Cuba – The Forbidden Fruit

May 5, 2015

Originally posted on Journeys of a Hybrid:

How can I possibly sum up a 5 day trip to Cuba, a country that up until recently was theMural, Havana, Cuba “forbidden fruit” for US citizens. That in and of itself is what made me want to go there. My childhood impressions of Cuba came from seeing Ricky Ricardo on the “I Love Lucy” show and watching the Cuban Missile Crisis play out in my living room on our

TV set. What I saw as a child, was enticing with its music and its passionHavana, Cuba, and threatening, all at the same time.

I had an opportunity to join a group of travel writers who were traveling to Cuba, on a “people to people” program. The purpose of the trip was to make cultural connections with the people of the country through various planned interactions. As a “people shooter” and a photographer who is drawn to capturing the spirit of…

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Cuba – The Forbidden Fruit

May 5, 2015

How can I possibly sum up a 5 day trip to Cuba, a country that up until recently was theMural, Havana, Cuba “forbidden fruit” for US citizens. That in and of itself is what made me want to go there. My childhood impressions of Cuba came from seeing Ricky Ricardo on the “I Love Lucy” show and watching the Cuban Missile Crisis play out in my living room on our

TV set. What I saw as a child, was enticing with its music and its passionHavana, Cuba, and threatening, all at the same time.

I had an opportunity to join a group of travel writers who were traveling to Cuba, on a “people to people” program. The purpose of the trip was to make cultural connections with the people of the country through various planned interactions. As a “people shooter” and a photographer who is drawn to capturing the spirit of a place” through my visuals, Cuba-3858I knew I had to go to Cuba at a time when the country was on the brink of change.

We had a lot of interesting experiences as a group and I had many more on my own exploring the streets of old Havana and walking along the Malecon. The people were open to being photographed, – that was my experience. When I’m street shooting and I come upon people that I want to photograph, initially I approach the situation in a candid way. After I take a few shots, I will engage the person and proceed to shoot more. Man with armarall, cleaning car. Havana, CubaOur interaction is usually natural and seamless, even though we don’t speak the same language. We communicate in another way.

One day we met with a student at the University of Havana. University of Havana, CubaHe spoke about the day that President Obama met with President Raoul Castro in Panama.Havana, Cuba He said that all around the University, students and professors stopped what they were doing to watch the event on TV. As he told the story, his eyes filled with tears. He spoke of hope for his family, his people and his country and looked forward to the “embargo” being lifted so that Cuba can move forward. But he was also mindful of the potential downsides that come with rapid change.

Early on in our trip, we were driving through one of Havana’s neighborhoods that had been built during the “American years” and our guide said; “These are the good buildings built by the bad people”.Havana, Cuba As I look back at my interactions with the Cuban people, I hope that I had an impact on how they perceive Americans.

The Cuban people give true meaning to the word “resolve”. They’ve had over a half a century of practice.Gail in Havana, Cuba I will surely return to Cuba and see what’s yet to come in this country’s story.

Labels, Finger Pointing, Fear, and the Real Value of Photography

April 20, 2015

I read an interesting blog post “On Real Photographers” by David duChemin recently. He talks about growing weary of the photographers’ complaints that “now everyone has a camera and suddenly everyone’s a photographer”.

My first experiences of being part of a group of my peers did not go well. My memories of being in school are mostly filled with my efforts to fit in, and the efforts of others to keep me out. The new kid. The smaller kid. The kid with the funny name. So I come honestly by my desire to see others included.

 So when I hear people complain that “now everyone has a camera and suddenly everyone’s a photographer” I hear the same old, fear-driven, mean-spirited, zeitgeist of the schoolyard.

 The same craft, beautiful for it’s democratic nature, that admitted you, and admitted me, will admit others. And with the same tools we picked up with such wonder, those others will make photographs. That’s what cameras do. And it’s what people who own them do. And they will, in that moment, become photographers: makers of photographs.

