Erwin Olaf Opening

Posted on: January 28th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Photographer Erwin Olaf (check out our 2008 F STOP interview here) has a new show opening at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler gallery in New York this evening.

The show features two separate bodies of word: Hotel and Dawn. I’ve seen images of both and they’re extraordinary. I can’t wait to see them in person.

Hasted Hunt Kraeutler
537 West 24th Street New York, NY
Opening reception 6-8pm January 28, 2009
Show runs through March 20, 2010

Image from Erwin Olaf’s show

Image from Erwin Olaf’s show

Image from Erwin Olaf’s show

Rock Your Vote

Posted on: January 27th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Last week I offered readers the opportunity to vote on the next photographer they’d like to see interviewed for F STOP.

So far people have listed photographers:

Julia Fullerton Batten


JeanYves Lemoigne

Alex Webb

Deon Reynolds

Dan Winters

Rick Guest

Alexia Sinclair

James Hill

Cole Barash

Rick Guest has two votes so far so he’s the front runner. If you’d like to vote for these, or any other photographers please do so in the comment section below or in the post from last week.

The photographer with the most votes by midnight Eastern on January 31st, 2010 will be approached to be interviewed for F STOP.


Posted on: January 26th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Have you been anxiously awaiting the most-likely, almost-certain, how-could-it-not-be-possible announcement of Apple’s new tablet device? Have you been reading all the blogs, message boards, casing out Mac stores, harassing Mac employees (you know who you are)? Then I found just the thing for you: Engadget has a live broadcast of Apple’s announcement. The coverage starts on Wednesday January 27th at 1:00pm Eastern time.

Predictions about the device and what it means for newspapers, magazines and books are acrosss the board but if you can’t keep away from all the gossip TechCrunch has a nice piece about some recent dealings with book publishers and distributors.

Whatever happens, this is almost certainly going to be a game-changer. Wonder how photographers are going to charge tablet for usage…?

Engadget broadcast

The Next F STOP Photographer

Posted on: January 20th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Is there a photographer you would absolutely love to see interviewed on F STOP?

Or…do you love yourself so much that you think know that you should be interviewed (it’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with high self-esteem)?

Well, if you answered yes to either of these questions then this little contest is just what you’ve been waiting for.

Here’s the deal, in the comments section of this blog post simply write the following:

1. Name of photographer you’re voting for

2. Link to their website

3. The one question would you want to ask this photographer

If you see a photographer in the comments section who you like then just copy and paste the name of the photographer in your own comment to “vote” for them. You can only vote once.

*The photographer with the most votes by midnight EST on January 31st, 2010 will be approached to be featured on F STOP. Whoever first recommends a photographer that is ultimately chosen to be featured also gets to have their one question (see #3 above) asked during the interview.

Now, thousands of you read this publication every month and for some reason not many of you like to comment. It’s okay, my feelings aren’t completely hurt, but you do need to comment to participate here. It takes about 20 seconds to sign up. You can do it.

*If for some reason they decline the invitation (how dare they!) then I’ll contact the photographer with the next highest amount of votes.

Photographer Promo Videos

Posted on: January 14th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

I’ve been working on a redesign for my personal photography site over the past couple of weeks and one thing I keep dreading is redoing my “about” page. Listing out clients, awards, and contact info is no problem but the “bio” always gets me. How much should I tell people? Do people really care where I was born or if I like to rock climb? Does it have to be funny? Clever? Should I just get the facts down and be done with it? Does anyone even read these things anyway!?

Well I just came across a brilliant alternative to writing one of these bios that will most likely only be read by my Mom anyway. Make a video!

Over the past month Redux Pictures has started uploading two or three minute promo videos for each of the photographers they represent. They have over twenty of these well-produce videos up on their Vimeo page now and after spending at least half an hour browsing through them I can say that it’s definitely a good idea. You quickly get a feel for the photographers’ work, the people they work with and most importantly…their personality. I didn’t watch all of the videos but below is one I really liked about photographer Kevin Cooley.

Kevin Cooley – Photographer from redux pictures on Vimeo.

Found it on Strobist

US Magazine Ads Down in ’09

Posted on: January 13th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Surprised? I thought not.

