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Make New Friends and Keep the Old


By Kay Kenny

 

For a print article on pages 20-21 of the ASMP Bulletin’s Winter 2008 issue, Kay Kenny interviewed five long-time ASMP members who have benefited from long and flourishing careers in different specialty areas, from advertising to fashion to editorial to documentary work. Here, we provide expanded Q&A’s with these ASMP legends, for further insights about their survival skills in the face of our rapidly changing industry.

 

Barbara Bordnick — New York, NY

Joined ASMP in 1972. National board member: 1975-82. National President: 1979-80. Life Member status for Distinguished Service: 2003.

 

Kay Kenney: You mentioned in an interview that your first photo class was at Pratt; a class that was open to students in all disciplines. There were no photo majors then. There was only a photography course, no Photography Department. Other than trade schools, at that time, there were no photography schools. After receiving your BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, you moved to Europe with your husband and began to expand on your photo experience there, bolstered by the opportunity of seeing your work published. Your interest in photography seems to have evolved without a plan to have a career in photography or at least, without the realization of the barriers facing women in the field at that time. Nevertheless, you faced the challenge of trying to become an assistant, or gal Friday, in the field of fashion photography that was dominated by men. You succeeded by building your own studio, putting together your portfolio and tenaciously beating at the Harpers Bazaar art directors’ door. You succeeded without the mentorship that so many of your male counterpoints enjoyed. How do you see this process of entering the photography marketplace changing for young women today?

 

Barbara Bordnick: Today, with so many of the successful photographers having come out of photo schools, the first community they build is with their fellow students and instructors, which affords them an accessibility to the photographic community that I never had. It will still take tenacity and perseverance to succeed, and I fear that it remains more difficult for women to get assisting jobs than for men, so women will have to network even harder to get into the studios. There is no doubt in my mind that the way to get into commercial photography, especially fashion, is to ASSIST. There is no substitute for working in a studio and full time is infinitely better than freelance for beginners. Nothing has changed as far as that is concerned. A photographer, man or woman, who is just getting started needs to get a job in a photo studio in order to be exposed to the machinations, technical aspects, production, creative process, and, perhaps most importantly, the business of photography. It’s as an assistant working in a studio that one meets and makes connections with the models, hair and makeup artists, stylists, editors, clients, art directors, and production people that they will need to build their own portfolios. I really don’t believe there is a shortcut to that.

 

Apart from that experience, joining a professional organization will strengthen the network a young photographer has.

 

KK: Photography courses are everywhere today and schools are churning out BFAs & MFAs by the thousands. As a popular lecturer and a teacher at Parsons School of Design, you’ve noticed that the majority of students in photo classes are increasingly female. Yet when invited to speak, most faculty in the schools you visit are male. Do you find that young women today are eager for your mentorship or do you think the competition among them as classmates and recent graduates changes their perspective?

 

BB: I am always surprised at the passionate reaction I get from the young women in the audience when I lecture. They are so grateful for the “inspiration” that they get from my presentation. I know a lot of it has to do with the fact that I came from such an unpredictable beginning, convincing them that if I could do it, with talent so can they — which is true. Interestingly, I don’t think that women students are any less technically skilled than the men; I think that they just feel guiltier about it if they are. In technical skills my students are probably pretty evenly divided among the men and women.

 

KK: You’ve talked about your recent transition to digital photography and that the advantage of being able to print your own work added to the magic. You describe your color palette as always being “to the left or the right of a ‘real’ color,” never primary color. You seem to believe that there is a gender difference in the way women use color and grain in their imagery. Do you think that the number of women now working the filed of fashion and product photography have changed the look of magazine photography?

 

BB: I was referring to the curious attraction of grainy film and softness in the early fashion photography of Sarah Moon, Deborah Turbeville, Joyce Tennesen, Sheila Metzner, as well as mine. I don’t think that the women have changed the look of magazine photography, but I do think that when one of those women’s works appeared, it was different from most of what the men were doing

 

KK: You described yourself as the “very controversial first woman president” of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) in 1977. You are now a lifetime member of the ASMP. You were also a three term President of the Advertising Photographers of America (APA). From that perspective, what remarkable changes do you see in media and advertising that these organizations address today?

 

BB: I was only controversial because I was the first — I understood both the editorial and the commercial photographers’ concerns because I functioned in both worlds as a fashion photographer. As we are seeing in the US presidential race, it’s difficult for people to get used to a woman doing what they’ve only seen (and heard) men do.