They are not faux-tographers. They are not necessarily “just camera-owners”. Neither are they DSLR-monkeys, or whatever other pejorative seems clever at the time. Shame on you. Shame on us as an industry.”

Gail shooting feature doc "Opening Our Eyes" at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

Gail shooting her feature documentary “Opening Our Eyes” at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

It hit home. As the perennial “new kid” (moving 11 times before I graduated from high school), being one of only six women when I attended Brooks Institute and now being dismissed or frequently feeling invisible because of my age, I’ve personally faced a lifetime of the “same old, fear-driven, mean-spirited, zeitgeist of the schoolyard.”

I despise our seemingly human need for “definitions and categories” and placing people into boxes defined by gender, age, race or religion. So I question why do we determine the creative value of photographers based on whether they are “professionals” or “amateurs” or if photography is their sole means of making a living? It’s exclusionary and judgmental based on fear and the notion that someone has to be excluded for the rest of us to win. This attitude has no business in a creative business because creativity has no boundaries dictated by “who’s in” or “who’s not”.

I have always been more interested in the power of what a good photograph or film can do – not who created it and what box that creator fits into. I’m interested in the story one has to tell. We are visual communicators and we are all unique but only if we listen to our own voice and create from that voice. Whenever I have trusted and listened to my internal voice and created from my own unique perspective and my life’s experiences, I have been “on purpose” and my work has resonated across genders, race and age. I suppose I could copy or mimic the “style du jour” whether it is HDR or photographing hipsters with tattoos and attempt to be someone I’m not. I don’t have the desire to do that because that is not why I became a photographer or filmmaker. That’s not to say that I don’t like and appreciate photographers who are following these styles but it’s not me and creativity doesn’t come from mimicking others. I’ve seen a lot of styles and techniques over the decades I’ve been in the photo business. They come and they go – just like the photographers who chase after the latest trend.

David states so eloquently:

‘Our categories are useless. Harmful, even. They separate us. They keep us siloed and cut off from generosity and openness and collaboration. They keep us focused on our own “qualifications” and not on the audiences and markets we should be finding new ways to serve, to inspire, to connect with. Our scarcity mentality is hurting us. It’s stopping us from being creative about making a living. The world owes us nothing, which is hard to accept when we’ve paid for a degree, invested in gear, or bought business cards, only to find out the universe doesn’t give a damn, and cares only about what value we bring.’

I too am weary of the blame, the finger pointing and all the stupid human tricks based on fear, and the notion that someone has to lose in order for me to win, because ultimately that comes from a place of insecurity and ego and rarely does that produce something of value. I don’t need a license that proclaims I’m a professional or feel the need to hide my age in order to compete. My value comes from a lifetime of experiences that made me who I am. If I choose to allow someone to define who I am or what I am capable of, or allow myself to be stopped by the naysayers, then I only have myself to blame.

It would have been so much easier to quit or stop myself every time someone threw roadblocks in my way based on their own notions of “what’s in” or “what’s not” and that would have led to an empty life. I chose instead to follow my heart and my convictions and accept the rejections that ultimately come when one faces their fears and stays true to who they are. It has never been easy but I’ve never sought easy. I’ve too busy living a full and rich life, using my craft to create awareness, impact social change or just to bring a smile to someone’s face and create a memory.

What’s Next for Still Photography? Things We Could Never Begin to Imagine.

April 3, 2015

Originally posted on Journeys of a Hybrid:

One of the only good things about getting older is that I have gained a lot of perspective. Fortune teller through window, Atlantic City, NJ I never speculate what the future will hold by limiting it to what’s possible now because…..