Here’s a number that may scare you though: 58,340. That, according to the New York Times, is the number of ad pages that were lost last year from US magazine. The Times recently reported:

“Between 2008 and 2009, magazines lost, on average, one-quarter of their ad pages — the worst drop in the decade of data that the bureau, which measures virtually all major American magazines, had readily available. It is significantly worse than even 2001, when pages declined by 17.2 percent from the previous year. And magazines ran only about 170,000 ad pages last year, versus about 238,000 in 2001.”

One positive note: as you may remember from a post on this blog in November advertising did start to increase in some sectors in the winter months of ’09. Not exactly a ray of shining hope, I know, but you have to start somewhere right?

Phillip Toledano’s Shoot for NYT Mag

Posted on: January 12th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

I first interviewed photographer Phillip Toledano back in 2007 for a feature we did on his series of people wearing elaborate body suits – suits made out of things like baby dolls, guns and even breasts. It wasn’t just the body suit of breasts that caught my attention, all of Toledano’s work is based on very clever ideas. His imagery is skillfully crafted too; often incorporating restrained use of color and minimal lighting to set a dark yet approachable mood. He’s a unique talent and I’ve enjoyed following his work over the years.

When I saw Toledano’s series of images he did for the New York Times Magazine article What’s a Bailed-Out Banker Really Worth a few days ago I had to get in touch and find out about this new shoot. Toledano is traveling through Asia at the moment so I really appreciate him taking the time to answer a few questions to share with us.

You seem to be full of great ideas, how did you and/or the editors come up with the concepts for this series?

Generally, a magazine will send me the article, I’ll think up a few ideas, we’ll have a chat, and then more often than not, I’ll shoot what I came up with. So for the Times, they sent me the article. I read it, and then proposed some ideas. It seemed apparent to me from the outset that the photographs should be large in scale – the images should be overwhelmingly bursting with money.  Most of the ideas lived (mountains of cash, man looking in the fridge, pockets full of cash, shoveling through money) they came back with a few thoughts of their own – snow angel, and the ‘jaws’ swimming shot. So in this case, it was a little more of collaboration.

An image from Toledano’s shoot for NYT Mag

How did you create these images?

I try and do as much as possible in camera, and these shots are no exception. Pretty much everything is real – whatever retouching there was just cleaning up. So I really have to take off my cap to my crack set designing squad (we are rocket science) they ordered $30,000 dollars of fake money, and glued it onto set paper. From there, we could just mold it into various shapes for various shots, and then we’d sprinkle loose bills on the ground, to fill in. In terms of lighting, it’s not very complicated really.  I never tend to use more than 3, maybe 4 lights…an octobank and a couple of grids.  The octobank is usually the key light, with the grids giving a little bit of kick and some tasty highlights.

An image from Toledano’s shoot for NYT Mag

You seem to have a signature “Phil Toledano” look, do you do much post-production in these images, if so can you describe your general approach?

It really depends, but there’s not much post that happens, as I said. If I have any kind of look, I suspect that it might be the ideas that create the look, rather than the lighting. Oh, and I suppose if I were to generalize about how I light, I tend to prefer not TOO much light – I usually avoid white backgrounds like the plague. Why? I have no idea.

An image from Toledano’s shoot for NYT Mag

Since our interview back in late 2007 you’ve created so many new and successful projects, what are you working on now?

A portrait series called ‘A new kind of beauty.’ It’s photographs of people who’ve re-created themselves through plastic surgery. Now that we have the technological means to re-invent ourselves, what choices do we make? This series will probably be done in about 4-5 months, although I am toying with a sculptural component now.

I’m also working on a project called ‘Kim Jong Phil’  I’m interested in what happens when patriotism crosses the line in America and becomes propaganda. It’s oil paintings and bronze sculpture. This project is going to take a little longer, because I’m having the paintings and sculpture made in china, so there’s a whole back and forth that has to happen.

Nadav Kander’s YouTube Channel

Posted on: January 11th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

The immensely talented photographer Nadav Kander has a new YouTube channel. Only two videos up so far but they’re damn worth watching. Wish TV was this good.The first video follows below and be sure to bookmark the YouTube channel for future goodies.

