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October 2012
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December 2012

America 101

A101 cover 72 dpi

I found myself in a long conversation last night with Arthur Grace. I gave him a call to congratulate him on his new book, America 101 (published by Fall Line Press). The book is everything you’d imagine it to be, big (over 11 inches square), beautiful paper, outstanding reproduction and 101 photographs which will please your eye as well as engage your brain.


When I have a chance to jump into the way-back machine with a person like Arthur, I don’t waste it. That said, we talked about many important things, which I won’t share here, but we also talked a little about photography, which I will.


I knew he started as a stringer for United Press International, most of the greats did some time at either UPI or The Associated Press. I was surprised how fast he moved up the food chain. Arthur quickly went from being paid in Tri-X, which he noted, “You can’t eat.”, to earning $20 a photograph. Within eight months the editors at UPI were actively looking to place him in a staff job, either with them or a newspaper.


Arthur attributes this fast rise not to his talent, which I think deserves some of the credit, but to hard work and the wire service’s philosophy. To paraphrase Artie, It was a sink or swim proposition and they threw you into the deep side of the pool. UPI didn’t start guys off by having them shoot high school football. No, they’d send them straight to a Patriot’s game (he was living in Boston at the time).

Coon dog, Maine PS copy 2
Arthur Grace © 2012


Excuses were not allowed. His standing orders were, “Give me the picture, not an excuse”.


He remembered shooting a Celtics game and coming back to the office with six rolls of film and telling the staffer about all the great pictures he made.


The staffer replied, “Great. Which roll, cause I’m only developing one.”  Luckily,the roll he chose had a few good frames!


It’s amazing to think of the discipline. Shooting a sporting event on six rolls, a little over 200 frames, would be unheard of today. Not to mention the 36 frames the UPI staffer thought adequate.

National Guard drill PS copy 2
Arthur Grace © 2012


Sink or swim and no excuses is right. He also reminded me, that you were only as good as your last picture, so everyday you had to prove yourself again. An attitude which kept you humble and working hard.


Soon, Artie was working in New England for Time, People, and the New York Times, with legendary editors like John G. Morris, John Durniak and John Dominis.


I asked another legendary editor, Karen Mullarkey, who was the first woman director of photography at a newsweekly, what made Arthur special. She told me when she arrived at Newsweek she was allowed to hire one staff photographer and picked him because;


"He never went were other photographer's went. He reminded me of the years at Rolling Stone when I worked with Annie Leibovitz. She never followed the pack..she had a unique "eye". She saw differently. Well so does and did Arthur. I wanted someone who would be rebellious with the camera and he certainly was. I adore his view on the world. Arthur's photos are very funny and subtle at the same time. It is no surprise to me that the project we did together "Choose Me" is now being exhibited at the High Art Museum in Atlanta. Arthur is a journalist with a fine art eye. Love him, love his work."


By the time I met Artie in 1987, he too was a legend. We were covering the presidential race, both of us were bouncing between candidates (him for Newsweek, me for Life) and ended up with Bush Sr. for the last month or so. He told me last night he knew then he wasn’t interested in covering any more campaigns. As the traveling press wanting Perrier and carrot sticks instead of late night toga/pool parties.


Speaking on campaign photography today, Artie said, “We put the film in a caption envelope. A messenger picked it up and we were done. Apparently today’s photographers work around the clock. I don’t know how I could have done that.”

Hatt Family copy 2
Arthur Grace © 2012


Which lead to Artie sharing a story about shipping film while on a train with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat. The messenger was to be waiting at a certain dirt road that crossed the tracks somewhere between Alexandria and Cairo (Egypt), where the train was scheduled to slow down. Artie was shooting for Time and Wally McNamee was working for Newsweek (It was Thursday and the deadlines in New York were Friday). So they bundled up their film in a heavily padded Newsweek envelope, but when they came to the intersection the messenger was nowhere to be seen. At the last minute, Wally tossed the package into the crowd and they both headed to the bar (on the train). The next week their images were in their (respective) magazines, although they have no idea how the package made it to the airport.


The pictures in America 101 work on multiple levels. They’re journalistic. Which means they tell stories. They’re personal. One can imagine Artie making these images for his own amusement. They’re documentary, as they capture moments in America’s past that are historic. They’re artistic, as they would not be out of place hanging next to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Frank.

Demo derby pledge PS copy 2
Arthur Grace © 2012


Just don’t expect these images to immediately reveal themselves. Sure, the casual viewer will find something to enjoy, but the viewer who makes the effort to dig into these images will be well rewarded for their effort.

You can find America 101 on Amazon right here. It looks like they're moving fast, so don't come by and expect to borrow mine... oh no my brother, you've got to get your own.

The One Day Photo Essay

Kenneth Jarecke/Contact © 2012

I don't reccommend it, trying to pull a photo essay out of a one day shoot. Still, it's something to think about and you never know when the need might arrise.

