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.
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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.”
Striving for new and unusual ways to photograph subjects from land, sea, and air, National Geographic photographers often turn for technical assistance to NG photo engineers Kenji Yamaguchi and David Mathews. The two men, who are the subjects of an article in January PDN and now on PDN online, devise ingenious tools for making pictures that would otherwise be too dangerous or difficult for photographers to make. ““These guys are the unsung heroes of the Geographic,” says long-time contributor George Steinmetz.
Yamaguchi and Mathews worked behind the scenes on Nick Nichols’s Serengeti lions project, Steve Winter’s snow leopards project, and various projects by underwater photographer David Doubilet, to name just a few examples. Here are some videos that show their technical ingenuity in action:
Nick Nichols and his assistant, Nathan Williamson, at work on the Serengeti lions project with a robotic camera tank and a camera drone.
Steve Winter explains how he used camera traps to photograph a mountain lion at night under the Hollywood sign.
The Photo Engineering department faces possible budget cuts, but National Geographic recently profiled of Kenji Yamaguchi, with this video showing him at work in the publisher’s Photo Engineering lab.
Addition videos on National Geographic’s web site:
Steve Winter describes his 2008 snow leopard project in northern India. Scenes of Winter setting up remote cameras and strobes on snow leopard trails start at 2:47.
An encounter, narrated by Steve Winter, between a tiger and a robotic camera vehicle developed by NG Photo Engineering.
Scenes from the sinking of a ship for the creation of an artificial reef, featuring David Doubilet’s remote camera images from the ship’s deck as engineers set explosive charges, then detonated them. Remote camera images begin at 1:21.
As another fascinating year in the world of professional photography comes to a close, we look back on the stories that drew the most interest from PDNPulse readers this year.
From manipulated news photos, to photographers arrested for doing their jobs, to collaborative efforts between photographers and an interview with one of photography’s most influential star makers, these stories capture some of the highs and lows of the photography business today.
(click “Play All” option for a two-minute trailer for the web version; click “Theatrical Version” to launch a 2:45 introduction to that version.)
Seattle photographer Tim Matsui and MediaStorm have just released The Long Night, a documentary film about teenage victims of illegal sex trade in King County, Washington. Matsui has focused on stories about sexual violence and human trafficking for more than a decade, and his new film is part of his multi-pronged project called “Leaving the Life.”
“I see the film as a broad audience outreach tool; it builds awareness,” he says, with hopes that it also serves as a catalyst for community dialogue. His ultimate goal, he says, is to facilitate “a shift in cultural and institutional norms.”
He explains, “Some of the solutions lie in harm reduction, criminal justice reform, and police training,” to treat underage prostitutes as victims rather than criminals. “Others [solutions] are more generational: Are we teaching our daughters to be strong and self confident? Are we showing our sons how to respect and value women?”
Support for The Long Night included a $25,000 Women’s Initiative Fund grant awarded to Matsui by the Alexia Foundation in 2012. The Alexia foundation also provided post-production funding to MediaStorm.
The film is available in two versions: a 70-minute “theatrical release,” and a web version that’s presented in a series of short chapters. “We felt that breaking it down into components makes it a little more usable” to viewers who often can’t or won’t sit through an hour-long video online, says MediaStorm principal Brian Storm.
Both versions are available free-of-charge through December 7. The theatrical release is available on Matsui’s website; the web version is at MediaStorm. After December 7, MediaStorm will charge a fee for the theatrical version, which will be available only on MediaStorm’s Vimeo feed. The fee, to be determined, will help defray production costs, Storm says. The web version will continue to be available for free on MediaStorm’s website.
Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application: Tim Matsui on the Women’s Initiative Grant (for PDN subscribers)
Pitchfork, the influential music website that has grown to include a quarterly print magazine and three art and music festivals, has launched a new mini-site to showcase videos made during September’s Basilica Soundscape Festival. The custom site, which lives at basilica.pitchfork.com, features videos of 12 artists performing at the third iteration of the annual festival, held on September 12 & 13, 2014, in Hudson, NY. Each video is a performance from the festival interspersed with meditative footage shot in the idyllic town and countryside surrounding the festival venue.
