the life of m

An Extended Dear Young Photographer

Here’s what I know.

You grew up, like most, where you got trophies for participation, medals for winning bullshit things and undying support from your doting parents who just wanted to see you succeed — or be happy — whichever came first. Because even if you weren’t the best, they still wanted you to feel like you were. Gold star for being you, honey.

You graduate college full of promise and hope. Maybe you even have some stuff on your resume to back that up. It’s possible you won some awards and got some recognition as an “emerging,” talented, young photographer under-a-certain-age, like 25 or 30… or maybe some contest gave you an award of excellence or a gold medal or a nice pat on the back. It’s possible an editor recognized your potential and passion and gave you an internship at some big-named paper of your dreams or some awesome little paper in the middle of nowhere known for their picture pages. You may have even been selected as one of the lucky ones for an exclusive workshop in a barn or hand-picked to document some small Kentucky town or even been one of the chosen few to have your portfolio reviewed by some fancy pants NY editors.

Everything is new and fresh and you’re having these amazing experiences, making pictures you’ve never made before, replacing old pictures in your portfolio every other week. And to make it even better, the gold stars from your folks have been replaced with “likes” and “favorites.” Little pings of electronic love that have been shown to have the same effect on your brain that some drugs do, where that reward center in your brain lights up. and gives you a wonderful buzz.

Your rise is meteoric and your growth exponential. 

Then what?

Then you graduate. The steam starts to wear off. Your support network has spread out around the country. Your little pond has gotten bigger and you’ve seemed to shrink. And you do the inevitable. It’s only natural.

You hit a plateau.

We all do.

Sadly that first plateau is often ill-timed and masquerades as a quarter-life crisis. You’ve got a lot of pressure you’re putting on yourself. Society has a funny way of reminding people that there’s this order for things, and at this point your Facebook wall is exploding with friends puppies/houses/engagements/marriages/babies. And you start asking yourself… what have you done with your life?!

Queue the existential crisis.

It usually happens right around the time when you graduate, and you get a first job or your start working for yourself — and you realize you feel static. Your work is stagnant. Your strides aren’t as great. Maybe you’re making pictures for your editors and clients and not for yourself anymore. You fall into this groove of doing what works, and settling for good enough. If you’re freelance, you realize that you’re getting hired to make the same pictures you’ve been making because you’ve been typecast. Or you’re going to the same festivals and parades and the athletes of the day/month/year all look identical and you’re making the same pictures every month, because that’s the subtle monotony of the routine newspapers and newspaper photographers fall into.

There’s no magic pill for getting over it and getting off that plateau, except hard work. Creativity, perseverance and changing your routine are the best ways I know to get out of that rut. But so is something that seems counterintuitive, like embracing the plateau. If you look at a plateau as a positive, you’ll see it’s nothing more than a chance to refresh your batteries, reset your brain and breathe. If you’re going at 100mph all the time, you’re going to burn out. But I suppose that’s physics, or just common sense.

All those cliches about this profession being a marathon and not a sprint have some truth to them.

And when you start to realize that settling down doesn’t mean settling, you can relax. When you understand that you have to feed the beast, but you also have to feed your soul, you’ll start to figure out where that balance is. And when you finally let go of the fact that a contest win, a gold star and a “like” aren’t going to make or break you, you can (hopefully) exhale. 

Afterall, it’s just photography. Realize how cool it is to actually be paid to make pictures for a living. Have fun with it. If it stops being fun and you start dreading it, start asking yourself why you’re doing it.

Early on, you make pictures for your portfolio and for other people. Eventually you’ll hopefully take some solace that you’re making pictures with a much bigger purpose. The images made for yourself and the people in them will resonate most. Keeping in mind that at the end of your career, your photos will be looked at collectively as a body of work instead of singles, stories and individual contest wins should help.

If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s this: Success has a lot more to do with character than it does with talent. So does life.

Sol Neelman’s Weird Sports 2: The Photo Book

onecompellingimage:

Our friend, Sol Neelman is doing a Kickstarter right now to support his new book, Weird Sports 2! Both Weird Sports and Weird Sports 2 are filled with wonderful weird sports from around the world including Florida. Click HERE to donate to his book! There are some really great rewards like getting a copy of the book, prints, and even a custom Weird Sports luchador mask.

