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

Old Cowboy #5

© 2013 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images


Is this a cliché? It certainly feels like one. Not because of anything I did (or failed to do). The light was what it was. The cowboy is who he is. So, what do you want me to do, not shoot it? Still, at this point it has about as much freshness to it as those Twinkies I've got stored in the root cellar.

Like the zombies I'm waiting on before digging into those golden, cream filled beauties, there's just no life left in this picture. That's the problem with clichés. By showing it you're telling the world you've got nothing new to add to the conversation and you probably kill your chance of getting a new client. Or do you?

I looked through a ton of professional photographer's websites today and my eyes feel like they've been clichéd right out (not that there's anything wrong with that, we've all got bills to pay). These are busy, successful folks, shooting big jobs for big clients, so what gives?

Listen, I've got no answers to this one. I'm just starting the conversation. Do you show the expected stuff to prove you can do that kind of work? Do you show your favorite work and hope the art buyers can make the visual leap? Do you show the stuff you love and would like to get paid to make?

These are the type of questions that always come up when it's time to buff up the website. Personally, I like to show what I like, but I'm not sure that's the wisest business plan.

Then there's the actually editing part too. When it comes to editing my own work, I'm my own worst enemy. Not fun and I always show too much.

At the end of the day, I've got no place on my soon-to-be-updated website for this image. That's where I'm at.

For the record, I use aPhotoFolio for my website needs. The best design, admin, and support by far. They give me one less thing to worry about.

As far as the above image goes, it was made on a first generation EOS 5D with Canon's 85 f1.2. The metadata tells me a stopped down to f1.8 (at 1/80th of a second) and it shows in the bokeh. No need to do that again (live and learn), as I'm not sure the extra 1/16th of an inch of depth of field was worth it.

Now, I think I read that somebody was going to start making Twinkies again... I know, I promised. No zombies, no Twinkies, but now might be a good time to "rotate" the stock.




Let's Be Professional About This


There’s a big difference between a professional plying their trade and an amateur. In this image I see evidence of two people (in particular) reacting to an unexpected attack, an atrocity, in a professional manner.

The first is the officer on the left, who unlike your average celluloid action star, has her finger in the proper position and not on the trigger of her weapon. The second, is photographer John Tlumacki of the Boston Globe who captured THE moment in a straightforward manner without any photo-gizmo trickery.

The image is a testament to experience and proper training (on both sides of the lens). It also puts the lie to the idea that social media, inexperienced witnesses and camera phones are a suitable replacement for a PFJ.

There’s a video of this moment as well. It was either made by an amateur or the absolute worst camera operator on the planet. The video fails on most levels. but most strikingly when it pans away from the scene so perfectly captured by Tlumacki and instead tilts skyward at smoke and broken windows. The video shows us little of what’s happening at street level (although one can catch a glimpse of Tlumacki helping to move some barricades). In doing so, the camera operator robbed the viewer, history and criminal investigators of a clear picture of what happened seconds after the blast.

(From a photojournalist’s perspective, it also robbed us of another example of how video of an iconic moment usually fails to have the same impact on the viewer as the still image, but that’s hardly important at this point.)

Some have criticized Sports Illustrated’s treatment of the image. Saying the pop-out figures gives it a comic book feel, but that rings hollow with me. In fact, I think it’s quite effective. Heroes (comic book or otherwise) are normal people who are thrust into extraordinary situations and react in heroic ways. In other words, cops aren’t any more super than anyone else, until they are.

That said, I salute the editors of S.I. for publishing this amazing image as well as they did. Perhaps it was because their tight deadline prevented them from talking themselves out of it. I don’t know. I don't care. They got it done, and that’s what counts.

With that, I'd like to make a quick comment about the first episode of a new reality show called “The Moment”, hosted by Superbowl winning quarterback Kurt Warner. Unlike the moment captured by Tlumacki, this show is scripted, exploitative (of both their subjects and audience), unbelievable, predictable and total removed from reality. Which explains why on TV it’s called a reality show. Its gimmick, err, premise, is that it gives people a second chance to live their dream.

