Best and Worst Things I’ve Been Told

I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore. In its heyday, stock photography was big money and various stock photo agents actively sought after my partner/husband and me. We had a deep body of travel and portrait images that were valued by many and we had set up meetings with some of the stock houses that were located in NYC – just across the river from where we lived, in NJ. One day we had a meeting with a rep who repeatedly praised our work as she went through our portfolio and made it clear that she wanted to sign us up. Then she said, “I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore.” We didn’t sign up with her, went on to make a lot of money in that part of the business (at that time anyway) and live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States that happens to be in NJ.

We call this the “love” contract. When many photographers were making pretty good money producing and/or licensing “stock” or existing images, one of the big stock outlets decided to roll out the new contract. At that time, stock photo contracts were changing and to be brief, the changes were never in the favor of the content creator. One day, there was a huge meeting of the photographers at their NYC headquarters and the point people from the company came out on stage and joyfully announced the rollout of the new contract, which they called the “love contract”.

That immediately caught my attention but not for the right reasons. Later the audience asked dozens of questions about changes or alterations to the contract, which were answered with replies like “we’ll take that to corporate”. After about an hour of listening to this but not seeing anyone taking notes, I instinctively asked, “How are you going to remember all this?”

They say your print is only as good as your negative. When we were starting out we were very lucky because we were embraced and mentored by a leading art director at a prestigious magazine and he gave us a lot of opportunities. I can honestly say, that knowing and working with this man has changed my life for the better I many ways. One thing he loved to do was to have a luncheon or dinner with the photographer(s) and writers and staff who worked on the article together. We were young and very green and we’d be at the table with some of the legends in the business. During one of those luncheons, a very prestigious photographer and his wife were in attendance. The photographer was going on and on complaining that he couldn’t find an assistant that could make a good print. This particular photographer was well known for complaining. I’m not sure if it was the 2nd glass of wine I had or the fact that I was sympathetic for the assistant but for some dumb reason something popped into my head from what they always told us at Brooks and I blurted out – “You know what they say. The print is only as good as the negative.” I don’t know who laughed harder, the photographer, his wife or our mentor.

We didn’t feel we needed to see you. One day my daughter came home from school and told me that her teachers didn’t feel they needed to see me on parent/teacher night because she was a great student. At the time, our town was growing and class sizes were getting big and I suppose the teachers felt that since there were no problems, there wasn’t the need to talk. I understood their plight, but I have one child and pay dearly for the public schools through high property taxes. So, please don’t tell me I can’t have 10 minutes of your time. When I met with her teachers, they praised her and said they really didn’t have much more to say. I instinctively said, “ I didn’t know it was going to be a one-way conversation.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? When I was headed to Brooks Institute and planning to drive my 10-year-old VW bug from NJ to California, by myself, my Dad told me that I would be foolish and it would be better for me to buy a better car. I immediately said, “How will I pay for it? My dad said, “you’ll get a job”. I said, “What if I don’t get one?” He said, “Gail, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I thought, well they would take away the car if I couldn’t make the payments, but at least I’ll get to California.

Why not? I got together recently with my friend and fellow filmmaker when she was in town to do a Q&A at a screening of her new movie. She reminded me of something that I once said to her and has stayed with her and inspired over the years. I said, that whenever someone questions me and asks me why I’m doing something that may seem too outrageous or daring, I answer by saying – why not?

 You’re 25 and already making compromises? I call this story my Jay Maisel story and is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. I was young and showing my portfolio around in NYC. My love was travel and I wanted to shoot for magazines, but it wasn’t a good time to pursue editorial work, Look magazine had recently shut down and Life had folded for the first time. Everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living with photography then I needed to shoot commercial work. I had put together my commercial portfolio and went to see the legendary and blunt NYC photographer, Jay Maisel. He looked at my work and pretty much threw it back at me and said: “This is crap, this isn’t what you want to do – is it?” I told him no, and that I wanted to shoot for magazines and travel but everyone told me that I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. And the blah blah blah of youthful excuses. He asked me how old I was to which I replied that I was 25 years old. I’ll never forget what he said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises!”

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My Money Shot

Attached is a jpeg of a photo I call My Money Shot.   If you can’t see the image, please read further. If you can see the image, please read on anyway.

I had a shoot last week to photograph a wine tasting event that was a fundraiser. In addition, there was a silent auction as well as a 50/50 drawing. At one point people were bringing around a basket of 50/50 tickets and crumpled up bills (American money). I took a quick photo of it and moved on.