Here are a few of our favorite Florida images:

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A traveling day. Nathan Martin is going to town. He is going to have a meal with the woman he loves. He usually hates wearing a shirt, but Vida will tsk tsk if he shows up with chest bare. He also needs to decide what to do about footwear. He hates shoes even more than he hates wearing a shirt.

For as long as anyone can remember he has tramped through his North Florida woods in naked feet less human than possum. They’re yellow, padded and bristling with nails more like talons. Those feet fear no stone, stick or snake. But maybe, just a little bit, they fear Vida.

He growls: “I only wear shoes for town or church.” He last bought a Sunday pair two decades ago at Walmart for $25. He rescued a second pair from a dumpster about 10 years ago. Grumbling, he throws them into the back of the truck. If Vida gives him the stink eye for showing up for chicken and dumplings with feet exposed, he’ll put them on.

At 72, Nathan Martin is a throwback to a Florida that is all but gone. He lives without running water in a dilapidated house illuminated by a single light bulb and heated by a wood-burning stove, not because he has to but because he likes it. He has a phone he rarely answers, has never used a computer or owned a television or had a credit card. “I was born too late,” he says. He would have been at home in the 19th century.

When he dies a part of Old Florida will pass away with him. He has a lot of relatives in Gilchrist County, but no children of his own. He’s the last of his kind…

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of Jeff Klinkenberg’s story on The Last Martin of Gilchrist County. It’s a wonderful story about a wonderful man. And if you’d like to hear his wonderfully southern, molasses laden drawl as he tells great stories in his own words, please… WATCH THE VIDEO.

They say once the muck gets under your toenails it’s hard to get it out. I’ve come to realize that’s both literal and figurative as I’m preparing for another trip to Muck City this week — a place I feel strangely compelled to explore visually. With equal forces at play that I’m both drawn to and repelled by.

Glancing back through photos from recent trips to remind myself of characters and scenes and things I need to continue to gather. Really excited to see how this project is coming together.

(I have a few earlier posts on Muck City here and here.)

#ILikedItButItNeverRan

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I keep joking that I’m going to start a series of tumblr posts titled: #ILikedItButItNeverRan. So, here goes. Newspapers are funny, fickle creatures. They spend a lot of time and money on things that never run. They send photographers (and writers) out to do their jobs, and cover their communities, and then things never make it into print.

And this happens ALL THE TIME.

I always tell young photographers that they have to do their jobs to the best of their ability, then give others (editors, designers) the same courtesy — time and space to do theirs. But, after 15 years, of seeing photos I like not run, it gets tougher with each passing one to listen to my own advice… photos I feel like went above and beyond the assignment and added a little something extra to the visual coverage of the day (especially photos like the one above where I worked the shit out of a fairly lame, nothing assignment to cover the grand prix watch party on the roof of a parking garage and was actually pretty happy with the result).

But, hey, I guess I’ll always have it for my portfolio. I can blog, tweet or instagram it, right? That’s great and all, but (for better or worse) I’m a photojournalist at a newspaper, and I take covering my community seriously. Sadly, the ones I want to see the pictures I make more than anything are the subjects who let me in, people who gave me their permission to witness moments, their trust and their names and who were excited that something might appear in print the next day. 

When I was a student at the Eddie Adams Workshop (XIV), I heard Eugene Richards talk about how he’d been doing these incredibly powerful, eye-opening stories in the trenches of his community and how he begged the local newspaper to run them — even offered the images up for free and offered to write something, too — and they were never published. So decades later, along came his book “Fat Baby” that has a dozen of so of these hard-hitting stories — that probably would have made a difference in the community had they been seen — that were finally being published in a big, fat, beautiful, heavy photo book that as he said is great and all, but realistically it meant that that work was only going to be seen by 2,500 other photojournalists now. 

Sure, I like to get likes on social media. But what does that really serve besides my own ego. I guess that’s Richards’ modern day photo book analogy wrapped up in a nutshell and delivered on an iPhone. It’s great and all, but…

Friendly Advice

Can I offer a little piece of friendly advice for those of you applying for internships/jobs?

You essentially get three pieces of information to show your worth as a photographer, a journalist and a human being: your portfolio, your resume and a cover letter. It goes without saying, that your portfolio should be the best of the best. You are only as strong as your weakest photo (example: Don’t stick a lame sports photo in just to show you can shoot sports). It’s your main chance to shine and show what you can do for the publication you’re applying for, so this might be a good time to take those pix of your college girlfriend, and pictures of light and shadows off your portfolio… you know, the ones in that section of your website named after lyrics from your favorite indie song?!

