In Honor of
Donna Ferrato & Lucas Samaras
When I changed the theme of this blog to a zine format the spacing and layout of all the photos changed. I don’t have the time to go back and fix thousands of photos in hundreds of posts…but I’m sure you will still get the message.
On a photo forum someone asked if it is easier for the rich photog compared to the poor photog.
Money is stored energy, so whenever you have a chance to build up your energy…do it. But $ does not buy a good eye or skill. (Although you can buy an assistant with skills!) I see lots of rich people buying Leica’s that shoot shit for photos. So this post is prefaced on ‘all things being equal’ more so than ‘just throwing more $$’ at a photog.
If your thinking that you can only produce if you have the best gear, then you are sadly mistaken. It is the photog and not the cam that decides when to press the button.
Over at the Leica forum I read about a camera fondler that wanted to buy the screenless Leica limited edition for $20,000. He swore the screen was the foundation of his problems…a distraction. This is a common delusion that fondlers foster to distract them from the real issues that are disturbing them. As long as they keep a spark of hope the problem lies outside of them they can keep going. So they must always be looking at the next ray of hope that will fix them…and it usually involves buying something.
This Leica fondler felt if he could omly get back to basics…then he could produce masterpieces. The $7,000 M240 Leica was no good, only the $20,000 Leica, sans screen, would do. I suggested he put gaffers tape over the screen of his M240 and save $13,000, but that was scoffed at.
Well, he had more $ than brains. The truth is he could not produce in film days nor can he produce with or without a screen in digital days. The screen was not his problem, he was the problem. Here is a case where just throwing $ at photography does not do anything…other than buy you another camera to fondle!
If you think I am a little tough on the fondlers, understand this. The fondlers have been tough on me to start with.
As such, I see no reason in pulling punches. My job is to write about truth. It is not to write about fantasy, camera masturbation and bullshit. That is a job for the photo forums and rumor mills. If I did otherwise I would be doing you a disservice.
When W. Eugene Smith died he had $18 in the bank. Money was always an issue for him, like in…just trying to get by. Still, he produced many iconic shots. As long as he had a cam and some film he was in biz.
A few years ago I was planning to shoot at one of Mary Ellen Mark’s old spots – The Twins Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio. Luckily for me I checked with them ahead of time before driving a couple states over to shoot it. They told me I needed to pay a $1200 freelance credential fee to take photos there. I told them I was not using the pix commercially and just shooting for my own use. They said it didn’t matter…$1200 or you get thrown out. So, money stopped that project in its tracks.
Look at MEM’s crew for her Twins project.
She was able to scout out the project years ahead of time and took 2 years to shoot it. She drove down there with 2 vans, a huge crew and loads of equipment. Just feeding everyone is a monster bill, let alone wages and other expenses.
Compare that to one of my projects.
I could afford to spend 5 days to shoot it. (I was there 9 days. I lost 2 days in travel, used 2 days for my 180 project and had 5 days left to shoot De Wallen. In reality I produced De Wallen with only 4 1/2 days of shooting time as I was rained out for half a day.) I had basically no cooperation from anyone, no fixer, no $ other than paying a few gals for couple minutes of shoot time. The vast majority of the work was candid.
The reason I split that trip into 2 project parts is nowadays you cannot be sure if you can place a project, even for free. So, I spread the financial risk over a couple of projects. If I had room to take my IR flash gear I would have shot for a 3rd project, (Piercing Darkness) on that trip as well.
Everything I take for gear has to be carried on my back when I travel. I can’t leave it in my room for fear of theft, nor can I afford to travel with an assistant to carry some of it. Whatever fits in one backpack is my kit that is married to me for the duration…even when I go food shopping.
Having insurance wont help me. What good does it do me if I have my gear is stolen and the trip is ruined? Now I go back home to file a claim, fight it out with the insurance company, have to spend time to re-buy all my gear. Then have to rebook the trip and do all that uncomfortable travel to get back to first base to re-start shooting the project.
Imagine what I could have done if I had deep pockets and could have spent 3 weeks shooting De Wallen. Some photogs have been lucky to have been able to devote a year to similar projects. But, the hallmark of the skilled doc photog is that they produce with what time constraints and problems they find themselves in. That is what I did…I produced a landmark book in 4-1/2 days of shooting time.
I travel in the off season. I stay at cheap hotels. I cook on a hot plate, eat cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, apples and bananas in my room. On the flight to Europe I was packed like sushi. The rich photog could have traveled first class, ate at nice restaurants and took a break to get a massage every few days. The only breaks I got was to sit on a canal handrail to rest my feet.
That is always the way I have worked, so it is nothing new to me. I always have to work on a strict budget. Of course, being rich is all relative. Being able to spend $3000 on a trip to shoot a project in Europe may seem rich to the photog that does not have enough to pay for a bus ticket to the next town. Now, the De Wallen project was funded from a small inheritance I received when my mom died otherwise I could not afford it.
Recently I had spent a few days in Manhattan shooting for 7 book projects. Actually I stayed at a campsite in Jersey City and took the transport. That was all I could afford and it was just barely affordable at that.
