1: You came to photography as career fairly recently. What made you or how did you come to make that decision to become a photographer?
I started photographing in college actually, which was 15 years ago. We had a very small darkroom in the architecture school where I was studying and I was lucky enough to be able to work one-on-one with an architectural photographer, who taught me quite a bit in a short amount of time.
I’ve been committed to building portfolios of work for about 6 years. It started after seeing a retrospective of Harry Callahan’s work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I knew, when I saw his prints, that I wanted to dedicate myself to being able to print and photograph at the high standard that he was. From there, I started taking intensive workshops and reading whatever I could find to hone my technical abilities.
2: How would you describe your photography?
I would describe it as stories that build slowly, where one image leads to the next and an understanding comes at the end, when some conclusion is made. I tend to work from the inside out, using photography as a way to communicate what my fears are, what my hopes are, what I long for.
3: You use film, why?
I use film for two reasons. The first is because it gives me the best quality files to be able to print from. I have not experienced a digital camera that can give me the range of light that film can. The second is habit. I have my process down, I’m comfortable with it, it’s what works for me.
4. How do you print, digitally or traditional wet darkroom and why?
I print digitally because I have the most control that way over my prints. I used to be a darkroom printer and I’ve also tried platinum, but I like, for example, to be able to control localized contrast and sharpening, both of which are problematic in traditional wet darkroom printing.
5: You’ve created two books of your photography. Self published photo books are extremely popular right now but yours are different in that they are very high quality. Most photographers are printing lower quality/priced volumes. Why did you decide to go a higher end project?
I decided to make handmade books filled with original prints because I haven’t found a print on demand option that can produce the level of printing that I like to present my work. Print on demand books are also quite expensive to produce, not that much less than what it costs to produce my handmade books. I think they are perfect for many photographers, it’s just not the kind of presentation I’m interested in for my work.
6: What were some of the challenges you faced in producing your books?
The downside to producing handmade books is the amount of effort, time and upfront costs associated. There are more options to consider, what paper, what binding, what edition size that go into the process. Hand-printing an edition of 60 books with 39 images in the book is a huge undertaking, and I’ve learned, as I’ve gone through it, how to get better at managing my time, but it’s still a huge process.
7: You’ve had numerous gallery exhibitions of your work. How do you see the difference between the ‘gallery’ of a book and images hung on a wall?
The biggest difference is the ability for the artist to control the viewing experience more. Usually, with images hung on a wall, people move to look at images that interest them, they can skip images, or move out of the order the artist intends. With a book, beyond just controlling that viewing experience, you can go beyond just the sense of sight and incorporate touch, sound, text, and other means of telling your story more carefully as well. In addition, a book is a personal experience, it is something usually done alone, and is portable also.
8. You live in Portland, Oregon which does have a reputation as an artist friendly city. Would you agree? What is the attraction for a photographer?
It’s definitely an artist friendly city. There is a large artist population, not just limited to photographers. There are large printmaking, book arts, and graphic arts communities as well. The attraction is to be surrounded by other photographers that are working artists, not just hobbyists, and to also have galleries importing good works to show as well. The point is keep pushing forward, and part of that is being exposed to other good work.
9: You’ve photographed in Nova Scotia and are currently doing work on Salt Spring Island. What;s the attraction of Canada?
There wasn’t an attraction to Canada per se, although Canadians do seem more open to me freely trespassing on their property! I went to both places because they looked like beautiful places to go and photograph, not because they were in Canada. I should say that Canadians have treated me wonderfully, and I’d like to do more work there.
10. You have a site, Photo Radio, where you offer sound only interviews with photographers. In these days of YouTube, why radio rather than video?
I don’t know the first thing about video. And frankly, it seems pretty intimidating to me. I’m not sure what you would get from video that you can’t get from audio. I also prefer stripping away the visual at times and just focusing on someone’s words and thoughts, I think it puts everyone on a level playing field.
11. You offer workshops in marketing yourself as an artist. What is the attraction for you of teaching a workshop?
The attraction is being able to share what I have learned in the hopes that the information or experiences that I have will be useful to others. There are so many aspects to being a successful artist, I have always been as open as I can in sharing what knowledge I have with others, I would hope for more of that actually from the entire community.
12. What are your top three tips for anyone wanting to become a fine art photographer?
I only get three? I can’t do less than four!
1- Hone your craft. If you don’t have the foundation to craft good photographs and prints, you’re going to be leaping way ahead of yourself and eventually, you’ll have to come back, so might as well learn to take good pictures and make beautiful prints from the start.
2- Make connections. The biggest part of gaining an audience for your work is through making connections with anyone associated in fine art photographer, whether that be other artists, or curators, or even writers. You never know how someone can help you or your career, so talk to lots and lots of people.
3- Develop a thick skin. There is so much rejection involved with trying to get your work out there, that if you’re sensitive, it will be a problem. I have been rejected so many times I’ve stopped counting, and even though I know it could have very little to do with me or my work, it’s still tough to swallow sometimes.