With that said, researching the publication you’re sending stuff to is essential. Is it a small community paper where you need to be incredibly well rounded and show you can do it all? Is it a larger publication that places an emphasis on personal vision and good story telling? Is it a magazine that specializes in portraiture? It might help to know these things. (We’ve actually gotten questions from people wanting to know if we shoot sports at the paper. Yes. It’s a large daily newspaper with professional football, baseball and hockey teams, arena league football, a Grand Prix, and about 100 high school in our coverage area who are always state contenders in something… but you should do your homework, because just going to our website would have told you that…) And before you ask stupid questions to editors, about what their publication is about, seek out past interns that can tell you what the daily demands really are.

Now onto your resume. Keep it to ONE PAGE. At this point, it’s silly to think you require more. Highlight your experiences and awards, but don’t over inflate your sense of self worth. Also: social media isn’t a skill. It’s expected at this point, and there’s no sense in saying you know how to use it if you haven’t included your @username. 

And lastly, your cover letter should NOT duplicate your resume. If you spend a paragraph telling someone what computer programs you know and what gear you’re comfortable using — you just wasted some valuable real estate. If you spend three paragraphs telling someone about your qualifications and every place you’ve ever worked and how many people you managed on your student paper, (thing you’ve bullet-pointed already on your resume) I can guarantee they’ve stopped reading because you’ve wasted their time.

Instead think of a cover letter as a chance to introduce yourself, an opportunity to share something about the quality of your character, the perfect place to infuse some personality and set yourself apart. Anecdotes work well. Tell me, in a paragraph, about how you’ve grown as a photographer. About a picture or story that moved you and why. About a moment that was a turning point. About how you’ve dealt with adversity. Or about what you’re most proud of.

And for the love of all that’s good in the world, please spell the editor’s name correctly (actually have someone else read it before you send it — and make sure you spell everything correctly and use proper grammar…). And resist the urge to use “To Whom It May Concern” or my current favorite “Hello Employer!”

That’s all you get — three little pieces of information to get your foot in the door and make a good impression on a future employer. If you’re smart, all three will complement one another and give a more well-rounded idea of who you are. Ultimately, it’s about the strength of your pictures and what you can do for the publication you’re applying for. When there are plenty of good applicants though, things like your resume and cover letter can help set you apart if done well. When you’ve made it to the finalist’s pile, I can guarantee it’s those small things (like typos) that editors will be looking at to find fault with.

Oh, and have I mentioned that we’re looking for an awesome one-year photo intern at the Tampa Bay Times?

5 Questions for Melissa Lyttle

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Melissa Lyttle is a photojournalist at the Tampa Bay Times newspaper in St. Petersburg, Fla. She started APhotoADay nearly 15 years ago, as a conversation between two friends; APAD now has over 2,500 members on its listserv and inspirational annual get-togethers for its members. She believes in the power of community journalism and of the importance of community amongst fellow photographers. 

I had an awesome first (and hopefully not last) freelance assignment a few months ago for Our State Magazine to photograph the Bodie Island Lighthouse keepers’ descendants reunion weekend. I was totally enamored with the Outer Banks and its ubiquitous light house culture.

Here are some of my favorite outtakes that didn’t make the magazine.

Also, because we’re a great team, Lane DeGregory’s story is worth a read on the folks drawn to the light.

Master the Medium

Amen.

"The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it."

Edward Weston, 1927 (via erickimphoto)

5 Questions for Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

apadblog:

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Sara Lewkowicz is a native New Yorker pursuing a master’s degree in visual communication from Ohio University in Athens and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has won several grants and awards, including the 2013…

5 Questions for Pete Brook

apadblog:

Pete Brook is a freelance writer and curator. Pete likes images in general, but prison images specifically — he thinks they may have instructional value. Pete is confused why caring about prisons is seen as radical. Being concerned about millions of men, women and children who are locked up for…

5 Questions for Kendrick Brinson

apadblog:

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Kendrick Brinson is a redhead (if you know any redheads, this explains a lot). She is a documentary, portrait, and lifestyle photographer (take that, boxes), who now resides in Los Angeles, California with her creative counterpart David Walter Banks. Her work can be found at

Playing around with a possible #Florida edit for my site.