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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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/

Happy Birthday to John Lennon and Jackson Browne

Today marks the birthday of two of my music icons John Lennon and Jackson Browne. John would have been 76 years old johnlennon1if he had not been killed. Their songs have given me happiness and comfort throughout my life. When I first really discovered music during my prepubescent years, it was the music of Beatles that resonated with me. It woke me up and gave me a sense of belonging along with millions of others inflicted with Beatlemania. As time went by their music changed as they became more experimental and the world changed as well.

I recently saw Ron Howard’s film, “Eight Days of the Week” the other night. It was about the Beatle’s touring years. It was beautifully edited and the sound was superb and I looked at it with the eyes and the appreciation of a grown woman who was now a photographer and filmmaker. It gave me a new perspective about their early days than the one I had when I was a smitten preteen. Back then I was just another young girl who was overwhelmed by these lads from Liverpool.

I had attended both of the Beatles concerts when they played Shea StadiumBeatlesTicket4 copy in 1965 & ‘66. Even though I had been there it was the first time that I had actually heard what the Beatles played that night. My family had just moved from Rochester, NY to the NYC area and my dad had somehow obtained 4 tickets to the show in his company’s box seats at Shea. It will go on record as probably the best gift my father had ever given me. It was more of an event than a concert. It quickly became historic and an event I will always remember.

As I got older and had experienced a couple of real relationships with the opposite sex, I moved to California. It was the early ‘70’s, and it was a different time and a different culture.JB I became captivated by the early California sound of Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Eagles and of course Jackson Browne. Their music defined an era and my young adult life. Jackson’s songs brought awareness of social issues and motivated the huge demographic of baby boomers to take action. To this day I remain a huge fan of Jackson Browne’s and try to see him in concert at least twice a year. In some ways his lyrics became my religion.

Music makes us happy, provokes us to take action and comforts us when we’re down. It’s universal. I think back to the 1960’s and how the Beatles and their music had gone viral. That was way before we had the Internet and social media platforms and I wonder, how did that happen? I suppose the stars were aligned and it was simply “the right time” to create one of the biggest phenomenons in music of all times. Of course it had a little help pushed by the emerging demographic of baby boomers who were ready to take the world by storm.

I wonder what John Lennon would have gone on to do in his life, if he hadn’t have been stopped by a bullet some 40 years ago. His music will live on and I will keep going to Jackson Browne shows as long as he keeps giving them. Their music is the sound track of my life.

Jackson Browne in concert
Jackson Browne in concert

Top 3 Tips for Photographers, Filmmakers, Writers – Everybody

I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Here 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 stayed with people we met while on the road. 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.

Sunset, Arthur County, Nebraska
Sunset – Arthur County, Nebraska

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.” Those words have stayed with me my entire 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.

Pricing, Photographers & the Race to the Bottom

The bottom is getting crowded.

I read Seth Godin’s blog daily. He’s usually concise and right on target. His post entitled,”Clawing your way to the bottom” really hits the mark as far as what professional photographers and other visual creators are up against.

I used to make a lot of money shooting stock – that is before the consolidation of agencies and the commoditization of stock. While it’s understandable why that happened when the world went “digital”, the prices and value of images has dropped so far that an “average” stock shooter can no longer make a living shooting stock.

I’m grateful that I never relied solely on stock photography to make a living. However, commissioned photography has not escaped the race to the bottom as far as photographers pricing themselves out of business. There’s only so low one can go on their fees. It’s a short fix to nowhere.

The solution is there for anyone who is willing to do the work – that is, make the effort to stay at the top of your game. Focus on the big picture. Be curious. Don’t panic. Stay away from trends., Focus on the story – not on the gear. Tell them a story. Live life because if you don’t – your work will show it.