 

The problems that exist today are the same ones that have always existed. The competition is fierce and, while the marketplace isn’t getting any larger, the talent pool is. Commercial photographers are now also competing with fine art photographers for commercial work in the never-ending quest by art buyers and art directors for something new. I think that because the young photographers have the communities they’ve built in school, they might feel they don’t need a professional organization as much. But so many of the protections and practices that they will benefit from came from the hard work of the professional organizations like the ASMP and APA.

 

Matt Herron — San Rafael, CA

Joined ASMP in 1964. Founded New Orleans chapter: 1966. President of the San Francisco chapter: 1988-90. National board member: 1990-2002, National President: 1993-95. Chairman, International Committee: During the late 1990’s Herron made presentations about the ASMP in Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, leading to alliances with many other international photography associations.

 

Kay Kenney: Beginning with the civil rights movement in the sixties, your interest in documentary photography spans decades of social, environmental and animal-welfare issues, in which you used images to effect change. How did you prioritize those issues and how do you know when it was time to move on?

 

Matt Heron: Basically, I followed my passions, and used my photography in their service. I was a peace activist during the early Sixties. I was organizing mass demonstrations in Philadelphia and not accomplishing much of anything. At the same time the South was erupting in lunch counter demonstrations, Freedom Rides, and the like. It became clear to my wife, Jeannine, and myself that if we wanted to be relevant, we should lend our support to the civil rights revolution.

 

At the time I was beginning to get my foot in the door of magazine photojournalism. I’d had a picture published in LIFE, and an eight-page story in Look about a new treatment for brain-damaged children. The story got the largest reader response of any story in Look’s history, and I knew the names of children whose lives had been saved because their parents happened to read that story. It hooked me on magazine photojournalism. With all its frustrations, I realized it was a powerful way to reach millions of people and occasionally change a few lives.

 

So we moved to Mississippi with the idea of working with the civil rights movement, and at the same time sending story ideas about civil rights back to editors I knew in New York. I was the only photojournalist who had one foot in the movement and one in the news profession. I had to be careful not to let them interfere with one another. When something blew up, I’d get a call and an assignment, but I also worked on stories that were my own suggestions. And I worked closely with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi — made pictures that they used, and trained some of their photographers.

 

KK: You went even further with the Civil Right Movement photo documentation when you organized six other photographers into the Southern Documentary Project (SDP), which seems to have evolved into the TakeStock Stock Agency.

 

MH: My interest in documentary photography predated my interest in civil rights. In the mid-fifties I met Dorothea Lange a couple of times. She became a powerful influence — really changed the direction of my work. Looking at her Farm Security photographs, I realized for the first time what a powerful tool photography could be for social change. I decided that was where I wanted to go, and I made one failed attempt to start a documentary project.

 

In the spring of 1964, SNCC was preparing to bring a thousand college students into the state to teach in Freedom Schools and work on voter registration. It was a huge undertaking, an audacious attempt to break the back of segregation in Mississippi in one summer. I began thinking about what I could do to support this effort, and it occurred to me that this would be a good time to start that documentary project. Maybe I could field a team of photographers to document social change during the summer and afterward. It was a struggle to get it organized and funded in just a few months, but The Southern Documentary Project did get started with Dorothea as my adviser and LIFE and Black Star Agency as my major supporters. I’m currently writing a book about the experience. But the SDP did not lead directly to Take Stock. That came later.

 

In the fall of 1964 we moved to New Orleans; we didn’t want to put our children in Mississippi schools, and the movement was beginning to separate, black from white. We were both back in Mississippi the next summer. Jeannine was a founder of the Child Development Group of Mississippi, the first and the largest Head Start program in the country.

 

I continued photographing civil rights through the Sixties, but also began working with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison on his investigation of the Kennedy assassination. During the six years we lived in New Orleans, I joined the ASMP and founded the New Orleans chapter.

 

In 1970 we took our children out of school and sailed from New Orleans to the west coast of Africa, an 18-month voyage that took us down the coast of Africa from Mauritania to Ghana. I photographed a whale hunt in the Azores during that voyage, and was powerfully affected by the sight of sperm whales gathering together to support a harpooned member of their pod. It seemed a natural thing a few years later to volunteer with Greenpeace when I learned of their plans to put their bodies between Russian harpoons and whales.