It was $65 a day to sleep in your vehicle or $55 a day to sleep in a tent. (You supply the tent.) I thought about taking the bus, but the hotel killed the deal. The bus was only $28 for a one way Greyhound from Pittsburgh to NYC, but the hotel was $2750. I asked if I could sleep in my vehicle at the Ferry parking lot in NJ, but they said no. If they would have allowed it, it would have cost about $19 a day.
Only bad thing about tent life is you have to carry all your gear on your back for fear of theft. I prefer staying in vehicles as you can hide some of your gear under the car seats and trunk. I boondock all over to save $…Wal-Marts, casinos, motel parking lots, rest stops, truck stops, so a Ferry parking lot is no big deal to me.
When on the road boondocking I can wash up in any bathroom I find or hit the showers at the truck stops every few days for $10 to $13 a pop. A good boondocking trick is to make a 25% dilute alcohol / water mix and use it to wash your body with a washcloth. Then wring out the cloth and use a water soaked cloth to go over your body. If you want privacy for a sponge bath, go into stall and stand or squat on top of the toilet.
My main work in Manhattan was for my artist’s book The Americans…60 years after Frank. It is expensive to travel nowadays. Even if you sleep in a tent it is easy to spend $800+ for a week shooting in NYC. Since I am all self-funded and not rich I try to spread the financial risk around and work on multi-projects if I can, hence why I was working on 7 book projects. Still, I do OK getting the shots, even with a piss-poor budget.
NYC Metro Infrared Flash Photo (Candid)
Sad Buskers Times Square 2016 – Infrared Flash Photo (Candid)
I felt bad for these girls. The one girl was crying – no one wanted to pay them to take a photo with their boobies out. NYC is a tough place if your broke. If I lived in NYC I’d be homeless. (Or she could have just had a stomach ache…I don’t interview my subjects.)
Staten Island Ferry (Candid)
A lot of the great photos produced throughout history were due to the photog being able to travel for projects. If the photog does not have enough money to travel, then they had better work like Ralph Eugene Meatyard and produce iconic work in their own backyard. Of course, even if the photog has $ to travel they still need skills to produce great work.
When a photog has $, they can maintain a roomy studio with a couch, fridge and A/C to work in. They can hire a publicist, professional models, an art director, assistants, secretary, makeup artists, hair artists, fixers, location scouts and managers, grips, post process artists and a truck load of strobes, cams, reflectors, diffusers, tripods and the rest…it all takes lots of $$.
I read about a bird photog that spent thousands of $$ hiring a charter boat and tons of chum bait to attract birds. Others hire helicopters and planes for aerial shots. Look at what this photog and crew brought with him for his project…what a cargo bill!
Sometimes $ can also buy cooperation. Eve Arnold paid $1000 to a fixer to get access for shooting the black Muslims in the 1960’s. That was a lot of dough back then – WSJ says it is $7,700 in today’s money.
As people get squeezed more and more and have a harder time getting by, it is not uncommon for subjects to ask for an honorarium to allow photography and interviewing.
When it comes to developing projects and experimenting it takes $ as well. Money helps with professional connections. Money buys the best prints, project development and advertising…and isn’t it true that the high and mighty gravitate toward the rich?
When I first started to make artists’ books I spent about $2800 figuring out how to do it. I had to go through many binding systems, test books, printers and loads of papers to test.
Same thing with my current project Piercing Darkness. (Infrared flash candid photography at night.) I had to try many, many IR setups to find what worked best for me. If I didn’t have $4600 to experiment with I would not get the results I do.
Now, if you had $4600, could you have shot these IR pix? Is $4600 all that is holding you back?
Do a Goggle image search on infrared flash photography and see what has been done with candids’. There are plenty of photogs that have a lot more money to throw at a project than me. So money alone must not be the deciding factor. This is especially true with photo genre that requires skill, more so than money.
Money also buys time. The poor photog that works 2 jobs just to get by does not have much time or energy left for shooting. As we all know, the fringe areas of photography that is related to getting the picture out also eats up lots of time and $.
I took this when I was 19 back in the early 70’s. Without having 2.5 hours of free time, a computer and LR it would not have been refined from trash to masterpiece.
The Sunlit Slipper
When I send out mailers and post cards I have to budget each month for buying postage stamps. Every penny counts to me.
Compare that to a successful commercial photog…
They got most of their stuff for free. Pretty much whatever you could think of. (OK, maybe not exactly free, but the biz buys it for them.) Such as cars for biz, cell phones, paper towels, toilet paper, books, tape, boxes, post-it notes, batteries, shipping supplies, clocks, pens, paper, postage, trash bags, computers, cameras, printers, printer paper and ink, fax machines, scanners, art supplies, furniture for home office, meals, trips, food, health insurance, binders, projectors, TV’s, iPad, tools, light bulbs. Even pants, shirt and jackets as long as they put a little company logo on them in an inconspicuous place. Trips? Sure, Vegas, Chicago, NYC or Europe…it is paid for by the biz.
With my type of work, there are not many freebies. I grab a few extra paper towels when I fill up for gas in, that is about it for me. So…all things being equal…YES it is easier for a rich photog than a poor one. But keep in mind, money alone is no guarantee of being the best.