When I began studying photography at Brooks Institute in the early 1970’s

I never would have imagined:

  • That I would own a personal computer that would change the way I communicated with people and ran my business.
  • There would be the Internet, email and mobile phones.
  • There would be auto-focus cameras and lenses.
  • Cameras would be fully automated – if you so choose to use them that way. When I began my career as a photographer, I needed to be a technician, and that meant understanding aperture and shutter speed and a lot of other things that went into making a still image.
  • I would be shooting still images without film.
  • I wouldn’t be limited to…

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10 Mistakes Photographers Make When Shooting Motion

March 2, 2015

1.  They forget about the story – it’s not your camera that tells the story – it’s the person using the camera. Pretty visuals, slapped into a motion timeline with music, doesn’t necessarily tell a story.  Video is a story telling medium – don’t forget that.

2.  They think they already know how to shoot – if you think because you are a professional photographer and all you need to do is get a camera with a “video mode” on it, you are mistaken. Shooting in motion is far different than shooting still images. An experienced motion shooter can spot a video shot by a still photographer with little know how, right away.

3.  Thinking audio isn’t important – audio is more important than the visual when producing video.  Hire a sound person to do it right, but don’t discount it.

4.  Thinking the DSLRcamera is all you need for video productions – this is a biggie.  How are you going to go after professional video jobs if this is the only tool in your kit?  Sure you can rent a RED – but make sure you are as proficient with this tool as your competition is before hanging out your “motion” shingle.

5.  Positioning themselves just as DP’s or Directors and thinking you’ll maintain ownership of your work. If you assume the role of a camera operator, DP or even a director – you will be in a work for hire position in most markets.  Position yourself as a producer – shoot if you want to – and direct – but realize that you’ll be just one rung on the “content ladder”.

6.  They don’t learn interview skills – this is what separates the pros from the still shooters who have DSLR cameras and think that’s all they need.  I’d say about  70% of my work includes on camera interviews.  Even though I ask the questions- I’m not on camera, my subject is.   I not only need to know how to ask the right questions and get great audio, but I need to produce a usable interview clip for an editor. That means knowing how to get great soundbites. This is one area I excel in – it’s all about rapport with your subject.

7.  They try to compete in “old business model” markets – Everyone wants to shoot broadcast spots and feature films (or short films) so they think that after shooting motion for only a few months – or even a year – they will be able to compete in the high end business of video production.  First, this market, like the still photography market,  has changed drastically, mostly marginalized by still photographers who are just starting to shoot motion,  shooting jobs for next to nothing because they have no understanding of this “business”.

8.  Learning the “how to’s” in terms of gear – but nothing about the business – this is also a biggie.  There are so many “how to shoot motion” workshops and roadshows out there but no one seems to be teaching the business end of things.  Still photographers think they already know “the business” but quickly realize that they don’t, and they put themselves out of business in this medium – before they’ve barely started.

9.  Teaching “how to” workshops in video with little or no experience – I can’t tell you how many photographers have called me for technical advice about some pretty basic stuff in terms of video,  and four months later they are teaching workshops. Please don’t become part of the problem and send more shooters out into this field without teaching them something about business. And if you are considering taking a workshop – do your homework and take the workshop from someone who is accomplished in this field and has done something.

10. They forget about the story – I know that’s #1 but it needs reinforcing.

 

Working from Home- Avoiding the Pitfalls

February 18, 2015

A lot of my photographer friends have closed their studios, due to a lousy economy and changes with the type of work they do. They’ve set up offices in their home, and some have faired better than others. GailMaggieI think it’s kind of a “hunter/gatherer” type thing where some people feel the need to head off to a “place of work” and if they don’t have that – they feel less “legitimate”.

 

This winter one of my friends was having a particularly tough time making this transition and he was ready to pack it all in and get a “real” job. He called me because he knew that I’ve always worked from home, and he wanted to know how I dealt with it and stayed productive. We had a long and very honest conversation and he thanked me. I saw him at a party recently and he came up to me, thanked me again and told me things were looking up for him. Quite honestly, I had forgotten the conversation but he reminded me of some things I said to him and suggested that I blog about it. So here goes.