In the first episode, Warner gives working mom Tracie Marcum a second chance at being a Sports Illustrated photographer. We're never told when she got her first chance, or why a gainfully employed person would throw away a perfectly good job.

Marcum seems nice enough. She’s obviously deeply loved by her family, a decent bunch, and is ready and willing to work, but a sports photographer she is not. The show puts her through a two week “boot camp” where photographer Lou Jones, also a decent sort and veteran of fourteen Olympic games, attempts to turn her into a sports photographer. The prize is a job at Sports Illustrated.

The show puts Marcum through a bunch of silly exercises designed to turn her into a sports shooting machine. The cruelest of which is when they send her to a skeet range to photograph clay pigeons exploding as they’re shot. I say cruel, because SPOILER ALERT Marcum’s mother committed suicide with a gun, so the sound of gun shots freaks the poor woman out. Yeah, no manipulation here. The producers of the show didn’t put Marcum through this for some canned drama, the “exploding clay pigeon test” is one every sports photographer has to pass.

Okay, so it’s all in good fun. We all know nothing sells soap like a working mom’s tears.

As a viewer, I expected Marcum would earn herself a day rate or two for her trouble. Maybe shoot a golf tournament or something for the magazine. That’s when things got weird.

At the end of the show, Marcum heads to New York to meet with the director of photography and a highly acclaimed Sports Illustrated photographer who will look at her work and decide whether she’s earned herself a “position” at the magazine or not.

As Keanu would say, “Whoa.” Position? I thought we were talking “job”, not position.

To make matters stranger not to mention ironic, since the episode was shot, both the DOP, and the staff photographer (who judged her work) are no longer with the magazine (along with several other GREAT photographers).

Sure enough, SPOILER ALERT, Marcum wins a position at the magazine. On one hand, I have to say, “good for you girl," but on the other I’m wearing my “I can’t believe what I just saw” face (and yes, I usually wear that face on my hand).

As this episode was being shot, the magazine’s hierarchy, the same people that knew they were going to fire a bunch of people whose talents the magazine was built on, thought it was a good idea to send the message to America that anyone, given a two week training course, could be a Sports Illustrated photographer.

Is that what you want your subscribers to think? There’s nothing special here, nothing to see, move along. That given a chance (first or second) by Kurt Warner you too could be a Sports Illustrated photographer.

George Plimpton notwithstanding, can you think of a professional sports franchise that would attempt to sell season tickets with this premise?

Whether it’s our sports or the people shooting them, paying customers want the best. They don’t want to see their overweight neighbor playing for the Miami Heat. They want to see LeBron. Just like they don’t want to sit through a three hour slideshow of their neighbor’s eco-holiday, unless they happen to live next door to Sebastiao Salgado.

I know I’ve said this in a slightly roundabout way, but professionalism is important. Not only in important matters, like national security, police officers and other first responders, but also when it comes to the our press.

As a photographer, a journalist, and a consumer of news, I’m tired of the mediocre spirit that has infected our publications today.

We don’t need another overly clever youngster, running around in tiny jeans, thinking the story is about them while attempting to make self-relevant snaps with their iPhone. Can’t you just picture it? A blood stained sidewalk, maybe a tattered piece of red, white and blue bunting, a cross processing filter...

What we need is some old school PFJ’s that know how to capture a moment in a way that is relevant and insightful, but also true. Yeah, I said it. Images can be true. Regardless of what your goateed, sports coat with faux leather patches on the elbows wearing, college professor told you.

What we want (and by "we" I'm probably only talking about me), what editors should be trying to deliver (and what we got for a brief moment this week) is some photojournalism which harkens back to the Boston Globe of the eighties. This is what we need and anyone who thinks otherwise deserves to have Stan Grossfeld's non-ironic Chuck Taylors shoved right up their arse.