 

I joined the first two Greenpeace anti-whaling expeditions, first as skipper/photographer aboard a 38-foot double-ended sailboat, and the following year as bridge officer, navigator, and photographer on the James Bay, a 150-foot decommissioned Canadian minesweeper. We had two encounters with the Russian whaling fleet, and a few years later the International Whaling Commission banned all whaling except so-called “scientific” whaling.

 

Two years later I was first mate on a 150-foot North Sea fishing trawler that we took into the ice floes of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in an attempt to stop the harp seal hunt. Six of us crossed the ice at midnight in a full gale, and were arrested at dawn by Mounties as the group was marking baby harp seals with fluorescent dye to destroy the commercial value of their pelts. I was shooting for Geo, but the Mounties took all my film. The next spring nobody would buy harp seal pelts at the International Fur Fair in Frankfurt.

 

KK: In addition to the photography you also wrote for magazines, how did that come about?

 

MH: After I returned from the African voyage, all my major photography clients were dead — LIFE, Look, The Saturday Evening Post — and I faced the same crisis that other photojournalists of that era faced: It was a great ride, but now that it was gone, where do you move? A lot of my colleagues went into corporate work or film, but after a lot of soul searching I decided my destiny continued to lie with print.

 

That direct connection with the general reader was too important to me to pass up, and there were still issues of public interest that I wanted to address. I continued to work with Stern and other European magazines, but I also began to retrain myself as a writer. I read a lot of John McPhee, whom I greatly admire, and I went through the same process of examination that I had used to train myself as a photojournalist.

 

I analyzed McPhee in detail. How did he make transitions from one subject to the next? How was he able to compress a character description into a few sentences? Most important, what did he leave out, giving only hints for the reader to fill in for him or herself?

 

I wrote an article for Smithsonian on the first Greenpeace anti-whaling voyage that got the greatest reader response of any article in their history. And it put Greenpeace on the map — the money started to pour in and, from then on, they were able to buy or lease really big vessels and put their program into high gear.

 

I wrote for Smithsonian and other magazines for about ten years, mostly shooting and writing the stories myself, sometimes working just as a photographer with another writer. When assignments were thin, as they sometimes were, I worked as a structural welder with a friend who built apartment houses in San Francisco. Writing was a lot of fun, but I must say it is a really hard way to earn a living, and it was a great relief, particularly to my wife, when I made the transition to running a stock agency.

 

KK: Your agency, Take Stock, is currently the major repository of Civil Rights and Farm Workers Union images as represented by five photographers, including George Ballis, Bob Fitch and Maria Varela. As the founder and director of the agency, have you considered expanding the number of photographers and issues that you represent?

 

MH: I am currently adding photographers when their work fits the narrow focus of my agency, and I have plans to expand the files in closely related fields, but I have no desire to become a more generalized stock agency. I am working with pictures I love and photographers I respect, and because my files are unique I do not have to compete with the likes of Corbis and Getty. I truly lead a charmed life. I put considerable effort into writing detailed captions and historical background for the pictures because I consider the Web site not only a commercial enterprise, but also an historical resource for teachers, students, and researchers. It’s important to keep the knowledge and understanding of those times alive.

 

KK: In organizing the Take Stock agency, did you incorporate as an LLC or not-for-profit with the other photographers represented, or are you a private agent for them and/or their estates?

 

MH: I’m an old-fashioned private agent. I use the ASMP stock contract and I pay old-fashioned royalties: 50/50.

 

KK: Where does the major demand for Take Stock photos come from and is there a sliding scale depending on usage?

 

MH: My clients are book and textbook publishers, filmmakers, web designers, museums, private collectors, teachers, educational institutions, and an increasing assortment of non-standard users attracted by the Web site. My licenses are individual and are strictly based on usage. I will occasionally discount for a cause I consider worthwhile. Civil rights veterans get their pictures at cost.

 

KK: Are there plans to archive this important collection in a museum such as the Smithsonian?

 

MH: Don’t I wish! I’ve been negotiating with several major institutions but so far nothing has gelled. My preference would be for a national archive that collected the photographs of all the major civil rights photographers; such deals are tough to consummate. I keep trying.

 

KK: Are you aware that the name www.takestockphoto.com is being used by a Canadian photographer? Do you have any plans to separate your site, www.takestockphotos.com from his in the search engines?

 

MH: Take Stock is trademarked in the US, but not in Canada. I’ve corresponded with a Canadian agency using the name “Take Stock.” I don’t see a conflict with them, and we leave each other alone. As long as my agency comes up first on Google (it does), I’m happy. And my clients don’t seem to have trouble finding me.