 

Some tips to do and some things to avoid:

  • Start off by calling it your “home office” – not “working from home”. Somehow it’s different psychologically.
  • Be prepared for well meaning family and friends to encourage you to get a “real job”. This happens a lot with people who have creative careers. It’s hard, but you need to explain to your loved ones that what you do IS a real job. Just because you’ve had to lower your overhead and work from a home office, doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It does mean that you’ve had to make adjustments just like a lot of others have had to do these days to make ends meet.
  • Avoid falling into the trap of taking care of personal tasks during your business hours. My friend found himself spending a lot of time on errands that his spouse asked him to do – “since he was home”. That’s fine once in awhile, but if you find yourself spending half your day doing personal stuff – you are sabotaging yourself and your business. And personal stuff includes putting together Aunt Ann’s birthday bash photos in a fun presentation for all to see. Sure do that – but not during business hours because this is not your hobby – it’s your business.
  • Don’t get overly complacent as soon as you get rid of the expense of your studio. I’ve seen this happen a lot. The pressure to make that overhead is gone so you let your guard down and along with that your clients start to disappear. But it’s because you’ve disappeared – you’re not marketing yourself anymore – and you’re off your clients’ radar.
    • • Have a routine just like you would if you walked out the door to go to work.
    • • Get up at a set time and get dressed – sounds simple but it’s important
    • • Have set work hours
    • • Have a plan – just because you’re in your home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a business plan with action items.
    • • Avoid distractions – tough one. If you find yourself doing something that a “boss” wouldn’t approve of – then stop yourself. You’re the boss so stop cheating yourself.
  • Network and connect with your peers and colleagues. This is important, especially in a creative business. You need to have people you can bounce things off of. I have a couple of friends in my life that I’m really grateful for because I know I can share my vulnerabilities and ideas with them without being judged. Friends can do that for you because they don’t have anything personally at stake and can look at things with unbiased eyes. These connections are critical when working from home. These days it’s easy to connect with others. If you can’t do a face-to-face – you’ve got hundreds of other options with social media, listservs or just pick up the phone.
  •  Remember on your darkest days when it seems like it’s hopeless and you’re ready to pack it in and get one of those “real jobs” – don’t totally abandon your dream just yet – leave the door cracked open at least. Maybe get a part time job to start. It will take some of the pressure off and if photography or music or writing or whatever – is your passion – then you’ll quickly find out that a “real job” may not be what makes you happy. The cynics may say that you shouldn’t expect happiness with a job and that the expectation of a job should be to just pay your bills. Maybe so, but do you want to spend most of your life being miserable or counting down the hours to your next vacation? Many times that part time job gives you the push you need to re-invigorate your business because you’ve had a taste of the alternative.
  • Don’t burn your bridges. If you’ve had even the slightest bit of success in the past, following your passions but are in a slump – don’t be so quick to announce to the world that you’re moving on to another career – unless you are thoroughly convinced that you will never have any regrets making that decision. You get the best light from a burning bridge – but it’s usually too late by then. If there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way – it’s not to burn bridges – because life has a way of making you regret it.

 

The Value of Photography – (a reminder)

February 4, 2015

I wrote this blog in the fall of October 2013, after the Chicago Sun Times fired its entire staff of photographers.  Yesterday, the Sun Times laid off its video staff.  I thought that it would be a good time to repost this blog,  about the value of what a professional photographer brings to photography and to our lives.

The who’s who of photography gathered last night, at Carnegie Hall to honor the “masters” of their trade at the Lucie Awards. The Lucies are like the Oscars of the “photographic industry”.

2013 Lucie Awards, Carnegie Hall ©Thomas Kelly

2013 Lucie Awards, Carnegie Hall
©Thomas Kelly

I had been asked to step in to present the “2013 Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year Award”. on behalf of the ASMP when Executive Director, Gene Mopsik and President, Ed McDonald couldn’t attend.

I don’t usually get nervous about things like this, but I was last night. As I stood in the wings with photographer John H. White, who was waiting to go on stage to accept his Lucie, for Achievement in Photojournalism, I was mesmerized as I watched John.  He seemed to glow and I felt his grace, his humility and his gratitude.  It was a moment in my life that will stay with me forever.  It was calming. I watched and listened to his acceptance speech on the monitor backstage, and I was deeply touched.  So was the audience, as evidenced in their standing ovation.