The Basilica mini-site was designed and developed by William Colby, who co-directed the videos with Jim Larson. Both are part of the in-house video team at Pitchfork.
Pitchfork has been at the vanguard of creating innovative displays of photos and videos on the Internet, as we highlighted in our feature (subscription required) on the site’s “cover stories” in late 2013.
On the Basilica site, it’s possible to watch every video without a single click, thanks to the site’s minimal design: There’s a small navigation menu at the top right of the page, but visitors can scroll down through each auto-playing video. The performances run the gamut from modern metal like White Lung and Deafheaven, to a string quartet led by the Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and a deliciously funny reading of an essay on the gender politics of authenticity by Meredith Graves, of the hardcore band Perfect Pussy.
The mini-site is visually compelling, and is yet another example of Pitchfork’s commitment to experiment with new ways to deliver images to its readers.
In a previous PDN Video, advertising photographer Marcus Smith explained how he used personal work to land his dream clients. After winning his first few commercial assignments, though, Smith decided he needed a stronger brand identity to maintain momentum. In this video, he explains how he figured out the right brand message for his business, communicated it to a designer, and got a professional-looking brand identity on a tight budget.
Smith will speak at Photo Plus Expo on a panel called “PDN’s 30: Strategies for Young Working Photographers” on Saturday, November 1 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. Others speaking on the panel include Dina Litovsky, Greer Muldowney, Keren Sachs, and Tony Gale. For complete details about Photo Plus Expo seminars and events, see the Photo Plus Expo website.
When photographer (and sports fan) Marcus Smith stopped assisting to go out on his own, he wanted to shoot for Nike and other national athletic brands. But he was an unknown photographer with almost no sports photography in his portfolio. So he took some wise advice that his mother gave him about how to succeed in business, started a personal project, and soon had assignments from Nike and its subsidiary Jordan Brand. Busy with advertising assignments ever since, Smith explains how he got the attention of the clients he wanted.
Personal Work That Lands Assignments: Marcus Smith (for PDN subscribers)
“Badru’s Story,” a video by the documentary photography/video team of Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele about efforts to monitor the effects of climate change on biodiversity in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, has won first place in a video contest held by Yale Environment 360, the online publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The team will receive $2,000, and their video will be shown on e360.yale.edu for 30 days; the second- and third-place winners will be shown in the coming weeks.
The video follows researcher Badru Mugerwa as he leads a team cutting through the dense forest to set 60 camera traps that will record the movement of wildlife. After making into into the dense growth and painstakingly setting each camera trap, Mugerwa says, “You better have interesting things on this camera after 30 days.” He is part of the Tropical Ecological Assessment & Monitoring (TEAM) Network, a global network of field station which records similar data across the tropics. “Badru’s Story” includes some of the thousands of images the camera traps in Bwindi have recorded, including photos of elephants, gorilla families, chimpanzees (some of whom check out the cameras quite closely), anteaters, leopards, and numerous birds. A representative of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority interviewed in the video notes that Bwindi is one of the few forests in the world “where you find gorillas and chimpanzees feeding together.”
Drummond and Steele, whose work has often focused on the human effects of climate change, also show, in video and stills, the community living around the park
The Yale e360 video contest was judged by editor Roger Cohn; Elizabeth Kolbert, an environmental writer for The New Yorker and e360, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Yale e360 supports and publishes documentary work on environmental issues. (See PDN’s article on their support of Evan Abramson’s video about the conflict over water resources on the Kenya and Ethiopia border.)
Video Pick: One Family Business Copes with Climate Change
An Under-Reported War Over Water [A Project Supported by Yale e360)
In 1993, photographer Gerd Ludwig began documenting the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster while on assignment for National Geographic. “I got involved accidentally [while] covering a story about pollution in the [former] Soviet Union,” he says. “I was struck by the post-apocalyptic feel of the whole zone.” He ended up returning nine times over 20 years to tell the story of a human and environmental catastrophe that continues to reverberate, and he recently published The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, a 252-page tri-lingual book about the disaster. In this video, Ludwig describes the challenge and drama of photographing inside the destroyed nuclear reactor, and what drove him to take great personal risk to tell the story.