Dec 12, 2012

Branford Marsalis playing at the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle, 1999

Earshot Jazz is a Seattle based nonprofit music, arts and service organization formed in 1984 to support jazz in the community.  Earshot Jazz publishes a monthly newsletter, presents creative music, produces educational programs, assists jazz artists, and networks with the  international jazz community.  Earshot has established an international reputation for the quality of its programming and services while becoming an integral part of Seattle’s vibrant cultural scene. Early in the 1990s, Earshot Jazz was recognized as one of 20 primary sites in the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest National Jazz Network. Beginning in March 2000, they joined 11 other key organizations in the US to comprise JazzNet, a significant jazz support initiative of the Doris Duke Charitable Fund. Earshot Jazz is also one of the founding member organizations of the Western Jazz Presenters Network.

In 1999, I was still living in Seattle and had the opportunity to shoot for Earshot. You can see more of my photos from this jazz festival on my main photography site on the Seattle Jazz page.  This collection of black and white photographs was taken in 1999 during the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle, Washington and include Branford Marsalis and Chick Corea. You can find more of my international street photography on the main page.


Dec 07, 2012

The 2012 budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was $146M.   Although this sounds like a lot, as a point of reference, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invests over $30.9B annually.  I’m not trying to pit science against art (in many ways, I believe they are closely related), but what’s clear is that art and photography are expected to earn their keep through other means.

Sadly, revenue opportunities for photographers in the current market are almost absent.  Stock photography, a mainstay for most photographers, is flooded by microstock agencies selling images for pennies. Even traditional news agencies that have a consistent need for photography have scaled back.  The world of art used to have strong relationships between patrons (the financial backers) and artists.  However, these types of relationships have essentially disappeared, and only more so as the economy continually suffers.

So, what do you do if you want to earn a living as a photographer?

Crowdfunding, for those that don’t know, allows people to donate money to projects with the expectation of getting some prize at the end of it.  For example, if you’re a band making an album with money you raised on Kickstarter, you may give your donors a free CD and/or tickets to one of your concerts.  If you’re a filmmaker, you may give tickets to your opening night and a listing in the credits.  If you’re a photographer, you may give them a print or a free workshop.  Crowdfunding is ideal for the craftsman.  If you make an original and high quality product, there is a built in audience that will listen.  Although it’s unlikely that crowdfunding will restore professional photography to it’s original, pre-internet glory, it certainly provides a mechanism to finance fine art photography projects that would otherwise go unfunded.

Although, I have started companies and raised capital, I’ve never tried to raise money through crowdfunding.  So, take my advice below with a grain of salt.  However, I have watched the space closely and I think one big mistake people make is not treating their projects like a business.

1.  Define your market. Who is it that would like to buy your photographs?  If you do street photography, get your listing posted on street photography blogs.  If you do nature photography, think about people that are interested in conservancy.  Asking your Facebook friends to pitch in is not enough.  Got directly to the people who have a vested interest in what you do.

2.  You are essentially selling pre-ordered products – what is your customer buying? Whether this is a single photograph, photo book, or mention on a blog, all these things have value to the donors.  Don’t go into this thinking that people will “give” you money because they pity the poor starving artist.  At the end of the day, provide a good product to your donors.  By investing in your vision, they’ve earned it.

3.  Think deeply about what it costs you to make those images. What is the cost of travel? Resources like printing paper?  But, more importantly, how much time are you going to spend on this project? Will you be able to make a living on the money you raise?  Will you miss work to get the project done?  That’s lost income. Include it.  Dare I say it, create a budget?

4.  Clearly define how you’ll get this done. Include a timeline, the locations you’ll shoot, the content of those images.  Not only will this help you plan, this will give your “customers” a sense of what they’ll see in the end.

5.  Sell yourself. Ultimately, they are investing in you.  Make it clear why you are THE photographer to invest in.

Here are a couple of examples of great projects that are currently looking for funding:

Alex Coghe – Italy: The Crisis Project

Alex Coghe has spent the last several years living and creating photographs on the streets of Mexico City.  Originally from Italy, he has been watching, from afar, the economic crisis wreek havoc on the world he knows back home.  Now he wants to return to Italy and document, through photography, the transformation that is happening on the streets of his country.  See more about the project here.


95 Lives: A Documentary Film about Helen Levitt

Before street photographers took Manhattan by storm, there was Helen Levitt. An artistic pioneer and the ultimate photographer’s photographer, Levitt lived as a total enigma, determined to dodge the public eye in favor of what she loved most: poker, baseball, and, above all, capturing the city at play. 95 Lives searches for the many, colorful lives of this female pioneer and the formidable contributions she made to 20th century art and to the city that shaped her incredible body of work: New York. See more about the project here.

Dec 04, 2012

One of the Ishihara plates used to test for color blindness. What number do you see?

Color, as a perceptual experience, does not exist in the outside world.  Leaves are not intrinsically green, the sky is not blue, and strawberries are not red.  The phenomenon of color is generated inside your head.  It is an illusion created by the interaction of 50 billion neurons, starting at the back of your eyes and ends in an elaborate and precisely timed network of activity distributed broadly across the brain.  Color manifests from the trillions of computations that happen between neurons and this information allows you to presume that apples, generally speaking, are indeed red.  Luckily, most humans are made up of very similar DNA and proteins (and, subsequently, our brains behave about the same way) so that we can agree on the basic components of what we see.

The light units that allow us to see are called photons, described in terms of energy and wavelength.  Photons from some light source (e.g., the sun, street lamp) hit some object in the real world, such as a leaf, and the object absorbs some of the photons and reflects others.  What we see is the reflected light. So, depending on the color temperature of the light source, the color of the object can change. This is precisely why we need to apply color correction on most of our photographs. Our brains use a number of different methods to apply ‘color correction’ including our memories of those objects (“That wall was yellow earlier today so I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be yellow this evening!”).  However, photographic film and digital sensors have no such brains, so it’s left up to us to sort out the what the real color should be.

Although neuroscience has made significant progress in our understanding of visual perception, how our brains create color perception is still very much a mystery.  Currently, color vision is best explained by understanding how individual cells in the brain respond to light, but the real magic comes from the communication between cells. Keep in mind that the eye and brain is not like a camera sensor – it doesn’t just simply absorb light and give an output.  Neurons from your hippocampus tell these cells what things looked like before, Wernicke’s area tells you the name of the object, and auditory cortex tells you the sound it makes (if looks like a lion, and roars like a lion, is it a lion?  Maybe not if it’s green!).  All of these different brain areas contribute to our visual perception, not just our eyes and visual cortex.  Your mood influences the way your see things.  Even the “value” of an object can change how your visual system responds, even at a very basic level.  So, the next time you’re out making photographs, keep in mind that you are indeed influencing the image.  You are not capturing an image.  You are creating it.

Parts of this particular blog post has been re-digested from an article written by Peter Gouras, an ophthalmologist at Columbia University.  The original and more detailed article can be found at Webvision.