John H. White is not a “rock star” type of photographer.  His images don’t “shock and awe”, not in the way a war photographer’s images do. John’s photographs capture the subtle moments of the human experience.  His legacy of images show us life as it really is.

This past spring, after 35 years with the Chicago Sun Times, John and the rest of the newspaper’s photographic staff were fired.  It was a huge blow to the photographic community, magnified by the fact that even John H. White, the “chairman” was “let go”, without even as much as a thank you. John wasn’t bitter about it though.  Michelle Agins wrote a wonderful article for the New York Times where she quoted John: “A job’s not a job because of labor law,” he said. “It’s just something you love. It’s something you do because it gives you a mission, a life, a purpose, and you do it for the service of others.”

All he had wanted to hear from the executives who let him go was two words that never came: thank you. But even then, he did not respond with anger.

John spoke more about the Sun Times’ firings in an interview with NPR where he said: “I will not curse the darkness. I will light candles. I will live by my three “F” words: faith, focus and flight. I’ll be faithful to life, my purpose in life, my assignment from life. Stay focused on what’s really important, what counts.” He repeated those three “F” words last night as he accepted his award.  The audience was humbled.  John had shed his light.

I have been thinking a lot lately, about the value of photography and the value that a professional brings to this craft.  John H. White and his archive of work is a stellar example.  His images, capturing the subtleties of life stand out amongst the noise.  They make us take notice of what is often over looked – the quieter moments of life.

As far as what a professional photographer brings to the world, I think John stated it best: “Every day, a baby is born. Every day, someone dies. Every single day. And we capture everything in between. You think of this thing called life and how it’s preserved. It’s preserved through vision, through photographs.”

As John walked off the stage and back into the wings, I felt enveloped by his glow that had seemed to magnify.  I caught his eye for a moment and said “thank you”. He nodded, and flashed his wonderful smile and in that moment, we connected and shared our understanding, of the “value” of photography.

What’s Your End Goal?

January 26, 2015

Originally posted on Journeys of a Hybrid:

Do you ever feel stuck – like you just can’t quite make it to the finish line?  This can happen for a number of reasons – your plan wasn’t well thought through – your perfectionism has stopped you – you don’t see the big picture or you can’t break down the details – or maybe you never had a goal to begin with.

The one thing I try to do whenever I think about embarking on a project is to define my end goal – “What are my expectations?”  White Sands, New MexicoWhen I make myself think about my end goal, it forces me to clearly define it.  This allows me to assess my underlying motivations, cut out the chaff and move forward to stay on target and reach the finish line.

Sounds simple, but the problems arise when I let other people sidetrack me from my original goal.  For example: when I…

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My Top 3 Tips for Photographers and Filmmakers

January 12, 2015

I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Gail in Window1983Here are 3 tips with examples of lessons I learned along the way.

Get rid of the resistance in your life – Long before I became a photographer, I was on a different path. I was studying architecture at Syracuse University. During the summer of my sophomore year, my friend and I went on a hitchhiking journey to Canada. Along the way, we met and stayed with people we met. I remember one such stay very well. It was pouring outside and we decided to just hang out, rather than face the elements. There were quite a few other travelers sitting around the room, smoking dope and talking about what everyone talked about those days – their disenchantment with the war (Vietnam) and everything else that was status quo, when one fellow erupted and said – “I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old complaints – why don’t you all do something about it.” That stayed with me my whole life. To this day, I try to get rid of the whiners in my life and be the one who does something. My proudest achievement to date has been making the documentary Opening Our Eyes, a film about individuals who are creating positive change.

