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October 28th, 2014

PhotoPlus Expo 2014: On the Upbeat – A Conversation with Ben Folds

140312_tour_portraitMany PhotoPlus Expo goers will know Ben Folds from his day job as a multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter, touring solo artist and leader of the eponymous Ben Folds Five. What you may not know is that Folds is an avid photographer, enamored of his darkroom and a devotee of both film and digital techniques.

PDN’s Technology Editor Greg Scoblete interviewed Folds about his photography ahead of his PhotoPlus Expo keynote on Saturday, November 1. What follows is an edited transcript.

You’ve said that you became an “obsessive freak” about photography when your kids were born. That’s probably true of a lot of parents, at least in the infant stages, but yours turned into a more enduring passion. Why?


Ben Folds: I wasn’t happy with the glut of ‘evidence’ photographs.  I wanted something enduring and archival that could be framed or touched for years. In order to do that I needed to learn to print well, and I needed to make decisions about what spoke of their childhood… In the process, I became obsessive about the materials—the film, the cameras, the tools.

I know you keep a fully packed schedule between recording and touring. When and how do you work in photography? Is it a part of your daily life?


Ben Folds: It’s like a break. I can work without working. I find it relaxing to go through my shots on a plane or in a hotel. I’m always surprised how ‘productive’ I remain about photography.

A more prosaic question: what do you typically shoot with? What’s your photographic process look like?

Ben Folds: These days I shoot three ways: color with my Sony digital camera, which I generally convert to black and white; black-and-white digital with my Monochrom and black-and-white film with my old Rolleiflex.

I can develop my film in the bathroom, or more often with my schedule, I send it to a lab [where] I’ve had good results for a couple years. I just stay on the lightly ‘overexposed’ side and have them ‘pull’ the film and I get a good grey printable negative generally. The negatives I really like, I have scanned. I may soon invest in a crazy good scanner, but boy that is an investment. I don’t have a darkroom at the moment—it’s all in storage. I miss my darkroom.

On your photography website you write that archival prints that would last generations are a more eloquent representation of your children’s youth “than digital folders full of snapshots.” Beyond the longevity, what do you find compelling about prints? 


Ben Folds: They are real. Life is real. We do live online a lot, but we’re still creatures of the Earth. Printing and prints means something you can hold—and there’s limited space and time so you have to make a decision. You can’t be in two places at once and while you can keep a million files on a hard drive, they’re not really there until they’re printed.

There’s seems to be a similarity in the way the business models of photography and music have been impacted by the Internet and digital technology. What was once scarce is now plentiful and what was once a high barrier to entry is considerably lower. Are you optimistic about the ability of future artists — be they photographers or musicians — to earn a living? 

Ben Folds: I think we can earn a living.  I don’t think we can expect to be rich at it.

You’ve written that you photograph things on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. What do you mean by that? 

Ben Folds: The downbeat is where we all land. It’s predictable. It’s not that I don’t shoot the predictable, I just find that I’m drawn to the photos that were shot between the moments—between the poses, and between the subjects, somehow.

I’m no master of that, but I can feel it when I see it and I try to be spontaneous enough to hit the shutter before I even know why. That [approach], somehow, was easier with film. I know that’s weird, but something about knowing there are a limited number of exposures on a roll made me feel more dangerous.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s just about telling a story—you can make that more interesting in the way you tell it, when you tell it and how you frame it.

January 22nd, 2014

Grammys to Honor Rock Photographer Jim Marshall

Legendary rock and roll photographer Jim Marshall, who shot iconic images of Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many other musicians, will be honored posthumously this weekend at a special Grammy Awards ceremony.

Marshall, who died in 2010 at the age of 74, will be given a Trustees Award at the Recording Academy’s Special Merit Awards ceremony on January 25. The academy’s 56th annual Grammy Awards ceremony, honoring musicians for the best recordings of the past year, will take place on January 26.

In addition to honoring Marshall, the Recording Academy will give lifetime achievement awards at the January 25 ceremony to the Beatles, the Isley Brothers, Kris Kristofersson and Kraftwerk.