Later that evening I downloaded everything that I had shot that night, even though it was late. I had shot both raw files and jpegs so I did a quick spot check by clicking on some of the jpeg files. When I clicked on one of the jpegs in Photoshop CS6 (a non-cloud app), I got a plain grey PS background with a message that said

 “This application does not support the editing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to http://www.rulesforuse.org.”

 

 

I have been in business a long time and I’ve used Photoshop since its inception, but this was the first time this had ever happened to me.

I was very surprised for a couple of reasons.

  • I was not using a cloud-based app (although I was online)
  • My photo was a picture of crumpled up money – not a picture of a complete banknote that I could possibly counterfeit.

The next day I attended Photo Plus Expo and I spoke with some of the Adobe folks at the show. They seemed a bit skeptical of my story. Finally, one of the reps pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket and took a picture of it with his phone. Then he brought it into his mobile Lightroom app and he had no problem opening up the file. At that point, I was questioning if it even had happened to me. But I was determined to find out if it would happen again and decided to try it on another computer when I got home.

I brought the files into my laptop that has the same Photoshop CS6 app installed and the same thing happened. I wasn’t allowed to open the jpegs. I tried twice, once while I was online and once when I wasn’t. The same thing occurred both times – I couldn’t open the jpegs. Then I discovered that I was allowed to open the raw files. This really perplexed me because it made no sense and it wasn’t consistent with its own policy.

Ultimately, I delivered all the images using the raw files. Granted, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t been able to open “my money shot”. But, I persisted because at that point I was on a mission to clear up my confusion.

I never really did figure out why this happened and why it happened with this particular image that seemed so harmless. To be honest, it’s downright creepy. I’d love to hear from people who may have experienced the same thing. Or even hear from some folks who can shed more light on the matter.

The story behind the photo – An afternoon in Versailles.

I was on assignment for Smithsonian Magazine, shooting a story about the restoration of Versailles after storms had severely damaged many of the gardens. That was the bad news –  I was going to be shooting damaged beauty. The good news was that a lot of work and money had been infused into the gardens of Versailles after they had been neglected for years – some gardens had been gated with no entry.

I consider myself as a people photographer so photographing gardens wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse but the magazine editor must have seen something in me that I didn’t. After seeing dozens of uprooted trees, I asked the head gardener if he would pose for a portrait. He obliged and his body language said it all. He was confident – in control – and was restoring the beauty.

It’s not often that one gets to see to behind the scenes of a place but I did at Versailles that day. It will be a day I won’t forget.

Moving Forward

I got a memory today, on Facebook, letting me know that 3 years ago I posted this blog on Journeys of a Hybrid. I read it and started to look back on the last three years.  The website has been updated hundreds of times and the reel has been redone twice. Work has definitely been a mix between still photography and storytelling video and I launched a new project entitled, Like a Woman, about women working in predominately male professions. I also put more effort into my Instagram account bringing new life and eyeballs to my legacy images as well as my new ones.  Please follow me.I’ve been a terrible blogger, and in fact, have disappeared the last few months, but I’ve decided to blog more.  But I will take a different approach and that is to talk about the story behind the making of the photograph or video. I like to learn by example and I hope that others do too.

 

New Website, New Reel, New Look for Kelly/Mooney

It had been far too long since we did a redesign of our website – more than 5 years. Not only the industry (visual communications) has changed in the past 5 years, but so has our KM Logobusiness. More and more, clients are asking us to provide visual solutions in mixed mediums for a variety of uses – print, the web and social media. That’s been true especially with our editorial and corporate clients. It’s rare when a client comes to us for just one photograph for one usage.

With that said, we wanted a new website that would demonstrate the scope of our business. The first thing I did was to define the look and functionality of the website as well as what I wanted the website to communicate to potential buyers. We knew that a template site with just our still images no longer represented our business. We also knew that we wanted a website that would speak to our client’s needs and the services we provide that meet those needs.

My list of must haves for our website:

  • A site I could manage and update easily.
  • A site I could move to another server if I chose to do so.
  • A “scrolling” website. In researching numerous websites, the scrolling or parallax scrolling websites appealed to me and I began to see them everywhere – small and large film companies, graphic designers, non-profits, etc. We wanted a site that told the Kelly/Mooney story.
  • Messaging throughout the site communicating to potential buyers, what we do, the services we provide, how we work and who we are.
  • Intuitive navigation.
  • A site that would not only show our work but our experience as well.

