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June 16th, 2015

Video Pick: “Denali,” Film About Photographer Ben Moon and His Dog, Goes Viral

Denali from FELT SOUL MEDIA on Vimeo.

Our cover story last September was about DamNation, a film about dam removal and river restoration by director Ben Knight and the production company Felt Soul Media, which he cofounded with Travis Rummel. Outdoor apparel and equipment company Patagonia commissioned that film because the company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, is an advocate for dam removal and river restoration. In our article, Knight predicted that we’d see more companies sponsoring documentary films about issues that matter to them. That relationship has continued, with Patagonia supporting Felt Soul Media’s latest short film, Denali, about photographer Ben Moon and his dog.

The seven-minute video, which Moon produced, chronicles the relationship between he and Denali, both of whom suffered through bouts of cancer with support from the other. It tells their story from Denali’s perspective, which is both charming and incredibly moving.

There is a very good chance at this point that you’ve seen or at least heard about the film. It has 8.2 million views since June 8 and was a Vimeo Staff Pick. But if not, we suggest you take the time to watch it with a best friend and a box of tissues.

Also: We hear Ben Moon will be speaking about building a photography career at PhotoPlus Expo this year. Maybe he’ll even tell a dog story or two.

Related: DamNation Documents the National Debate Over Dam Removals and River Restoration

May 13th, 2015

PDN Video: Gillian Laub on Winning Over Reluctant Subjects to Film “Southern Rites”

Gillian Laub: "Southern Rites" And The Challenges of Access from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

In 2009, Gillian Laub’s story in The New York Times Magazine about segregated high school proms in Mount Vernon, Georgia, stirred national outrage, which finally forced the community to integrate the proms. Afterwards, Laub faced down the hostility and threats of locals to work on a documentary film about race relations in the area. In this PDN video, she describes the challenges of filming where she was unwelcome, and how she managed to win the confidence of her subjects– including a murder suspect who had granted no media interviews before he sat down with Laub. Titled “Southern Rites,” the film debuts May 18 on HBO. Laub’s still photographs are showing at Bonnie Benrubi Gallery in New York City from May 14-June 27, 2015. Damiani will also publish a book of the work in June.

Related:
PDN Photo of the Day: Gillian Laub’s “Southern Rites”

Shaul Schwartz’s Reel Peak Films: A Production Company Devoted to Editorial Documentaries

April 22nd, 2015

PDN Video: How to Take Your Career to the Next Level

At a turning point early in his career, veteran celebrity photographer Brian Smith had a brazen (and slightly cringe-worthy) encounter with John Huston, the famous movie director. He got away with it–just barely. At the time, Smith was a staff photographer on assignment for the Orange County Register. He was trying to take his career to the next level, and the shoot with Huston was an object lesson in how to do that, as he explains in this video. (Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and author of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography.)

Related:
PDN Video: Photographer Brian Smith on How to Get a Striking Celebrity Portrait

PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects

PDN Video Pick: Miller Mobley’s Tips for Landing Clients

How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits

April 20th, 2015

PDN Video: Photographer Brian Smith on How to Get a Striking Celebrity Portrait


Nothing is more important on a celebrity shoot than engaging your subject, says photographer Brian Smith. “The lighting, the locations, and the props all matter, but if you’re not actually making a connection with the subject, the pictures really fall flat.” Smith, the author of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography and other books, has been photographing celebrities, athletes and executives for more than 30 years. In this video, he explains one of his best strategies for connecting with a celebrity on set.

Related:
PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects (Even If You Are Shy and Bumbling)
PDN Video: Brian Smith on How to Take Your Career to the Next Level
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits

March 18th, 2015

Video Pick: Chris Jordan’s “Midway,” on Beauty in Environmental Activism

MIDWAY a Message from the Gyre : a short film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

Chris Jordan, the photographer and conservationist, has spent his career exploring the harmful consequences of our thoughtless consumption and the pollution we create, while also making images that are often eerily beautiful. At the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) National Conference in New Orleans on March 13, he showed a trailer and clips from “Midway,” inspired by his years photographing the albatrosses of the Midway Atoll, located in the north Pacific 2000 miles from the nearest continent. Jordan and a film crew have documented the birds mating, laying eggs, and also dying as a result of having consumed plastic garbage from the ocean. Many choke to death, gasping for air on the shore; others die from toxicity or from starvation when their stomachs become full of indigestible materials.

The theme of the 2015 SPE conference was “Atmospheres: Climate, Equity and Community in Photography,” and during his talk, Jordan shared his approach to activism and the reactions he hopes his film evokes. He doesn’t want simply to highlight a problem, but to change the way people feel and act. (more…)

March 2nd, 2015

PDN Video: Ruddy Roye on Instagram, Storytelling, and Risking the “Angry Black Man” Label

Photographer Ruddy Roye has attracted 116,000 Instagram followers despite–or perhaps because of–his gritty, difficult subject matter and the long captions he posts to help humanize his subjects. Using Instagram largely as a tool of social activism, Roye draws attention to racial and economic injustice primarily in New York City, and often in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he lives. “A lack of black images [and] black photographers has created this void for people like me,” says Roye, who was born and raised in Jamaica. “Instagram has allowed me a light that didn’t exist before.” In this video, he explains how he found his Instagram voice, and discusses the professional risks he is taking by refusing to look away and remain silent.