Mashall began his career in the 1950s photographing musicians and beat poets in his native San Francisco. In the early 1960s he began shooting for record labels in New York, but soon returned to California to photograph musicians at clubs, festivals, and stadium concerts as a freelance photographer.

“He brooked no denial as he waded right in with his little Leica clicking quietly and constantly. His eye was amazing as he caught the essence of each scene before him,” folk musician and photographer Henry Diltz wrote in a tribute to Marshall last week on the Grammy Awards web site.

Marshall’s most recognizable photographs include Jimi Hendrix setting fire to one of his guitars at the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967); Janis Joplin reclining backstage at a Winterland Ballroom concert with a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand (1968); and Johnny Cash giving the finger to Marshall’s camera at San Quentin State Prison (1969).

Related:
Rock and Roll Photographer Jim Marshall Has Died, Age 74
End Frame: Pamela Littky on Jim Marshall (requires PDN subscription)
Jim Marshall’s Estate Sues Fashion Designer for Copyright Infringement
Jim Marshall’s Estate Sues “Mr. Brainwash” and Google for Copyright Infringement

May 7th, 2012

Music Photographer Jim McCrary Dies at 72

Jim McCrary, the former A&M Records staff photographer who shot the cover of Carole King’s Tapestry and other rock-and-roll albums, died on April 29, 2012, “of complications from a chronic nervous system disorder,” the Los Angeles Times reports. He was 72 years old.

McCrary was born and raised in Los Angeles. He was a self-taught photographer who eventually studied at Pasadena City College and Art Center College of Design. McCrary began his career as a staff photographer at various portrait studios and in the photography department of Rockwell International, a manufacturing company involved in the aircraft, space and consumer electronics industries, amongst others.

In 1967 he became the chief photographer for A&M Records and ended up photographing over 300 album covers during the seven years he worked there. Some of his most famous covers include Carole King’s Tapestry, the Carpenters’ Ticket to Ride and Joe Crocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen. He also shot related publicity and advertising work for Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Cat Stevens, Peter Frampton, Herb Alpert and other musicians.

After leaving the label, he owned his own studio in Hollywood until 1990. He then co-founded Pix Inc., a professional camera store in Los Angeles.

McCrary is survived by his son, Jason McCrary, and his brothers Wylee Dale McCrary and Doug McCrary.

April 26th, 2012

Jim Marshall’s Estate Sues “Mr. Brainwash” and Google for Copyright Infringement

John Coltrane Jim Marshall Thierry Guetta Mr. Brainwash

The estate of iconic music photographer James “Jim” Marshall filed a copyright infringement claim against Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) and Google for the unauthorized use of his images for advertising purposes. The brief states that copies of Marshall’s photos were used as part of a promotion for Google Music, a new online music service, as well as in derivative works.

According to the brief, for a Google event held at Guetta’s studio, the artist designed a backdrop using blown-up copies of photos Marshall made of musicians John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, which “constituted unauthorized reproductions and display” of the images. The backdrop was placed to the side of the stage where the announcement for Google Music was made, and therefore Google is also liable for copyright infringement since the images were used to promote its new product, Marshall’s estate claims.

Google Music Event

Additionally, the brief states that Guetta used five of Marshall’s photos to make derivative works, some of which he is currently selling on his Web site. It appears that Marshall’s images of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Stanley Turrentine, as well as his group shots of Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Gerald Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones, were screen printed on to paper and then altered by either changing the color palette or adding words to the background.

Jimi Hendrix Jim Marshall Thierry Guetta

The brief is asking that all infringing works be turned over to the estate and that all profits derived from the infringing works be awarded to the estate. Additionally, its asking that any damages, attorneys’ fees and costs related to the trial be reimbursed.

This isn’t the first time Guetta has been accused of infringing on a photographer’s copyright. In June 2011, a federal judge ruled in favor of photographer Glen E. Friedman, who claimed that his image of hip-hop group Run-DMC was used as the basis of several works by Guetta. A settlement with Friedman has been reached, but the terms were not disclosed.