It's helpful to have a few things when you set out to make a photo essay:

A good visual story. Which you happen to be interested in telling.

Research. A little bit, but not too much. You'll want to know what you're talking about while still leaving enough ignorance to be surprised.

Time. It's helpful when you're trying to slip into the pool of people's lives without stirring up the whole pond.

Access. A place to stand.

In this little photo essay, which I call "First Americans Voting". You can see it properly here. I had a good visual story, kinda knew the situation (though I failed to find out when the polls actually opened), not much time (because it's a one day event), and a place to stand.

Once the important stuff is covered, it comes down to making choices. Choices like which way to look and when to push the button. One of the least important choices is color or black & white.

Kenneth Jarecke/Contact © 2012

Still, it's a decision which needs to be made.

The first part of my day took place mainly in a grade school gym on the Crow Reservation. The light wasn't interesting, so it's an easy choice to shoot this in black & white. Though it's probably more accurate to say "see this in black & white", as one can process the RAW files both ways.

The only images I was tempted to process in color are shown above and I think they're both stronger in black & white.

Kenneth Jarecke/Contact © 2012

By the time I'd FTP'd my first batch of images and made my way down the road, the light had sweetened up quite nicely.

Plus, they were also voting in the tribal elections on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, which is more like a feast day. Each candidate has their own way of getting out the vote, but they all involve good food. Everybody's outside enjoying the party.

There's no reason for me to make more voting pictures inside another building. The pictures are to be had outside, with the people and the light.

The problem is that I've already established this as a black & white essay and changing horses in mid-stream is always a dicey proposition.

Kenneth Jarecke/Contact © 2012

It's an easy call to say the last two images work better in color, but do they work so much better that the whole essay should be in color? Part of the problem is with the slideshow format (which most of us use online). If this piece was running in a magazine, a good designer could bounce back and forth between color and black & white and capitalize on each image's strength. As just the act of turning a page or a having column of text between photographs helps with the transition.

Something to think about.

The New Yorker used a few of my images on their Photo Booth blog, along with excellent work by Landon Nordeman, Andrea Bruce (Noor), Peter van Agtmael (Magnum, Hon Lowenstein (Noor), Samantha Appleton, Chip Litherland, Darcy Padilla (VU) and David Burnett (Contact).



Great Job, You're Fired!

Instagramers, I was talking about photojournalists here, not you. If your work brings you joy, carry on. There’s nothing to see here and I fully realize you can’t learn anything from an old man like me (but thank you for continuing to point this out).

Photojournalists, photo-editors and those higher up in the editorial food chain, it seems I’ve offend you also. Sadly, this could not be avoided. The Hurricane Sandy images you published weren’t very good and it was important for someone to say so.

Oddly enough, the last time I wrote about this also had to do with hurricane coverage.

You can read that post here.

--To sum it up... People get bored. You have a small window of opportunity to make an impact on your audience. You must present the highest quality of work possible when you have your viewer’s attention. You owe it to them and the people affected by the storm.

(I don’t know if it’s you or me Big Media, but one of us isn’t right in the head. We both keep doing the same thing and expect the outcome to be different. Yeah, you’re right. It’s probably me.)

Knowing it wouldn’t change anything (and it would do me more harm than good), I took my shots. Mainly at Time Magazine for their silly editorial decision to assign photographers to cover the storm using Instagram.

Normally, I’d be happy to move on but then this little number by Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici crossed my laptop.

Here’s Bercovici’s opening sentence;

“If there was still any debate about whether serious photojournalism can take place in the context of camera phones and cutesy retro filters, it’s over now.”

Really, Jeff? Just when I thought I was out you pulled me right back in. Thanks buddy.

There’s nothing in the article to support Jeff’s claim, but the piece is illustrated with Time’s new cover using an Instagram by Ben Lowy of the storm. Evidently, cover of Time equals game over.

To be sure, the cover of Time is a big deal. Lowy should feel proud and it does look good (at least at 405 pixels across). I’m not sure how it works now, but in the past every cover of the magazine was collected by the Smithsonian. Which is way cool. The extra $5,000 licensing fee also helps to pay a few bills.

However, I’m not sure the cover of Time can be used as an example of “serious photojournalism”. Nor as a closing argument for a debate that has just started.

Let me just kill two birds here and answer a tweet I received today.

“If a merely “good” photo can get the Time cover (one that many hobbyist could make) is PJ as a livelihood and pro(fession) dead?”

No dear tweeter, photojournalism is alive and well, it just means Time magazine is dead.

Here’s the deal. People subscribe to magazines to get unique content which they can’t find anywhere else. By unique I mean great. Stuff your dentist, neighbor or fourteen year old with a cell phone can’t produce. Magazines then sell these subscribers, or at least their eyeballs and wallets, to advertisers. That’s where the real money is. The subscription money just pays for (hopefully) ink, paper and postage. The content that attracts the subscribers is paid for by advertising money. This content is expensive and it takes creative people to produce it.