Found it on A Photography Blog 

The Future of Everything

Posted on: January 5th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Lot’s of interesting predictions for 2010 this past week but one article that caught my interest was an overarching piece in AdAge Planning Your Next Move in Ad Land that gives a comprehensive list of projections about a variety of industries; many of which could be very useful to photo industry professionals. If you’re a product photographer for example it might be nice to know that beverages are going to have a a bitter pill to swallow this year “The beverage industry is waging a battle on two fronts: against a potential tax targeting sugary beverages and against critics positing that those same beverages are to blame for obesity. It’s a battle that will surely grab plenty of headlines in 2010.”

A section on the future of print is definitely worth checking out:

“In short, this will be the year when publishers find out whether readers will pay for digital content.

The first front is probably the least promising: wringing circulation from newspaper websites. All through 2009, players and outsiders decried the way newspapers post their content online free for all to read. Steve Brill and others started businesses to help newspapers start charging web surfers. Frank Rich and others pointed out that consumers got used to paying for TV.

Unfortunately, there’s so much free information around that most publishers are probably going to struggle to make much money this way. “Proving that what comes up must come down,” Fitch Ratings wrote in December, “Fitch expects pay walls will be erected and dismantled in 2010 as media companies (with print products) experiment with charging users for online content and are ultimately disappointed by the results.”

The more intriguing avenue for publishers is selling electronic editions tailored for display on iPhones, electronic readers and those tablet computers everyone is eagerly anticipating. Condé Nast’s GQ and Hearst Magazines’ Esquire are already selling iPhone apps that deliver an issue’s content plus video, interactive ads and other extras. Time Inc., News Corp., Hearst, Meredith and Conde Nast have formed a joint venture to build a digital storefront. They’ll still face a sea of free competition, but consumers have already shown they’ll pay for apps and content on cellphones.”

Chris Buck

Posted on: January 1st, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Written by Zack Seckler
Edited by Joann Jovinelly

In the world of celebrity Featured image of Vice shootportraiture photography, where looking like plastic perfection has become the norm, photographer Chris Buck stands a world apart. Complicated lighting and retouching aren’t the tools of his trade, it’s the grey matter between his ears.

If you aren’t already familiar with the name, try looking through many major magazines, he seems to be everywhere these days. GQ, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine are but a few of his major editorial clients and in 2007 he was the first recipient of the Arnold Newman Portrait Prize.

Buck’s clever and often humorous approach to portraiture puts subjects in situations that are at once entertaining and revealing.  Concepts that oscillate between the tame – Tina Fey balancing on a stool – to mischievous – Billy Bob Thornton urinating on a photo set. Whatever it may be, there is always a sense of sophisticated wit in Buck’s imagery. His style is a breath of fresh air; one that would be nice to see more of in the genre.

I interviewed Buck a few months ago at his apartment in New York. Our conversation first focused on our featured image: Buck’s portrait of the Vice Magazine founders and editors he shot for Wired Magazine (check out the behind-the-scenes video). We then discussed a variety of other interesting topics: how he generates ideas, the psychology behind his photography, dealing with celebrities and their publicists and a few tips for budding photographers.

Seckler: Tell me about the concept for our featured image, your portrait of the Vice Magazine founders and editors you shot for Wired Magazine (above).

Buck: I write notes before any shoot. Sometimes ideas are connected to specific shoots. Others are ideas for photographs that I didn’t shoot, but that I am still interested in shooting. First I decide what I would I do with my subjects if I could do anything. A lot of those ideas are extreme. Most are visual and straightforward, but some are ridiculous. I have learned through experience to prepare a variety of ideas for every shoot, especially one that has the potential to be outrageous. You never know how things are going to go. I could be half way through a shoot and realize that my subject is willing to do anything. I try to be prepared.

Seckler: Let’s talk about the situation during the shoot. Which ideas worked and which didn’t?An image from Buck’s portfolio

Buck: The assignment was for Wired magazine, but I took the shoot because it was the Vice guys [Eddy Moretti, Shane Smith, and Suroosh Alvi]. I love Vice magazine; I love their attitude. I thought it would be fun to see if I could do something genuinely interesting and surprising, but when I talked to their PR people, they wouldn’t go for most of what I’d had in mind.