 

KK: Are there any particular issues that you would like to be documenting today, to archive for tomorrow?

 

MH: There’s a world of documentary work out there waiting to be done. Unfortunately, the world does not honor this work and nobody pays for it. I support a foundation that gives grants to documentary photographers world wide, but I’m no longer an active documentary photographer. I’m 76; I run my business, shoot private projects, ski and fly sailplanes in competition. That’s enough for me.

 

Lou Jacobs Jr. — Los Angeles, CA

Joined ASMP in 1950. President, Los Angeles chapter: 1957. National President: 1984.

 

Kay Kenney: As a product of photojournalism schools (Art Center College of Design in LA and teacher at the Brooks Institute, UCLA and the CaI State extensions), you’ve had an unusually checkerboard career describing yourself as a designer/painter turned photographer/writer. You’ve published over 30 how-to photography books, written and illustrated 15 books for children, shot stock photos, and created and shot stories for picture magazines and behind the scenes movie events. Is there a pervasive pattern that you see in your career that keeps your work evolving into new and fresh variations?

 

Lou Jacobs: Industrial design and easel painting became enlightening platforms for photography. Composition is design with aesthetic variations in two dimensions. I’ve often advised students to study basic design to augment capturing pictures more skillfully. I started writing how-to magazine stories and books to augment income and find more photography markets. When my younger son could not find a simple library book on light aircraft I wrote one and illustrated it with photographs. More books for young readers followed, on the Watts Towers, jumbo jets, Pioneer 2 and more. A NYC editor saw a story I wrote for Camera 35 and asked me to write a basic darkroom book. It evolved into many more books about other intriguing subjects. Teaching in books segued into teaching photojournalism at Brooks, UCLA and Cal State Extensions. My whole professional career has been one long and happy segue.

 

KK: You began as a photojournalist and moved to a view camera. Edward Weston was your mentor. Did you eventually abandon the large format camera?

 

LJ: I learned view camera techniques at Art Center and visited Edward Weston while I was a student because I admired his work. He didn’t mentor me, his photography did. I now have a fine collection of my own view camera work, outdoor subjects, and a series of artists-in-their-studio environmental portraits. These are among my best work, plus dozens of years of magazine pictures of which some shots stand out.

 

KK: One of your recent how-to photography books is How to Start and Operate a Digital Portrait Photography Studio (Amherst Media). Have you become proficient in Adobe Photoshop and has it brought you back to your roots as a designer/painter?

 

LJ: I was happy shooting slides for too long, but when I bought my first digital SLR I was delighted. Shooting is more diversified and fun, workflow is a pain so I have a helper. I’ve been making abstract collages and constructions in wood for so long that experimenting with Photoshop has not grabbed me, but I love what others do. When I have more time away from work, I think I’ll delve into the surreal that Photoshop makes possible.

 

Sean Kernan - Stony Creek, CT

Joined ASMP in 1972. Keynote Speaker: ASMP Strictly Business 2

 

Kay Kenney: As an educator and photographer you have always emphasized the quality of surprise in creating the photographic image. You’ve used some fairly innovative, if not theatrical, approaches to teaching students the path to re-invention. How did you come by these techniques?

 

Sean Kernan: They came out of my background in theater. When I was first asked to teach photography, I’d never studied it, so I used what I knew, which was the surprise and ready-for-anything frame of mind that theater work drew on. Which turned out to be just the attitude of readiness and awareness that photographers need. Theater games and other exercises let students experience this. I was put in charge of the advanced classes, and when I asked the senior teacher why he took the beginning classes, he said, “Because the answers are easier.” Fortunately I liked getting at the harder answers.

 

KK: You are one of the keynote speakers for the ASMP’s Strictly Business Conference this year. How do you motivate commercial photographers, who are often trapped in a style that sells well, to risk all and move into pioneer territory?

 

SK: It is really, really hard. Success is like legal heroin. It is hard to give it up, even when you want to. You need to set aside what works and seek out uncertainty and difficulty. Sound like fun? It helps to think of yourself as newly born. The way you learned and grew from day one is exactly the way that an artist works. So I urge commercial photographers to leave the room and walk back in as someone else.

 

KK: How has this worked for you in your commercial work? In your fine arts work?

 

SK: The short answer is that my own work has infiltrated my commercial work for the better. Unfortunately, my commercial work has infected my “fine art” work too. I’d like to pull them farther apart.