The flow chart looks something like this...

egg - chicken - chicken - egg

It’s confusing I know. Just think of it as a never ending Kickstarter program where you don’t have a million friends you can guilt into giving you five bucks each and every week.

What it means is this, if you don’t give people something great. You die.

Remember that movie “The September Issue”? That was supposed to be Vogue’s last fat magazine (something like 960 pages) because it came out right before the interwebs and whatnot killed the print industry. Well, this September’s issue was (honestly, I’m guessing here) just as big.

Why? Because consumers have decided they still want the printed page and advertisers have discovered they can’t sell stuff on Facebook.

It no accident that Conde Nast still spends big on it’s editorial content. Meanwhile, Time/Warner/CNN (are there more companies to list, HBO maybe), thinks they’ll impress people with Instagrams.

Later in Jeff Bercovici’s piece, Time Magazines director of photography Kira Pollack threw some numbers out regarding traffic to Lightbox's collection of Instagrams. She says it was responsible for 13% of the sites traffic during a week when had its fourth biggest day ever. She also says Time’s Instagram account attracted 12,000 new followers during a 48-hour period.

Hmmm. Could this be because there was a monster storm heading towards the most populated part of the country?

I wonder if these visitors to Time were satisfied with the content they received there. I mean, where else are they going to find this kind of stuff? If only there was some type of electronic device, a service one could subscribe to or something.

Content made by cell phones and already seen by anyone with a cell phone, doesn’t count. Gaining readers/viewers who have no skin in the game doesn’t count either. Get back to me a month and share the number of new subscribers you’ve generated and then we can talk.

Work in Time magazine is (or was) meant to inspire. It, along with a few others, was the place where the greatest journalist, photo or otherwise, strived to work. To paraphrase Nigel (the Stanley Tucci character in the Devil Wears Prada, yes I’m going there) Time Magazine was a place where great artists and legends walked the halls. Now it seems the players there are more concerned with appearing on MSNBC then producing a great magazine.

Listen, Instagram is a tool (not a “tool”, but a tool... oh you know what I mean). It’s great for photographing half eaten burritos, potential wedding dresses or your own feet, but it’s not the tool to use when making great, lasting, or important photographs. It’s the wrong tool for that job.

In my last post I said this;

“The worst of the offenders has to be Time’s Light Box. Normally I love this site, but sending photographers out to purposely shoot Instagrams is the journalistic equivalent of stringing together an essay from a bunch of tweets. It's shameful and you should be embarrassed. Not to say these shots weren't well seen (which is the hardest part), just that they were poorly executed. Which is to say they fail as photographs.”

Let me say this more clearly to the photographers that accepted this fool’s errand. You saw the photographs. You were standing in the right place at the right time, but the tool you decided to use failed you and more often than not you missed the image.

Digital cameras are not that hard to use. If you don’t have access to a high quality digital SLR, or if using one somehow gets in the way of you making pictures, you probably shouldn’t be accepting assignment from Time magazine.

Ask yourself, what would Jim do? If an editor asked him to shoot an important assignment with his iPhone do you think he’d do it? Do you think he’d risk his credibility like that?

You can put it in historical, pre-digital terms if you like. If Life Magazine asked Henri Cartier-Bresson to shoot a hurricane with a Brownie, what do you think he’d tell them? Yeah you’re right, and it doesn’t sound any better in French either.

Photographers, if you don’t give people something great, you’ll die too.

One more thing (I know this was long and most of you have stopped reading, still).

Time Magazine’s cover was once considered the face of the entire Time/Life corporate brand. The magazine demanded the copyright of images used on it’s cover (agencies like Contact Press Images negotiated a dual copyright agreement) and paid nicely for it. They did this to protect their brand (among other reasons). This changed several years back when they used a micro stock composite image on their cover. Now anything goes, which is best illustrated by Instagram’s Terms of Service.

" By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly ("private") will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services."

Yes, according to their TOS, Instagram could license Time's cover image to anyone they like. How does any magazine (or any photographer for that matter) agree to these terms?

Let me take this one step further, being so many publications are hungry to publish Instagrams now. As a photo editor, the curator (if you will) of a major newspaper or magazine, what’s keeping Instagram, which is now owned by Facebook, from hiring their own editors and marketing their own branded content directly to your publication?

Haven’t you put yourself in a precarious position? If Instagram, which received something like 10 images a second during the storm, were to cut that fire hose down to a digestible stream of free and juicy content and offered it directly to your publication free of charge, where does that put you?

What’s keeping them from doing this every day? Say for Thanksgiving, or a local football game? Don’t think they’re not working on this right now.

Just a thought.