4- Give back. No matter how much or how little success you experience, you should always try to give back to the community, to nurture younger photographer, to educate, and to encourage sharing, acts that benefit us all.
Lauren Henkin’s site is HERE.
1) Photography is a second career for you. What advantage and/or disadvantage did that create for you?
I’ve actually found it quite to my advantage that I had a previous career in public relations.
My PR background gave me some solid skills that I have found to be quite useful, namely:
I hate this term since it sounds so phony, but it really is important. In my previous career it became evident that there were people who were quite good at what they did. I would make every effort to get to know them and learn what I could from them.
In photography I was able to quickly size up the industry – who was who, who makes decisions, who is good at their job and is well respected – and then seek them out to meet them. That alone has helped a ton.
I’ve found that if you’re eager and willing to listen, people are more than happy to help.
I think I was pretty realistic about what to expect when starting a business. I knew it would take time, that I’d have to work hard and put in my time at the bottom and that the work ethic I had applied to my previous career would carry me through in this new job.
The basics of getting myself up-and-running were easier. I was familiar with invoicing (as I managed clients I knew what I liked/disliked in invoices I received). I know what clients expect from suppliers. I was not nervous about creating a business plan, how to find clients and how to keep clients happy. I knew how to sell myself.
Some projects I picked up this year involved writing. I’m able to market myself as a writer and photographer, a skill that a lot of my clients appreciate.
Having worked on the client side of the business, managing suppliers (in PR) I knew how I wanted people to manage my account. I instinctively knew what newspapers and other clients were looking for in a photographer beyond just technical skills.
I took editors to lunch and for drinks, I dropped off thank you cards to anyone who spent any iota of time with me, I brought Christmas gifts for the editors who gave me work, I did pro-bono work on small projects for corporate clients who gave me large chunks of business. All these small things really make a big difference. People want to work with people that they like.
I had a base of clients immediately upon arriving in Toronto. I did a quick tour of all the major PR shops in town and picked up work from them. I also checked in with some of my PR colleagues working at companies (e.g., pharmaceutical companies). Building up a network like that would have been challenging otherwise.
2) You are now a few years into your career as a photographer so what are your thoughts on the photo education you received before embarking on this career? What mattered and what didn’t? What do you wish you were taught that you weren’t?
I did a commercial photography course but ended up going into photojournalism. Looking back, I wish I had done strictly a photojournalism program. Some of the skills I learned in the commercial program were great, but took up a lot of time that I could have used to hone my photojournalism skills (e.g., all the printing courses and some of the high end photoshop courses).
Also, it was that much more of an uphill battle to find a job since the program at Loyalist seems to provide students with more contact with the newspaper industry than other schools.
I wish I had been taught more on-site lighting skills. We mostly did studio lighting and while the principles are the same, the actual technical details of using your speedlight got skimmed over. To this day I’m still not 100% comfortable with my speedlight.
I wish we had done some multimedia. The commercial program didn’t do this at all but it would have been nice to have at least a basis in it.
As much as I enjoyed the film component of the course at WAP, I felt that it took away time from learning the ins and outs of digital photography.
I wish we’d learned more about managing your workflow and backing up your work. I had/still kind of have an ad hoc process. It’s getting better but a firm foundation to work from would have been helpful.
I also wish there had been more emphasis on finding out your style. I found that on the photojournalism front (and Loyalist is guilty of this as well – I was a judge of this year’s NPAC student of the year portfolios) there is too much emphasis on producing the portfolio of a well-rounded wire-shooter or at a daily.
Everyone produces a portfolio that has three features, three sports shots, three portraits and three news images. It created a generic look and everyone’s stuff starts to look the same. People need to learn to shoot these things, but I’d really emphasize the importance of shooting work to stand out. Shoot what you love. I’d really like to see more documentary work from students – from a project they are working on – than the crappy university rugby shot that they needed to round out the sports section of their portfolio.
To be honest, the best education I got was actually working on the job and meeting with working photographers. My internships at papers were invaluable.
3) What lessons have you learned from actually working as a photographer that you wished you knew when you began shooting as a pro?
I wish I had known just how stressful assignments would be. I spent my first eight months freelancing for the Globe and Mail thinking I was going to throw up every time my phone rang.
I would sometimes go to assignments and think to myself, “How am I going to turn THIS into a photo?” (I did a lot of R.O.B assignments early on – generic, boring offices). Now I’m calm and know that I’m always going to produce a publishable shot (and more than one).
There’s so much technical know-how to absorb in school that I didn’t know how to deal with people when I first showed up at assignments. Now I have a little bit of a routine. I ask them if they’ve had their photo taken for the paper before. I explain that it’s not like having their photo taken by their friends for facebook, that I have to provide at least six different shots for the paper, that it’s not going to take five minutes. Giving them some context for this really helps.
People don’t like ambiguity. They want direction. They want to feel like they know what’s going on all the time when they’re having their photos taken. They need to be told to relax when you’re taking a few seconds to adjust something with your light or with the camera. They want to know when you’re going to start shooting.
This is obviously different for a documentary style shoot. In those cases people need to be told to “just ignore the camera – just do whatever it was you were doing before I showed up.”