Additionally, Guetta has another copyright claim pending from photographer Dennis Morris. While Guetta admitted he did use Morris’s photo of Sex Pistol’s bassist Sid Vicious in derivative works of art, he claimed he did not know it was a copyrighted image. The two parties are currently working on a settlement agreement.

Neither Guetta nor Google responded immediately to a request for comment.

Update 4/27/12: Jim Prosser, manager global communications and public affairs for Google, responded to our request for comment by stating that Google has not received a copy of the complaint yet and therefore he cannot comment on it.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Sid Vicious was the drummer for the Sex Pistols. The text has been corrected.

Related Articles:

Judge Rules for Photog In Copyright Suit Over RUN DMC Photo

February 16th, 2012

Photog Sues Quincy Jones for Infringement, Says He Was “Strong-Armed”

Photographer Michael D. Jones alleges that after he refused to sign away his copyrights to this 1995 image for $6,500, Quincy Jones and AKG used it anyway without permission.

Los Angeles photographer Michael D. Jones has filed a lawsuit against Quincy Jones, claiming that the legendary music producer provided one of the photographer’s portraits without permission for use in ads, packaging and other materials to promote a line of audio headphones. The photographer, who does not claim any relation to Quincy Jones, is seeking statutory damages and an injunction for willful copyright infringement.

Operating under the name Mike Jones Photography, the photographer has also named the headphone manufacturer, AKG Harman, the music book publisher Hal Leonard Corporation, and Quincy Jones Productions as defendants.

Mike Jones alleges that he photographed Quincy Jones and other celebrated musicians at several recording sessions in 1995 at Qwest Records in West Hollywood. Besides Quincy Jones, others in attendance included Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock And Ronald Isley.

Mike Jones says he photographed the sessions at the invitation of Qwest’s president, JoAnn Tominaga, and ended up shooting about 100 rolls of film. He alleges that he was never asked to sign a contract or release stating that his photographs from those sessions were works made for hire. He also says that there were no restrictions on what he could photograph. (more…)

February 15th, 2012

PDN Video Pick: Roger Ballen’s Music Video for Die Antwoord

Roger Ballen, known for his dark, unsettling photography, has brought his esthetic to the “I Fink U Freeky” video he recently directed for the South African hip-hop band Die Antwoord. The result, which has been widely circulated via social media, is a creepy but visually compelling freak show. Ballen recently explained to Phaidon that he shot photographs for the band about three years ago. They asked him to shoot a music video, which he was happy to do. “We started with my photographs for ideas and then mimicked them in the sets. Most of the sets started with almost like a ‘Roger Ballen still life’ and then we might have added in a mouth or foot or hand and then we went into them cinematically,” he told Phaidon.

February 13th, 2012

Photog Says Radio Station Stripped His Credits, Infringed His C-rights

A Colorado photographer says a Denver radio station took 21 of his images from the Web site of a competing radio station, stripped the images of his credits and copyright notices, and published them on its own site and Facebook page without permission. The photographer now accuses the station of refusing to pay a retroactive usage fee.

Photographer Scott D. Smith of Denver says radio station 92.5 The Wolf stole his images of country star Jason Aldean from the Web site of 98.5 KYGO. Smith shot the images at a concert last October, and licensed them to KYGO, which has been a client of Smith’s for the past six years. All of the images he licenses to KYGO, including the Aldean images, display his credit and copyright whenever viewers scroll over them or click on them, the photographer says.

The Wolf displayed the images for about a week, and also made them available on its Facebook page “for the whole world to download,” Smith tells PDN.

When Smith finally got the station manager at The Wolf on the phone to hear his complaint, he says, she apologized, told him the image would be taken down, and offered Smith free advertising as compensation. Smith declined. “I’m very loyal to KYGO, plus that (advertising) doesn’t compensate me for what [The Wolf] did,” he says.