I should point out that before I even got to this point, I had spent over a year culling through a vast archive of our work – literally terabytes of still images and footage – both digital and analog. I did the task over time, sifting through new work and old, trying to distill it down to the best representation of what we do, what we want to do and our self-initiated work, Ultimately sorting through this body of work, not only served the purpose for the website but resulted in a new reel as well.

Challenges:

  • One of the biggest challenges we’ve always had was showing one unique vision because there are two of us. This website shows our combined work throughout the galleries, but it’s the first time we show individual galleries for Kelly & Mooney.
  • New reel – I took 7 hours of footage down to a 90 sec. reel. And then I re-edited it! That doesn’t take into account the time I spent sifting through music selections to pick the right piece for the soundtrack of the reel.
  • Picking images – We have a huge body of work because of the longevity of our careers. Ultimately we selected mostly recent work, but we didn’t want to discount our classic images so we decided to create a legacy gallery.
  • Realizing that I sized the images too big. In addition to the images having long load times, they bogged down the site by adding to the size making it a double-digit Gig file. I had to go back to the images and resize them all. That was not fun as I’m not a big fan of going backward.
  • Finishing the site at the beginning of the summer and then cutting it back all summer long because it was just too overwhelming. No doubt, there’s still editing that should be done on the site but at a certain point, we had to launch. We finally did on Oct. 6, 2015. That in itself was traumatic. Right after we went live, somehow I deleted a critical file, which shut down the site. I was very fortunate that I had great support from our host server who had everything restored within the hour.
  • This is the first time I’ve ever built a website. It was frustrating, challenging and scary. I thought that my limited knowledge of WordPress from working on my blog would be enough to create a WordPress website. It wasn’t, and it has been a huge learning curve for me. But I wasn’t the only one who worked on this website and I’d like to acknowledge the people who helped me through my meltdowns: my partner Tom Kelly, my colleague Jan Klier, and all the lifesavers at DreamHost (our host server) and folks at Envato who designed the WordPress theme.

This will continue to be a work in progress and I welcome comments and suggestions. http://kellymooney.com/

“There are no Secrets on Easter Island”

Out of the blue, on a lonely stretch of road, a car slowed to a stop and the driver rolled down the window and yelled out “there are no secrets on Easter Island”. I was on assignment on the island and I was shooting a portrait of this Rapanui man in a very remote spot on the island which was is one of the most remote places in the world. It was also mysterious and a wonderful place for exploration and photography.

One night I attended an indigenous dance performance. Native Rapa Nui Man, Easter Island, ChileIt was exhilarating and alive with sexual energy capturing the primal spirit of the people. I knew immediately that I wanted to photograph him with the barren environment of the island in the background.

He agreed and we set up a time and place. He drove up on a scooter sans makeup and tribal dress and proceeded to strip down naked in the middle of the road using the mirror of our car to apply his makeup. The shoot was memorable and what I remember the most was the fierce wind that was blowing and the engaging spirit of this man. His eyes tell the story and secrets of this mystical island.

Gail Mooney is an award-winning photographer and storyteller. 

 

“F—ck ‘em if they can’t Take a Joke” – Letting go of Things

I was fortunate, early in my career to have a mentor that not only encouraged me to do my best but also taught me not to be afraid of taking risks. There were times when shooting assignments for him, I’d push the envelope maybe a little too far with some ideas or images but when it came to him to make a decision on whether or not it made the magazine, I’d see a devilish twinkle in his eyes and he would say, “f__ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke”. Sometimes, he’d catch a little flack from the publisher but most of the time; it turned out to be the right decision.

This past week, we cleaned the office and in the process purged a LOT of unnecessary things. We’d  been creating new imagery for decades either shooting paid assignment work around the world or executing personal projects. We were surrounded by dozens of boxes containing slides from shoots for National Geographic, B&W negatives and contact sheets from hundreds of corporate jobs and dozens of tear sheets of ads and magazine stories. Adding to that we had hundreds of CD’s and DVD’s containing digital files and hundreds of mini DV videotapes from shoots. We had been creating content and adding to the office for 24 years but we hadn’t been getting rid of things that we no longer needed. Now was time to let go. We were being choked by an analog legacy that was encroaching on our space and zapping our creative energy.

After separating our personal photo archives from our job assignments, I set up a criteria for determining what to keep and what to toss by asking myself two questions:

Does it have any value for my current business?