4) How important has your website and blog been to your career?
I think having a web presence is essential. However, I’m finding that having a blog is more important than a website.
The blog has an ongoing evolution that I enjoy. You can post pics from assignments, from your day-to-day living, from trips or anything you find interesting.
The web site is more fixed and I keep meaning to update it but never seem to find the time. I’m thinking of possibly transitioning to a hybrid site/blog where I have a portfolio posted but the bulk of the content is constantly new on the blog portion of the site.
5) Do you use social media for work at all? If so how?
I find my facebook to be an important photography networking tool. It’s become a virtual community for me. It’s how I find out about photography events going on in Toronto and how I keep in touch with other photojournalists.
I don’t have a “fan” page up on facebook yet, but I’m considering doing that next. I think it’s just one more resource for people to find you and the work that you do. It’s just another way to share what you’re doing with friends, clients and other photographers.
I used Twitter for a while, but found eventually that I was just using it to pick up information from others. I haven’t used it in over a year but I’m considering picking it up again.
6) Is video a part of the photo services you offer. Why or why not?
Right now video is not one of the services I offer. When I met with John Lehmann from the Globe he told me to focus on being a better photographer first.
I recently took a course with Brent Foster at Pikto on multimedia. However, it seems super expensive to get into and if I’m going to go that route I want to be sure I’ll make money off of it. Recently a number of freelancers have sold off their audio and video gear. No one is asking them for it.
7) What types of photo assignments are you doing these days?
I’m shooting mostly for the Globe and Mail and very occasionally for the Post.
I shoot a lot of portraits, but not traditional portraits. The Globe wants to see more of a documentary approach – people doing their thing as opposed to a posed environmental portrait. I much prefer this type of assignment.
I also shoot a lot of concerts. Lots of late nights, lots of weekends and lots of last minute requests.
Finally, I’ve been shooting a ton of “Society Page” events for the Globe. These are parties where I literally hunt out famous or attractive people at exclusive events (where the Globe is usually the only photographer allowed inside) and ask people to stand together, like for a facebook picture. It’s not super challenging but it’s great for contacts and I’m starting to make the most of it by shooting interesting things that I see on my own since this type of access is usually pretty limited.
I shoot very little “news” (that tends to go to the staffers but I’m occasionally at press conferences or outside courthouses) and have not shot any sports since the fall of 2008 when I shot the Senators pre-season exhibition games for the Ottawa Sun.
8) What has been your most memorable assignment so far?
Easily the work I did for an NGO – Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) in Uganda and Tanzania. I spent the month in refugee camps in Uganda and on rural farms in Tanzania. It was absolutely incredible.
Editorially, the assignments I remember most were spending the day with Canada’s youngest breast cancer survivor (four-years-old). I also spent an evening with a family in Regent Park (a social housing project in Toronto). Finally, one day the Globe sent me to photograph cows that had been set up outside the ROM. It was so fun!
9) What are the advantages for you of working in a large city like Toronto?
The sheer amount of work available in Toronto is staggering. I cannot believe how much work there is! So many stories originate from Toronto so there is a ton of editorial work and most companies are based here so there are a lot of corporate clients to pick up as well.
In fact, it’s been almost a burden for me because I’ve spent the last year and a half constantly taking assignments and haven’t really taken some time to figure out exactly what it is I want to do next or what I want to shoot myself.
There’s a huge photo community in Toronto as well. Photo festivals like Contact are inspirational and allow you to meet other photographers. It’s a lot to wade through but it’s wonderful.
10) Are you working on any personal projects?
I’m ashamed to say that I’m not right now. Since landing in Toronto in April of 2009 I’ve been so busy chasing work with clients that I have not left myself an iota of time to work on things I would like to.
Every time I decide to start on a personal project I get derailed. So the goal is for January (when it’s quiet) to work on one personal project, get my website revamped and set a course for 2011. I have a book where I keep a number of project ideas and I know which one I’d like to start with.
You can see more of Della Rollins work and read her blog here.
I hope to start posting new interviews with photographers shortly. In order to give you an idea of what I hope to post here are a few links to interviews with photographers from my literary site Literary Photographer. I’ve put that site on hiatus in order to concentrate my energies here. These interviews all have a connection to writing but give you a pretty good insight into the photographers and the work featured.
Last week I mentioned how amazing it’s become online with all the great sites and posting where you can read/listen and watch posting/stories/videos about photography and photographers. A former student, Byron Fry thoughtfully sent me this link of interviews and talks that is quite extensive.
I’ve also taken a look at New York photographer Erica McDonald’s collection of her observations at photographer’s talks she’s attended. They’re different in that they are an interesting combination of straight reportage and quotes from the events combined with her own personal observations. She calls the series of reports Scribbling In The Dark as she’s usually taking the notes that will make up these postings in a darkened room as she listens to the presentations.
She’s also an excellent photographer, very nice stories and portraits to look through on her site.
I’ve posted an interview with photographer Terence Byrnes talking about his book of writer portraits ‘Closer To Home’ at www.literaryphotographer.com