Seckler: What were the ideas they rejected?

Buck: I wanted one person to drop his pants in public while holding a video camera or all three men to pose nude while holding various pieces of meat in front of their bits [private parts]. Another idea was to pose them behind a wall with three glory holes and each man’s penis poking through each hole, which would have been awesome.

Seckler: What did they approve?

Buck: We shot with a baby. It was very straightforward. The men were photographed as a parent’s hand reached for the baby that one man on the end kissed. Basically, I thought, how can they say no to kissing a baby?

Seckler: Did you already have the baby on set?

Buck: Yes, they had agreed to it. We did four different shots. One was in the office in Greenpoint [Brooklyn]. The second was with the baby, which took the most time. We did another in a Chinese restaurant where the men are holding an actual MK-47 that we rented.An image from Buck’s portfolio

Seckler: Did you do all the prep work yourself or did you have a producer?

Buck: For magazine shoots, I generally do all the prep. Very few magazines will pay for a producer or a prop stylist.

Seckler: Tell me about the technical process.

Buck: I set up a backdrop so I could see part of the space, but much of it was blocked. Beautiful light was coming in through a skylight and I realized that I had to move the strobe because the baby was moving, as babies will, and that was blurring the shot. So, I moved the strobe and stopped shooting for 20 minutes. If you watch the video you will see that it’s inter cut between the shots with strobe and the shots with available light.

Seckler: So you first shot using only ambient light and then you brought in strobes?

Buck: Yeah, we brought in three Profoto 7A packs and three heads.

Seckler: To replicate that image?

Buck: Yes, we had one strobe over the camera that acted just as fill light. We had one strobe bouncing off the floor, like a soft box bounce or ambient light. And then we put one strobe behind the backdrop where the skylight was to reproduce a bit of a glow on the backdrop—a kind of flare—and we reproduced that.

Seckler: Why did you decide to reproduce ambient light?

Buck: I wouldn’t normally bounce light off a floor, but it looked good. I know my strobe is going to give me something I like if it looks good in An image from Buck’s portfoliothe natural light. As a photographer you are influenced by the moment as much as you are interpreting any broader vision. I knew that the light would look good on film.

Seckler: And did you shoot film? What camera did you use?

Buck: I used Kodak Portrait NC 120 size film in a Mamia RZ 67. The film is 400 ISO, but I shot it at 200 ISO. I will use available light whenever I can. I’m not anti-technical, but I am not that interested in technique. I am interested only in how the picture looks. Knowing technical stuff is important. A good idea isn’t good enough. It must be implemented so the viewer can see what you want him or her to see.

Seckler: How did you first get involved with photography?

Buck: I studied photography in college, but I was more interested in music at that time, so I worked at a music paper as an editor and photographer. Before my final year of school I got serious; I decided to put everything aside and focus only on photography. Because I was already shooting for a publication during college, it became the road I took as an editorial photographer.

Seckler: So you got a few editorial jobs while you were still in college?

Buck: I was a photo editor for a music paper for a year and a half and I shot a lot of photographs for it. Most of the assignments were terrible. My execution wasn’t always bad; often it was because I was just starting An image from Buck’s portfolioout. Most of the better pictures I shot were self-assigned; I often photographed musicians who were coming through Toronto.

Once I finished school, I asked my professor if I should assist. He said, ‘No, that would be a step backwards. You are already shooting; you are already being published. Why you would work for someone else when you’re already working yourself?’ It was great advice. I never had to make the difficult transition from assistant to photographer, which I understand is tough financially and psychologically. However, I can see the value of assisting experienced photographers—it did take me longer to learn technique. It took me 12 to 15 years to learn how to light any situation well.

On the upside, I was building professional chops early in my career. Even when I was getting my first ad jobs, I had so much experience that I wasn’t intimidated by big budgets. I have 20 years of shooting experience going back to the 1980s.

I see both my assistants making the transition to being photographers, so you can learn from assisting and make useful contacts. Most people never use those contacts. If you assist more than two or three years, you probably don’t have what it takes to use those contacts. Most people who have assisted me haven’t asked me for contacts.