Don’t hide your vulnerabilities – It took me a long time before I could tell anyone one of my biggest embarrassments, but when I did it was liberating. I was working on an assignment about Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. I had made an appointment to photograph Walter Cronkite, who was a well-known figure on Martha’s Vineyard. The day before our scheduled appointment, I called Mr. Cronkite to confirm. This was way before cell phones and email and even before everyone had answering machines and his phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling throughout the day and the same thing happened. By evening, I was upset because I thought that Mr. Cronkite had stood me up. That night, I had a terrible feeling. I thought perhaps that when I had re-written my production notes and contact info for the job, I might have written down the wrong number for Cronkite. I had kept my old notes and discovered that I had been calling the wrong number all day. Imagine how horrified I was when I discovered that it was I who had stood up Walter Cronkite – not the other way around. I called the correct number, Walter answered and I was profusely apologetic as I explained the situation. He was kind and understanding and rescheduled and then he said, “Why didn’t you look me up in the phone book?” I replied that I assumed someone of his stature would not be listed.   I learned never to make assumptions. It took me years before I could tell anyone this story. It’s really hard to admit mistakes but when you do, you gain trust.

Be who you are – not who you aren’t – I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and I wanted to pursue my passions. I wanted to be a photojournalist and use my craft to gain access to a world full of stories. Before I enrolled at Brooks, I had spent a year backpacking around the world. I had one camera and one lens and came back with my snapshots and a whole lot of desire. But it was a bad time for magazine photojournalism – Life Magazine had just folded (the second time) and everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living as a photographer, I needed to do commercial work. I bought into that and built a pretty good commercial photography portfolio. Then I went to see legendary NY photographer Jay Maisel, a man known for being blunt. He looked at my work, threw a print at me and told me it was “garbage”. Then he asked me if this was what I wanted to do.  I told him no, that I wanted to be a photojournalist but that everyone had been telling me to pursue commercial work. He asked me how old I was and I replied “25” and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”. It changed my life and I remind myself every day to be who I am and dream big, even though I may have to settle for less.

Still Photographers and the New Media Landscape

January 7, 2015

I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing lasts forever. I’ve experienced the up and down cycles of business and life in general and can tell you that nothing ever stays the same. Having an understanding and acceptance of that gives me the freedom to look around corners for opportunities red cameraand think outside the confines of my box. What I’m seeing is a growing demand for mixed media storytelling content from communications and marketing people to fill a plethora of needs –social media campaigns, TV spots, online pre-roll ads, and print ads.

Last September while attending the Next Video Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA a light bulb went off after seeing a presentation given by Max Kaiser, Founder/Director of Hand Crank Films called Make Content That Resonates and Multi-Purpose. It was eye opening. Max explained how he demonstrates to clients the value of creating content that not only resonates with an audience but can also be multi-purposed and fill their other visual needs – including provide still images from his frame grabs. He said because he shoots 6K – he is able to produce high quality still images.  I could see that still photographers aren’t just competing with other still photographers any more, they’re competing with guys like Max and small production companies that are providing solutions to all their visual needs.

There’s no reason still photographers can’t provide mixed media for their clients’ visual needs, but they need to scale the way they think about their business and their role and become more of a visual assets producer. Most photographers are producers anyway, so why not provide more services to a client and keep them in house – in your house.

I think sometimes it seems easier to give ourselves reasons not to do something but change is going to happen regardless if you embrace it or not.

Some things to keep in mind:

Video is not a business model – It’s a medium and one that is well suited for storytelling.

There is a demand for mixed media. Video is not new. But these days it’s easier, faster and cheaper to distribute, stream and watch motion content online – anytime -anywhere. Our phones and other mobile devices are our “go to” platforms for news, shopping and even entertainment. Position your brand and business to fit with today’s communication needs.

Make content that resonates and multi-purpose it. Video + Stills + Sound = Storytelling messaging. Content should be well-planned, scripted with high production values and should feel authentic. Create from your own point of view and identify the niches and needs in the marketplace that fit with your vision and style. Demonstrate value to a client by providing solutions to more of their visual needs.

 


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