 

KK: How much of this quality of surprise is technically based and how much comes from some inner-eye source that is technically challenged?

 

SK: I’m not sure that technical has anything to do with it. I certainly had very little technical ability when my first good pictures started turning up on my film. And they were good because they were alive, not because they were well-made in any way. And they were alive because I was at that moment, and I happened to take a picture just then. So reviving your photography is a matter of reviving your liveliness. And you do that for the same reason that most of us go to the dentist, which is that the pain of not going gets pressing enough.

 

Pete Turner — Wainscott, NY

Joined ASMP in 1959. ASMP Outstanding Achievement Award in 1981.

 

Kay Kenney: From the very start of your career, you were involved with color, beginning with your on-the-job training making color prints at the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island City. Color was a fugitive thing in those days and dye transfer too complicated for real experimentation. You seemed to have overcome those obstacles and forged on, creating stunning color images like “The Giraffe” from material that most photographers would have passed by. You seemed obsessed with the idea of making color work as a fine art when the rest of the photographic world was spurning it. What drove you to these innovative extremes?

 

Pete Turner: I loved Black & White but I was seduced by color in the late Fifties. Yet, I could not accept it as it came out of the box. Why did we have to accept color from Kodachrome? It didn’t work for me! I learned something from that on-the-job training, making prints using type C color: you could change the colors by filtration from the enlarger.

 

Another problem I had was that, in sending out chromes to magazine printers and editors, they would come back almost destroyed. So I basically built a machine based on an optical printer that could duplicate chromes like the enlarger: modify color, increase saturation and change the hue. It was kind of pre-computer Photoshop. This was a big jump from the limitation of chromes. “The Giraffe” is a good example. It was a great image but it was washed out. By changing the colors and saturating them I created something exciting. To preserve my images in those early color days, I made dye transfers. When Cibachrome came along I never liked it, the surface was too glossy.

 

KK: Your saturated color palette caught the eye of major commercial accounts and even there you created a complicated method with slide projectors to create overlays and grids and project your work for the client long before computer software was available. Now that it is available, are you combining the old methods with the new or are you strictly digital these days?

 

PT: Today we would call those overlays “layers,” as in Photoshop, because that is what they were. I actually had as many as 17 projectors in my studio projecting different images. I made a composite of the chromes with a grid and this guide was used to load the images into a souped up version of the optical printer that I had invented earlier for the slide duplication. I then created a new Kodachrome image with all these enhanced and multiplied images. This method of working gave me a lot of creative latitude to work with multiple images and it gave the client an opportunity to visualize the possibilities. One of my clients, Steven Spielberg, came to my studio [for Close Encounters of the Third Kind] and gave me carte blanche to create the still images after viewing my work methods.

 

KK: Early on in your career, you had an exhibit at the George Eastman House. Just recently, your work was exhibited again, this time enlisting the use of the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 and printing the 17”x22” images on Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper. The George Eastman House, the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the world’s oldest film archives, is now the repository of your life’s work. Unlike the early color prints, these inkjet prints should stand the test of time. Many of your earlier works were reprinted for the show. Going back to the Eastman House must have been like déjà vu. This time, however, the work is all Epson products.

 

PT: Eastman House purchased one my earliest works, “Rolling Ball,” for a book by Nathan Lyons. It’s a wonderful thing to have your work in a major photographic museum like George Eastman House, especially a leader in photograph conservation and film preservation; so, I’ve gifted many prints to them. I’ve been using Epson products for a long time. I’m one of their Digital Pros and they’ve asked me to beta test things. It’s a good relationship. I like their stuff! I’m also a Nikon guy who loves the new D3!

 

KK: You’ve published a number of books, including books featuring your travels in Africa, such as African Journey (2001, Graphis) that includes images from your early odyssey through Africa commissioned by Airstream Trailers. Your most recent book, The Color of Jazz (Rizzoli 2006), harkens back to your years of doing album covers and other promo material for Jazz musicians. Your father was also a musician and you seem to approach photographing jazz in a uniquely abstract way. Do you really hear the music in color?

 

PT: Those album covers had very little to do with the music but everything to do with the headlines. I never got to hear the music, it was always being mixed. Creed Taylor, for instance, didn’t want a picture of a wave, although that was the name of his album, so I brought him The Giraffe. He was bowled over. “That’s exactly what I want,” he said, and it was a big hit!