Sleeping Dogs Lie

Kenneth Jarecke/Contact Press Images © 2013 from the book Just Another War


I’ve been a fan of magazines and newspapers before I could read. This love is what led me to a life in editorial photography, and it’s also what turned me into an occasional critic of the (increasingly poor) editorial decisions made by the editors and publishers who run them.


Just to reiterate...


Editorial content, which offers stuff that can’t be readily supplied by other sources, attracts viewers. Viewers are what advertisers want. Publishers sell their viewer’s eyeballs to advertisers. Money, much of it, changes hands. Publishers, not wanting to lose their viewers spend some of this money on hiring “content suppliers” who can deliver the best stuff.


Rinse and repeat.


That’s how the editorial world works. It will always worked this way regardless of the medium that’s used to deliver the stuff.


For the past few years, this time-tested chain has been broken. Google, with the wave of an algorithmic magic wand, hijacked the advertisers money before it made it to the publishers. This little switcharoo removed the publishers’ incentive to spend money on stuff.


No advertising revenue, leads to low quality stuff, which causes viewers to point their eyeballs elsewhere.


The editorial world is the original crowd-funder. For less than a cup of (fancy) coffee, the viewer gets access to stuff that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. In the case of magazines produced with the highest quality of production standards, this stuff is delivered in it’s optimum incarnation.


(Don’t believe me, pick up one of the coffee-table books produced from the archives of TIME or VANITY FAIR. Don’t buy either of these dogs, just pick them up and take a look. They might be hard cover, and printed on (slightly) better paper, but the presentation and delivery of the content was done much better in the original magazines.)


Great photography has always been an expensive luxury that’s was unaffordable to the average person. LIFE Magazine spread this cost over millions of viewers (via the advertisers money). Mathew Brady made his fortune by charging a small fee to tens of thousands of visitors to his gallery, not by cashing in on the occasional high dollar print sale.


Photography, the kind people want to look at for more than .03 seconds, is expensive to produce. Instagram and iPhones have not, nor will they change this fact. Can social media sites become the digital version of Mathew Brady’s gallery? Not at this time. Facebook, and Instagram don’t have any incentive to change, and why should they when today’s Bradys are giving their stuff away for free?


(The new deal between Pinterest and Getty is Pinteresting. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed.)


That’s the end of my reiteration, now on to the new problem.


Dear Magazines and Newspapers,

We hate you.


Half of the People in the United States


Everyone who seeks an audience on the webs works very hard to get people to like them. That, and always pretending to be “sincerely, honestly or truly humbled” when someone drops a flattering on them are the first rules of survival in this online jungle.


(I am totally awesome and don’t care who knows it. I’m also not a jive-turkey, there’s no false-praise fix to be had here. This not only makes me an exception to these online rules of survival, but places me at constant risk. That’s cool. It’s a burden I’m willing to shoulder.)


Yet somehow, publishers think they can afford to deliver sub-par stuff, and constantly spit in the face and dismiss the concerns of 50% of their potential customers is stunning. Like me, they think they’re awesome, but unlike me they aren’t.


How do these publishers disrespect the American people?


It was known as early as three years ago that Obama Care would cause millions of people to lose their healthcare. It was known that people would not be able to keep their healthcare plans or their doctors. It was known that the average family would not save up to $2,500 a year on healthcare. It was known, by anyone who cared to pay attention that Obama Care would be a disaster.


Yet not one journalist bothered to question President Obama while he was on the campaign trail when he was misrepresenting Obama Care with each and every stump speech.


The failure of the press, both magazines and newspapers, to question the president is a disaster of epic proportions, but they don’t realize this because they live in an echo chamber where none of their beliefs are ever questions.


The watchdogs, the people tasked with scrutinizing the actions of our leaders, have become willing lapdogs. The only time they make any noise is when they’re acting as cheerleaders.


When President Clinton was impeached for lying, the Left excused it because it was a personal matter that didn’t affect the country. Now that President Obama has repeatedly lied (at this point I think it’s safe to call it that), about something that affects all of us, where are the calls for his impeachment?


The magazines and newspapers have fed us subpar stuff for years, but now they’ve hitched their wagon to a failing presidency and has aided them in abusing our trust. Do they really need to wonder why they’ve got financial problems?


The fact that Rick Stengel, Time Magazine’s former managing editor (and the guy who in my opinion is responsible for turning Time into a sad mockery of it’s former self) has followed Jay Carney, Time’s former Washington Bureau Chief, into serving this administration proves my point. You can only serve one master and it appears that striving to report the truth wasn’t it.


Our supposed watchdogs have failed us. They’re the enablers that offered no push-back on a Leftist agenda that has undermined the Democratic Party and allowed it to become something that your grandparents would not recognize or support.


In choosing ideology over honesty, the press have failed us and no longer deserve our fancy coffee’s worth of money.


Speaking of worthy stuff, my enhanced book on the first Gulf War is now available on iTunes. I’d say it cost about $150K in 1991 dollars to produce this content (if you include the Toyota Land Cruiser I put on my Amex), so it has at least a coffee’s worth of value to it today.


Also, I’d appreciate (or should I say, would be “greatly humbled by”) a kind review.


“Just Another War” by Exene Cervenka and Kenneth Jarecke

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.

Getting It on Paper


Here's a quick trailer for my new book.

Technically, it's a sports book. I photographed the last ten games of this football team's final season in a conference they'd been in for over 100 years. Lot's of history there, which is now gone forever.

Realistically, it's more of a documentary book.

When it was annouced that Nebraska would leave the Big 12, I went looking for historical images. Photographs that would show me what the stadium looked like, how the people dressed, something which would give me an idea of what it was like to witness or play the game back then.

Sadly, there wasn't much out there to find. Virtually nothing from before the 1960's, and not much from even twenty years ago.

So you could classify the book as a timecapsule too. That was my goal anyway. To capture this unique point in history that would become priceless to viewers in the future.

As a photographer, it wasn't an easy task. Still, I know how to make pictures (more or less), and I enjoyed every moment on the sidelines. That was the easy part.

Logistically, driving about 20,000 miles, flying, lodging, credentials, also plenty doable. As an agency photographer I learned early how to do this kind of stuff on my own, but more importantly do it cheaply.

Editing the 20,000 or so images (hmm... a picture for every mile), I enjoyed too. I think I did an OK job. I could have, and probably should have dropped this task on one of the great photoeditors I've worked with over the years, but that would have been a little much to ask.

The other seven or eight jobs, normally stuff a publisher would handle, were a tad tougher. I learned a lot, and got through it, though I'm nowhere near having mastered any of them.

Overall it's been a great learning experience and I think publishing the follow-up book on the Husker's first season in the Big Ten will teach me even more. Yeah, I shot the second book at the same time I was publishing the first one. Something I don't recommend to anyone!

It had to be a book, this body of work. The digital age hadn't helped my in my quest to find the images from twenty, fifty or a hundred years ago. I suppose the newspapers in Nebraska might get around to archiving their historical images on film, but that's a big and unlikely "might". So 5000 copies, printed on paper, in the hands of that many people, still seems like the best solution when it comes to documentary photography.

The book is available on Amazon here.

You can also get a copy directly from me.