Over the past four months, Smith has tried unsuccessfully on numerous occasions to get the station or its corporate owners–Wilks Broadcasting Group of Duluth, Georgia–to pay a fee for the unauthorized use of his images.

But managers and owners won’t return his calls, Smith says.

Recently, he got through to a Wilks employee who informed him that the company has determined that it has no responsibility to compensate him. “She said, ‘Do whatever you have to do,’” the photographer recounts.

Smith hasn’t filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement–at least not yet. “I talked to some lawyers who told me it’s going to cost a fortune, take forever, and they’ll just try to wait me out,” the photographer explains. So he’s trying to generate negative publicity for the station in an attempt to shame The Wolf into paying him.

“I think people are tired of corporations screwing people over, and saying ‘We don’t have responsibility’ when they’ve done something wrong,” says Smith.

Jeff Wilks, CEO of Wilks Broadcasting, did not respond to several requests from PDN for comment. But he recently told a Denver alternative newspaper, “There was no copyright on the photos. We found the photos, then we were notified about the photos, and the photos were taken down immediately.” He indicated to the newspaper that Wilks Broadcasting doesn’t intend to pay Smith a fee.

Asked what he considers a fair fee, Smith says, “In the beginning, I was willing to really work with them on a price. Since they are lying and making this as hard as possible, I feel I would start at around $500 an image. I do feel that is fair since the images were used as advertising for the station.”

Smith’s allegations, if true, echo a case last year in which a federal appeals court upheld a photographer’s claims against a New Jersey radio station for copyright infringement, as well as for violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA.) The DMCA violation resulted from the radio station stripping a photographer’s credit and copyright from an image that it copied and then displayed on its web site without the photographer’s permission.

Related:
Removal of Printed Photo Credit Qualifies as DMCA Violation, Court Says
TV Networks Play Fast and Loose with Photographers’ Copyrights

January 30th, 2012

Photographer Andrew MacNaughtan Dies, Age 47

Toronto-based photographer Andrew MacNaughtan died on January 24, 2012 while on assignment. MacNaughtan, who was best known for photographing Canadian celebrities and musicians, reportedly had a heart attack while photographing the classic rock band Rush. The band released the following statement on its Web site and Facebook page:

“We’re deeply shocked and heartbroken to learn of the sudden passing of our close friend and long-time photographer, Andrew MacNaughtan. He was a sweet person and a very talented artist. Words cannot describe how much he will be missed.”

MacNaughtan is survived by his partner, Alex Kane Privitera; parents, Neil and Barbara MacNaughtan; sister Sarah and her husband Nino Curcione; brother Alex and his wife Dorothy MacNaughtan; and uncle and aunt, Phillip and Samantha Curcione.

January 24th, 2012

PDN Video Pick: Moby Writes a Song

This video by NPR was honored in the video category of the 2011 PDN Photo Annual. NPR Music’s Project Song challenges musicians to write and record a song in
just two days, then records the results. David Gilkey, John Poole, Bob Boilen and Neil Tevault produced the video.

Moby and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished writing their song so quickly, they wound up recording three different versions of “Gone to Sleep.”
The 2012 PDN Photo Annual is now accepting entries in 12 categories, including video, web sites, photo books, advertising, photojournalism and more.  To learn about prizes, the panel of judges, rules, deadlines (avoid the late fee and enter soon!) or to upload your entries, visit www.pdnphotoannual.com.

January 24th, 2012

Comparing Notes, Photographers Turn on Retna

An apparent administrative slip-up has stirred an uprising at music and celebrity photo agency Retna, with photographers complaining that the agency is failing to report sales, pay royalties, or respond to calls and e-mails from frustrated contributors. Retna’s CEO acknowledges the problems, but blames them on his predecessors, and has told contributors he is correcting them.

Photographers started comparing notes last week after an agency employee sent notification about the agency’s change of address in New York City. Instead of copying photographers in the blind carbon copy (BCC) field of the e-mail, the agency employee distributed the names and e-mail addresses of dozens of photographers so all could see who had received the e-mail.

Read the full story on PDNOnline.com.