Seckler: Really? That’s interesting.An image from Buck’s portfolio

Buck: The people who typically ask for contacts are random people or interns who get serious about shooting. People who assist don’t realize that it often takes years to get regular work. Also, you’ll want to shoot for a couple of years for the experience. That is another two years. If you are really organized, you might work another year to transition from assisting to shooting. That’s a minimum of four years. For some people, the transition takes longer. Transitioning into shooting in your early thirties is much harder.

Seckler: What do you recommend for someone who is just finishing college?

Buck: I think that interning is far more effective than assisting. You can get many of the same experiences. Being an intern is very modest work, but if you are helping someone who is generous, you can ask questions and show that person your work. You can also take assignments; I give assignments to my interns.

Seckler: What do you mean?

Buck: I look at their work and give them tough assignments that challenge their abilities. If you are an intern for one year—with two different people for two or three months each—you can get as much experience as you would assiAn image from Buck’s portfoliosting over several years in a fraction of that time.

Seckler: Among the reasons why you’re a great photographer are your ideas. Tell me about your creative process.

Buck: My ideas usually come from discussions with clients. What is the angle of the article? What is the client promoting? I research; I really throw myself into it. I go and scout locations. Today I went to Martha Stewart’s studio to see the physical location. That does two things: First, I actually get to see where I’m shooting, and two, it immerses me in the shoot. After I left her studio I immediately developed ideas. I also research the person’s life and interests so when I am on set I can say, ‘Hey I read that you are interested in such and such…’ and even having that kind of banter is helpful. It may not affect an individual picture, but it might positively affect the relationship and they might just be more giving during the shoot.

Seckler: What research had you done for the Vice shoot?

Buck: I read a lot of interviews. Since Vice is centered on the idea of political incorrectness, a lot of my ideas came from that mindset, too. In a way, I knew they wouldn’t go for the more outrageous ideas because the point of the article was that the founders of the magazine are changing their image and being taken more seriously. I did first go by their offices to look around. In general, I like to come up with ideas that go against the grain, ideas that piss people off.An image from Buck’s portfolio

Seckler: Do you mean your audience, the publicist, or the subject?

Buck: I mean everyone. I mean whatever I can get away with. Even using the baby, for example. The baby was cute and I knew there were dangers in that because Wired might say, ‘We’re not shooting with a baby. This is Wired magazine, and we don’t do babies.’ I knew they might reject it. But I also knew that if I did it right, if I did it dry enough, it may be really interesting. I knew that the transgressive, and even sinister, Vice persona would come through if I just let them the three of them look serious and have the baby look almost actively cute.  And the baby’s expression worked out great because he looks so cute and googly eyed.

Seckler: What is your motivation for being provocative?

Buck: I have respect for the people I photograph. I think I successfully strike a balance between reflecting who the person is exactly and my own ideas about life. It’s an exercise in subtly and sophistication. It’s like my photo of Gary Oldman with red all over his face. It looks like he ate a person; it’s cannibalistic, but it is actually from him sticking his face in a pie. It was shot very cleanly. He’s not making a crazy face—it’s a straightforward expression—but it looks violent at the same time. That image is a perfect example of what I’m trying to do in myAn image from Buck’s portfolio work. I love sexual imagery, too. I like exploring ideas about violence, but it’s very difficult to get those ideas into a photograph and have it look smart and sophisticated at the same time.

Seckler: What are you trying to tell people in your work?

Buck: I am an individualist. When I first started out, I ignored publicists and did whatever I wanted. That got me in trouble, so now I am respectful to publicists; I make them part of the process. On the surface I am much more agreeable, but I still like to go against the grain. I control things in small ways. I influence the current of ideas, which sometimes leads to sexual or violent references that I would rather explore in my work then in my life.

Seckler: How do you build relationships with your subjects?

Buck: Pete Weintz from the band Fallout Boy said that I knew more about him then half the people who have interviewed him. When I photographed the band Interpol, they said that I knew their names better then most people at their record company. And I think people respond to that respect. Pete Weintz got naked for me because I made him comfortable. He dropped his inhibitions.

Seckler: How do you relate to your subjects? An image from Buck’s portfolioDo you try one idea first and then push the envelope a bit more?