Related:
Q&A: Instagram Editorial Director Pamela Chen

February 9th, 2015

PDN Video Pick: Office Scene (“Today, I’m going to let them touch me”)

Photographer Endia Beal’s video “Office Scene” demonstrates how it is possible to make strong, compelling video with almost nothing, if you’re smart about it.

The video is a foray into the discomfort zone of inter-office race and personal relations. Beal, who is African American, heard rumors around a corporate office she worked in that several of her white male colleagues were fascinated by her hair. So she decided to let them touch it–on the conditions that they really dig their hands in, and agree to talk on tape afterwards about how the experience felt to them. Amazingly enough, they agreed. “I transform into a voyeuristic actress fulfilling the desires of my male colleagues,” Beal explains. She uses just two video shots to tell the story. By focusing her camera on the banal and stripping the visuals down to a minimum, she’s able to use the audio to maximum effect, leaving much to the imagination of the viewer.

Beal projected this video, along with her more recent (and equally compelling) “9 to 5″ video, at the National Geographic Photography Seminar last month in Washington, DC.

She explained at that seminar that her work is intended to push conversation about the experience of women of color in corporate America, particularly about issues that people are afraid to talk about. Beal credited Tod Papageorge with pushing her to use photography to explore her own experiences while she was enrolled in the MFA photography program at Yale.

“I said, ‘[Those experiences are] so intimate and personal to me,'” she recounted. “He said, ‘Those are the stories that need to be told.’ So I took the risk. I had no idea that something so personal and private could be universally translated, that other people could understand, that a minority woman could speak to the universal.

“The history of photography for minority women is still being written,” she continued. “I think about Deborah Willis, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Deana Lawson, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson–all these wonderful women. But our book is really short. If I can add a couple of photographs to that narrative, then I’ve done my job.”

Related:
Look3: Carrie Mae Weems on Race, Sexuality, History and Finding Meaningful Work

January 28th, 2015

PDN Video Pick: Acclaimed Beijing Portrait Project, Expanded with Video

With support from two clients and a creative approach to funding, photographer Sim Chi Yin has just released this video showing an old project from a new, more immersive angle. The video profiles Zhang Xi, a college graduate turned street peddler who is part of Beijing’s “Rat Tribe,” so named because they live in sub-standard apartments in the basements and former bomb shelters of the city.

Sim’s portraits of “Rat Tribe” basement dwellers, which she began making in 2010, have been widely published–and widely acclaimed. She previously produced a multimedia slideshow of the portraits. But this video expands on her earlier work by exploring how one subject ended up living in a Beijing basement, the tension it has caused with his parents, and what day-to-day life is like for him.

The video, published January 24 by Creative Time Reports (CTR) and Al Jazeera America, is also a case study in multi-source production funding. Sim says it was first “leanly funded” by CTR, a media website that commissioned the video last fall for a European conference on migration issues. For additional funding, Sim applied to the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Around the same time, Al Jazeera America asked Sim for new portraits of Beijing basement dwellers, and an updated multimedia piece. So she put CTR and Al Jazeera in touch with each other, and “they decided to work together and timed their publications to appear on the same day.”

Sim hired producer Yin Jiawei, a recent college graduate, to work as a fixer and assist with the shooting.  The video was edited by Jian Yi, a freelance Chinese filmmaker.

Related:
Picture Story: Beijing’s Basement Dwellers
PDN’s 30 2013: Sim Chi Yin

January 14th, 2015

PDN Video: Jay Maisel on How to Be a Better Street Photographer

Jay Maisel on How to Be a Better Photographer from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Based on the lessons he’s taught to photography students over the past five years at PhotoPlus Expo and elsewhere, legendary photographer Jay Maisel recently published Light, Gesture & Color (New Riders Press). He describes the book as one “for people that are tired of bullshit books that tell them exactly what to do, and so they get rote results.” In this video, Maisel shares advice from his book on how to take better photographs, including tips on how to be a more successful street photographer. In a separate PDN video, Maisel explains what he means by the term “gesture,” why it is an important element of good photographs, and how to recognize and use it to your advantage.

Related:
Jay Maisel on the Importance of “Gesture” in Photography

January 12th, 2015

PDN Video Pick: Ed Kashi and Matt Black for The New Yorker

For PDN’s January 2015 print edition, we spoke with photographer Matt Black about the photo essay he made for The New Yorker about the drought in California’s Central Valley. Black, who lives in Exeter, California, has been documenting the valley—which produces much of the country’s food—for more than 15 years.

But the story in The New Yorker was assigned before Black ever got involved; months earlier, photographer Ed Kashi had successfully pitched a story on the drought to Whitney Johnson, the magazine’s director of photography. When it came time to shoot the story, however, Kashi realized that Black—his former assistant—was not just embedded, but invested, in the valley, and would be a perfect collaborator.

“I was thinking, I’ll never, in the week or so I have of field time, produce the body of still work that this man has produced over 15 years,” Kashi says. “So why try to reinvent the wheel?”

Kashi proposed that he would shoot motion, and Black would shoot stills, and Johnson was quickly on board. Sky Dylan-Robbins, a video producer at The New Yorker, would edit their work into the 7-minute video that ran on newyorker.com.

“It was fun,” Kashi admits. “We were like two little kids in a way, photo buddies who were just looking for visuals and trying to figure out how to put the narrative together without getting bogged down in the weeds of the issue. Because the issue of water in California is insanely complicated.”

Related:

Matt Black on Dorothea Lange

Matt Black and Ed Kashi Bring California’s Dried-Out Central Valley to The New Yorker

NewYorker.com: The Dry Land