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.
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 business. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. It 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.
I have spent a lot of time purging things lately and one being my enormous collection of analog and digital images. For the most part, it became obvious that the commercial work that I had done for the money years ago, looked dated and wasn’t worth keeping. However, the images
that I shot for personal projects were timeless even though they had been shot decades ago.
I have grown weary in our youth obsessed culture that as an older creative female many times I am being dismissed – I have become invisible. I don’t say this to complain and I’m certainly not the first one to echo these sentiments, but I found that it was beginning to undermine my self-worth. As I looked through some work that I hadn’t seen in many years
I realized that I am reacting to people who are judgmental and ageist. There are two things that I can’t change – my height and my age – so I thought that it does me no good to care about others who define me and my value by my age. Rather than feel bad about the longevity of my career, I choose to tell myself that I must be doing something right to be in such a competitive business like photography all these years. The answer is that I love to create photographs and now videos – it’s something that I HAVE to do. It keeps me alive.
Regardless of where you are in your career, take the time to shoot what you care about. It’s the most important thing you can do, not only for your career but for your self-esteem.
Assuming it’s an idea you are passionate about and not doing it to second guess the market – it will be a reminder of who you were then. It’s also great to put new eyes on it a second time around.
When you’re paying for it yourself, you’ll work harder. Failure is not an option because there is no failure.
There are no restrictions or mandates – the world is your oyster. If you dream it, you can probably make it happen.
Working on a personal project is great for making new contacts. You learn to be tenacious in selling your idea in order to gain access to someone or a place. It’s much harder to sell yourself and an idea when you don’t have a letter of assignment from a major magazine.
Most likely these will be the images that won’t get old even as you do.
I was always the “new kid” in school. My family moved more than 10 times before I graduated from high school. We weren’t a military family, running from the law or in the witness protection program. My Dad was moving up the corporate ladder, our family was growing and it just set up a series of moves.
Being the perpetual “new kid” forced me to take risks every time we moved, forming new friendships, adjusting to new schools, dealing with the inconsistencies in the curriculum from school to school, and learning
new neighborhoods and the local culture.
In my early years, I was not the one who was initiating “change” or deciding to take a risk – my parents were. Nevertheless it made me the person I am. As a child I was learning that it was OK to take chances and in fact, it was a good thing. But I also knew that we were not a “normal” family and at times I longed for a life that was less transient and more like the families I saw on TV.
I was actually going to do this by myself until I received an email from my daughter telling me that she wanted to quit her job and sublet her apartment and go with me.
At first, it surprised me when she said that she wanted to do this with me. She had only been working for a year after graduating from college and was lucky to have a job. But she was willing leave her life as she knew it, apartment, take a trip around the world for four months and face looking for employment upon her return. Then I realized I shouldn’t be surprised at all, she too had grown up with the notion that “taking a risk” was normal.
These days, I see young people growing up in a society that has been so over litigated in an attempt to make our lives more risk free that it seems like we are teaching our children NOT to take chances. Losing or failing is looked at as a bad thing and that instead everyone has to be a winner. It seems that fitting in and becoming part of the status quo is what we should strive for rather than being unique or original. The problem is, if everyone thinks and acts that way, innovation will die. No on will dare to be different.
In the last few years, I’ve probably had to face more rejections than I’ve had to over my entire career, or at least it’s seems that the way. On the other hand, I have had the most incredible experiences and successes of my life. To be honest, I’m scared to death just about every day but I grew up thinking that was normal and that came with growth. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the courage to spread my wings.
As I prepare to head out of the country next week I’ve been thinking about why I travel. I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone most of my life, moving 10 times before I graduated high school and pursuing a career as a professional photographer which has taken me to over 100 countries.
I think if I ever had to give up traveling I would wither and my spirit would die.
Here are my top ten reasons that I think every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:
It gives you a much better perspective on our world rather than just experiencing it virally. Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.
It makes one grateful for what they have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but don’t really have an understanding of that because they isolate themselves in their own environment.
You get to be a true diplomat for your country. When I’m traveling I try to give people from other countries and cultures a more realistic idea what an American is beyond our government’s policies and how we are depicted in the movies.
It creates lasting memories of importance or at least memories that last longer than buying a consumer product.
It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel things don’t always go according to plan. You get to see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
You learn how to communicate. Many times you don’t understand the language and you learn to read body language and pick up people’s vibes.
You meet people you would never get to meet at home. It makes you less fearful when you get to meet people from other lands.
As a photographer my camera has given me access to incredible experiences that I have shared with the world.
You can affect change.
When you travel you realize that regardless which country you come from we are all part of the human race. We all share this planet and we are all stewards of keeping it healthy.
It brings wonder to your life. I have had many awe- inspiring moments and not all of them were at typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories are the simple conversations that I’ve had with people all around the world.
I know three successful still photographers working in the Midwest area of the country shooting and competing with one another for regional and national clients. They recently formed a separate production company and are shooting broadcast commercials for the national market. It has proven to be a smart move for them. They’ve expanded their businesses by offering video solutions that meet their clients’ needs and have collaborated with one another by bringing different skill sets to the video production team. I often think that we (photographers) miss out on collaborative opportunities due to our independent nature. But I’ve learned that when I work in a collaborate team and we each bring our own perspective and skills to the whole, it has made me raise my own bar. Partnering doesn’t solely pertain to video production. It works in any business that benefits from scaling up.
Shoot outside your niche. I’ve always been a commercial still photographer working primarily in the editorial and B2B markets. About 15 years ago my partner/husband and I started exploring the motion medium. We began by shooting stock motion footage on 35mm film, which was a very expensive proposition, but I fell in love with this medium. When digital video hit the scene, my passion for storytelling led me straight to it. Digital video enabled me to shoot in the motion genre with our small team and at an affordable cost.
Every family has a story to tell and I wanted to use my craft as a filmmaker to tell their stories for future generations. I’m finding that people desperately want to organize and preserve their family photos whether they are digital images or inherited analog snapshots. I didn’t want to just digitize their family photos and put them on DVD’s. I wanted to capture their family stories with on-camera interviews of their loved ones retelling them in their own voice while they are still here to tell them. It has been well received but it comes with a learning curve and getting to know the retail market.
Shoot what you want to shoot. Shoot something that you are passionate about not because you think it would make a good promotion piece or portfolio sample. It could be that you photograph something you are interested in and have access to. As a female photographer I’ve spent the better part of my career working in a male dominated profession. I decided to seek out other women who work in male dominated fields and create a series of short videos about them. Here are some of the amazing women I met; Natalie Jones a helicopter pilot, Simona deSilvestro a professional racecar driver and Patrice Banks and auto mechanic and engineer. Working on this series not only keeps my skill set sharp but has led to making some great connections.
Don’t think that you have to pursue an overwhelming topic or project. You may just want to explore with your phone. We live in an age that I used to dream about – an age where technology makes it possible and even easy to create the images that only exist in our mind’s eye. Technology has made communicating visually immediate and spontaneous. Think about the power and the opportunities that provides.