Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bill Owens: not what I expected

Just received the latest issue of the ANP Quarterly in the mail, and was excited to see that it included an Ed Templeton interview with Bill Owens.

I remember seeing Owens' classic book Suburbia for the first time. Changed my life. My signed copy of Leisure is one of my all time favorite photo books. His work inspired my own in many ways for many years. Still does.

But it's a bummer when the people whose work you look to for inspiration are not very inspirational in person. This interview really bums me out -- he is cynical, jaded, and full of stereotypes and contradictions. Not quite what I expected, or what I aspire to be when I am 71, with 50 years of photography behind me.

The interview is not available online, but here are a few choice quotes:

"I've had a rich life, unlike a lot of people, who just kinda have a job."

"... all the things I've set out to do in life mostly have failed."

"What's $200 to me? That's my bar tab. I drink that much at a local bar, you know?"

"I've been photographing food for the last three or four years. I have 14 DVDs full of food images. I can't find a publisher..."

"I'm a photographer's photographer. I do this on my own, with my own money. I am not beholden to anyone when I'm out doing photographs. When you start working for a client, you've gotta do what the art director says or you're dead."

"I've been turned down by a lot of people because I'm too cynical. I just say 'I'm realistic'"

"...for a photographer coming through the system, there is no work. Why would you go to photography school? There's not a job for you out there."

"My time was a special time where I could work one day a week for a year. I shot Suburbia in 52 days....I took a year to plan it, a year to shoot it, and a year to get a publisher."

"I don't follow music. Those guys come and go. They abuse their wives. They take drugs. Screw them. I'm not interested in those guys who make millions and millions of dollars and have a drug habit."

"...You have fat assed people drinking a Coke. I think the average person in America drinks a Coke a day. You know, it's like 16 teaspoons of sugar. No wonder we have health problems."

"I'm 71 and very healthy. I don't eat very much meat now, but I do have gout, from the rich life of alcohol. Alcohol drinking will give you gout."

"I'm one of those rare people who have a sense of humor. My films, you laugh your ass off."

"And in the movie industry, I'm sure those guys are driven by some kind of demons, to get sex from beautiful women -- to live up to the expectations of their parents or their successful brother..."

"If you have a degree in art from a college, you'll just simply starve to death. There are no jobs for artists. Sorry. Go on Craigslist, put in there: 'I'm an artist. Give me a job.' See if anybody calls you. I don't think anybody will call you to come make a drawing."

"Looking back, I'm one of the few people out of my high school or college that is successful."

Are you, Bill?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Other Blogs I'm Reading Right Now (OBIRRN)

And still absolutely loving Google Reader.

2009 PDN PIX - Made it!

Happy Hanukkah! I had a few images chosen for the 2009 PDN PIX Contest, which I am pretty happy about, especially since they were both for jobs.

Although this contest is getting a little unclear -- PIX is supposed to be the best in digital imaging. Isn't pretty much everything digital these days? Not that everything is shot with a digital camera, but eventually it gets scanned. I also find it kind of strange that you can't yet look at the PIX winners online. I guess if you want to look at the "best in digital imaging" you'll have to do it on paper.

Anyway, here are some very poorly shot digital pics of the issue. I am sandwiched snugly between Jill "The Manipulator" Greenberg and Misha Gravenor, which is ok with me...

Friday, December 4, 2009


I'm not quite sure what to make of this Nikon Festival. They are going to give $100,000 to someone that makes a 2 minute video. This video, by Matt Hill is the first one to get any real attention in the photo community:

Is this video worthy of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS? For that matter, is any video?

I find it a bit obnoxious for Nikon to dangle this much money in front of people when there is so little work to go around. 5k, 10k, sure, but $100k? I don't get it.

Here is an idea for a film:

Find a single person that has dedicated their entire life to some sort of charity or philanthropy. Follow them with a video camera for one day, as they give away $100k of their own money in pursuit of their cause. Edit it to 140 seconds, done.

Or maybe they should just give it to some guy that rode a train to New York to drink beers and play pool?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Head Shot

There is an amazing gallery of images at The New Yorker, a body of work by Platon, shots of Politicians, with a brief commentary with each image, where he talks a bit about the shoot, about the subject. It's also a very well designed, intuitive way to look at work.

The pressure that comes with executing a shoot like this (over 5 days in NY) has got to be incredibly intense. It's minimal on the gear and lighting, but to stay focused for that long with this many powerful peeps takes a massive amount of creative fortitude and focus. Which is where Platon shines. At this level, portraiture is less about the science and more about the art. Specifically the art of connection.

If you haven't seen Platon talking about his portrait shoot with Putin, it's not to be missed. It's listed under the 2008 interviews from the World Press Photo site. Talk about intense! Most humans would crumble under these circumstances.

The cool thing about these shots, though, is that all you need to do them is a camera, (maybe) a light, a wall, and a subject. Anyone can produce a shoot like this, but the real challenge comes with finding interesting subjects, then connecting with those subjects in an interesting way.

I was back on Nadav's site (yes, again) recently and found a few images that fit into this formula. I'm looking for ways to shoot people that I can do anywhere, with or without an assistant, with a minimal amount of gear. It's probably the hardest thing to do in an interesting way, and a great challenge. The solutions are simple, elegant, and really, really hard to find. Check out these beauts from Mr. Kander:

Photography is EASY, right?