ingratiate yourself [with athletes],” Iooss told us. “I’ve done it for so long, so my reputation helps me. They [star athletes] already think you can do something, so you’re not wasting their time.

Then he adds, “The swimsuit issue is obviously a big help with all these horny athletes. They love that. It’s remarkable how I could walk into a clubhouse and photograph anyone, as long as I give them a phone number of someone (in the SI Swimsuit issue).”

Not that he ever does that. “I’m not going to give it to them. They have their people contact the [model's] people.”

But he shakes his head with wonder. “They think I can pimp for them. Some days I feel like a 69-year-old pimp. It’s disgraceful that they need me to find a woman.”

See more about Iooss and his work with Michael Jordan at PDNOnline.

September 11th, 2013

Video Pick: Chris Buck And Jimmy Fallon Get Surprise on Shoot for Variety

When we interviewed Chris Buck last year about his book Presence, which features a series of images in which a famous person is present in the frame of a picture but is invisible to the viewer, Buck told us that one of the secrets to his ability to deliver interesting editorial images is his lack of awe while working with celebs. “I’m definitely not precious about famous people,” Buck told PDN. “I’m making pictures for my clients and for the audience, and not for the subject.”

In this behind-the-scenes video of Buck photographing Jimmy Fallon for Variety we get to see Buck in action, convincing the late night host to work pretty hard for the camera. Check it out, and make sure you watch until the end. Turns out Buck isn’t the only one who is unfazed in the presence of a celebrity.

Related: Hide and Seek: Chris Buck’s Conceptual Celebrity Portraits

April 23rd, 2013

Eggleston to Photo Community: Don’t Bother Me

Reclusive photographer William Eggleston has deigned to take a few written questions from photographers, curators, and fans, and the questions, along with his responses, were published yesterday in British newspaper The Independent.

Among those who posed questions were Martin Parr, Nina Berman, Alec Soth, Jason Evans, Tate Modern photo curator Simon Baker, and Brett Rogers, director of The Photographers’ Gallery in London.

Eggleston’s terse, deadpan responses reveal so little beyond his disinterest in the exchange that readers might be left wondering: Why did he bother? One possibility is that he needs to come out periodically and remind everyone that he doesn’t talk about his work, so stay the heck away. That said, if Eggleston has to put up with the type of bizarre, irrelevant questions that he was asked (e.g., What building would you like to blow up?), he might be forgiven for hiding.

April 12th, 2013

Ballet and Skateboarding Mix in Limited Edition Decks From Henry Leutwyler

leutwyler-ballet-skate-decks-pulse

Earlier this year we wrote in our Exposures column about Henry Leutwyler’s project photographing the New York City Ballet. One of the photographs in his book and exhibition depicted the grit behind the grace of ballet, contrasting a ballerina’s bandaged and bloodied bare right foot with her left foot as an audience might normally see it, wrapped in a pointe shoe.

Leutwyler, an appreciator of both the artform of ballet and the sport of skateboarding, sees the parallels between the two, so he created a limited edition set of decks from the image. Check them out, here.

March 12th, 2013

Photog Uses Crappy Client Photos to Get Hired

crap-and-snap
Photographer James Hodgins of Sudbury, Ontario has come up with a creative visual solution for a perennial marketing challenge: Convincing clients who think they can shoot their own photography that they will get better results if they hire a professional photographer.

“People are visual. When you start talking lights, they tune you out,” Hodgins says.  One day it dawned on him to invite a client to tag along on a shoot with her own camera. “I said, ‘You take the picture you would have taken, and then I’ll take mine the way I would.”

And that’s how his Crappy vs. Snappy showcase was born. He dedicates a page on his Web site to side-by-side comparisons of his pictures and clients’ pictures, mostly of mining and industrial subjects. On a regular basis, Hodgins features Crappy vs. Snappy updates on his blog.

Hodgins says it is one of his most effective sales tools. “It’s all about educating the client. They get it.”

He has adapted the technique for all types of clients. When shooting business portraits, for instance, he’ll stand his subjects against a wall, and photograph them with a camera-mounted flash before photographing them in a studio setting with professional lighting. It makes a lasting impression on the subject, and Hodgins uses the before-and-after pictures to sell other clients on the difference.

“If every photographer did that, a lot more clients would understand the difference between picture by a professional and the average Joe,” Hodgins says.