  • There was no longer a need to keep hundreds of contact sheets and negatives from decades of corporate shoots. They had to be tossed along with hundreds of 120mm and 35mm film that had been shot on corporate assignments. I decided that it’s not our job to store a company’s photo archive indefinitely. Unless the photos were of notables, such as the portrait we took of attorney Roy Cohen, they were thrown away. Incidentally, The Cohen photos were assigned by a magazine early in our careers. What ultimately transpired with the cover is another story which I will tell when/if I find the tear sheet of the cover.
  • We tossed analog stock photography catalogs containing our work along with old promotional mailers and Blackbook, Workbook and AR ad reprints. They no longer had value.
  • There were hundreds of magazine tear sheets of our work. Most were recycled and a handful were kept for scanning.
  • There were and still are dozens of boxes of slides shot for travel assignments around the world for major magazines. They need to be edited. I have found with travel photography that it either has to be contemporary (less than 5 years old) or it has to be old enough (more than 20 years old) to be relevant.
    Statue of Liberty and The World Trade Center at dusk, New York, NY
    ©1983 KellyMooney

    There is a historic value for photos that can no longer be taken, like the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers at dusk.

 

 

 

Is the photograph something iconic from my past that I may want for my memoirs?

  • I set the bar high and tough decisions had to be made as to what images met the criteria. Which photographs were worth keeping for my legacy? What I discovered was that the images that made the cut were the images that I made when I took a chance or pushed myself a little harder. I could hear my mentor’s laugh and his irreverent words every time I salvaged a photo for saving “f__ck ‘me if they can’t take a joke”. Ultimately it is my legacy, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOLLOW UP – Virtual Reality. Is it for You? – Exploring NYVR

I attended the NYVR conference last week at the Javits Center in New York City, which collocated with PPE (Photo Plus Expo). I’m not quite sure that VR is for me especially from a content creator’s point of view

NYVR Show

but I do see a lot of possibilities as a user.

Here are some highlights from the NYVR show and seminars:

The conference took place over three days with two days of seminars directed to those in the industry and one day toward users or consumers. I attended sessions on all three days, which gave me great insights from different perspectives. The sessions directed toward those already working in the industry were very compelling even though a lot of the information was over my head. However, I had the extra value of learning from the attendees and their questions

The VR industry is making a big presence in New York City. Los Angeles is a huge center for content creation and San Francisco is a big center for tech and New York City is where major Networks are located and where a lot the money is. The industry is in its infancy so for a start-up company it’s a big plus to be just a subway ride away from major Network headquarters and Wall Street investors.

One session that intrigued me was Spatial Audio in VR. VR isn’t or shouldn’t be just only a visual experience. It should be an experience that touches upon many of our senses and certainly sounds. That’s what makes it immersive. Mono audio in VR is somewhat like watching black & white TV. To truly give a viewer an immersive experience the audio that a user experience needs to impact them as well as the visual does. Sounds should change as the user walks through an environment or turns their head. Prices have come down for binaural audio headsets making them more affordable and accessible for the consumer. Check out Hooke Audio.

Another session I attended was VR Tourism with a speaker from YouVisit who is working in that space.

Some interesting stats about the travel market:

  1. It’s highly competitive
  2. Consumers seek large amounts of resources before finally making a decision.
  3. Usually, a consumer makes 350 touch points before making a decision.
  4. Tourism has one of the lowest conversion rates in the e-commerce space.
  5. VR lends to have a much bigger conversion rate – about 24%! The more immersive the experience is, the more engagement a user makes and the more of an emotional connection they have with the content, bringing the consumer closer to their decision. It’s important to get the user to “buy” and make that possible for them while they are still in the VR space.

I sat in on a panel discussion about Branding and Marketing with VR. VR does well with brands that are emotive, brands that you have to feel. If you are able to identify the emotion that you want someone to feel about your brand, then you can create a good VR experience. VR also turns someone who has had a VR experience into an advocate because they talk about. And that has real value. VR is a good space for capturing user data because it’s interactive. It’s easy to see how and where the user connects with the experience.

Traditionally, advertisers have targeted people in the 18-34-age bracket. VR has also been targeting that same demographic because their typical user comes from the gaming space where VR has played a big role. I wonder though if that target will change somewhat and perhaps include the “baby boomers”, especially since it’s a huge demographic and still holds the majority of the wealth? It seems to me that there is a lot of opportunity in that area and not just in the area of pain management. I see opportunities in travel and entertainment that can provide VR experiences when the real experiences are no longer accessible – like climbing Mount Everest.

It’s a brave new world. Or is it a virtual one?

Check out more about Virtual Reality in my last post from NAB New York.