Buck: I am very careful about how I roll out ideas. Sometimes I share them, or if it just involves a simple prop, I will bring it along and spring it on everyone. I am friendly, but careful about how much I interact with people.

Essentially, I am a director. In a way, a portrait with a celebrity is like a medium-level director dealing with a huge star. Even though the director is running the ship creatively, if the celebrity is a bigger star then he or she can control what happens. As the director, I often photograph people who have much more power then I do. They can influence the shoot. I have to be careful about how they perceive me; I have to maintain control.

Seckler: Let’s say the client agrees to do what you want. How do you direct the shoot?

Buck: I work in a general way. As we shoot, I may get more specific in my direction, but if I am general, then they might give me something that I wouldn’t have expected or requested. Sometimes I will literally just say, ‘Do something’ and they will do something that I never even thought about. People have done crazy things when I said ‘Do something.’

Seckler: Like the portrait of Billy Bob Thornton…An image from Buck’s portfolio

Buck: …where he’s peeing? That was totally decided ahead of time. I keep a running list of ideas. Basically I had that idea while I was on set. My best ideas often come when I am shooting. For instance, I was excited for the Vice shoot, so I bet I will use those ideas later. And that Billy Bob portrait was exactly that: I had been shooting a businessman a few years earlier in a field—and I can’t remember if he took a pee in the woods or if I just thought of pee in the background—but I thought it would be interesting because it would change the color of the backdrop. It is a perfect union of vulgarity and beauty. The change in the color of the backdrop makes a subtle visual statement.

Seckler: What are the qualities of a great portrait?

Buck: A great portrait must have vulnerability. If there is no vulnerability, I don’t find it interesting.

Seckler: Why do you think vulnerability is essential?

Buck: Vulnerability draws you in. It’s just like a person who is humble—they make you curious about what they are going to reveal.

Seckler: What do you specifically try to capture?

Buck: I try to capture conflict in my images. I don’t think that’s unusual for a photographer. If your subject is known for one thing, I tAn image from Buck’s portfoliory to get ideas in there that are the opposite of what the audience expects.

Seckler: Why opposing ideas?

Buck: It’s like the baby in the Vice shoot. My subjects were known for being provocative. Babies are innocent. Vice is exactly the opposite of innocence. Once I had the idea, the execution was about trying to make the photograph feel like a real moment.

Seckler: How do you define your shooting method?

Buck: I have a dry sense of humour. There are also ways in which I frame my subjects that are repeated. My style developed slowly. Later I realized that not having such a distinctive style served me well.

Seckler: What does your work reveal about you? Are you violent or self-destructive?

Buck: I have a self-destructive streak. At a certain point in my career I had to learn not be self-destructive. I did things that hurt my chances of success, or I wouldn’t do things that would help me as a way to undercut myself. I had to overtly choose to be successful.

Seckler: Is most of your work editorial or do you do a lot of advertising?

Buck: In the last few years I have shifted toward advertising. In terms of days of shooting it might be still two-thirds editorial, but my advertising work is substantial.

An image from Buck’s portfolioSeckler: Why did it take you longer to get regular advertising jobs?

Buck: My interests were largely editorial. I came to advertising only after having success as an editorial photographer.

Seckler: Why hadn’t you approached more potential clients?

Buck: If I could do one thing differently, it would be to [go back in time and] think seriously about advertising earlier in my career.

Seckler: Isn’t advertising more rigid then editorial? Does that lack of flexibility conflicted with your style?

Buck: Advertising is more specific, but I tend to get hired for shoots I’m appropriate for. Advertising has got to look good in any [lighting] condition, so you have to ace it. It is more fun to shoot advertising because it is technical, but they want my style, so I have to retain a sense of self. I am very much a vital part of the process; I am very vocal about who I want and the locations where we shoot.

Seckler: What appeals to you about photographing people?An image from Buck’s portfolio

Buck: The human face is interesting. People are interested in faces and body language. In a way, making images is my way of connecting with people.

Seckler: How would you shoot your own self-portrait?

Buck: I did a self-portrait for Esquire where I photographed myself with a black eye. It was violent. I also did another with a stuffed toy elephant coming out of my fly, which was sexual. An earlier self-portrait showed me nude—so there you go, sex and violence.