Behind the Scenes: Shifter Media

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“So what do you do for Blurb?”

I get this question a few times a week. I have yet to figure out an easy answer. I do many things, and what I do changes on a monthly basis. Lectures, workshops, educational outreach, special projects, etc, but I also do a campaign called “Dispatches” which started about eight months ago. It is because of Dispatches that Shifter exists. Well, Shifter also exists because of Coffee and Magic.

In some odd way I’ve returned to journalism, which is where this life journey began for me. I’ve never really been a journalist. I was a photojournalist for the first two or three years of my career, but I never considered myself a journalist. I still don’t, but Shifter and Dispatches have at least allowed me to think along those lines. Interviews, portraits and story. Long-form. This is what it looks like behind the scenes. These moments are thrilling. Meeting people like Edouard Duval-Carrie´and getting a few moments to ask them about life is an experience more than anything else. The goal is to allow them to speak about creativity in their own words, as long as those words may be.

This work lives on the website, but will also live in print form as well as, rumor has it, an exhibition. We’ll see. All these things take time and money, not to mention sustained focus and energy. It’s hard enough getting this work done.

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Unbinding the Book

A few short months ago I was involved in the creation of a truly inspiring project. The idea, redefine the book and redefine who can author can be. A partnership with Uk creative studio Jotta, an open call for submissions, A LOT of work done by a team of people, both in the United States and the UK, and the plan began to take form. The process continues as I write this.

The final showdown will come in the form of an exhibition at White Chapel in London. I will not be there, but others from Blurb will, and the Jotta team will be in attendance as well. What is the point of all this? Simple. Improvise, adapt, overcome, inspire and share. Yes, I’m stealing the first part of that from the Marine Corps, but it rings true here as well.
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James Cuddy and Roma Levin, UK designers and artists.
When this entire program started we held events in London, New York and San Francisco, and basically invited a range of brilliant artists/speakers to show us what they do and why they do it. Audiences were stunned that Blurb would do something like this. To pay for a series of events that were to inspire people to stop thinking like the clock reads 1975 and begin to see the idea of a book in new ways.

This is one of the reasons why I love working for this company. We do stuff like this. “Don’t think…FEEEEEEL,” is what Bruce Lee said. I totally agree. One of the biggest mistakes I see photographers making is creating books they think they are supposed to make and not those they might WANT to make. Something different. Something strange. Something that causes a viewer to pause and consider. This is a GOOD thing especially in an age when “bite size” is the description is the term used to describe our attention span.

As you will see, the folks who are contributing here are artists. This was not a photography book program, this was about redefining something that has an integral and storied place in the history of our species. The contributors work with language, imagery, motion, sound and light. In short, they have come up with some incredible pieces.

I’ve included links to several of the stories written about this project, in a variety of languages, so pick your poison. I’ve also included several portraits I made of the speakers who presented at the launch events. Stay tuned for this material to be released on the Unbinding the Book site.

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PUBLISH GRAPHIC DESIGNERS

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PRINT MATTERS

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Blurb – Unbinding the Book from jotta on Vimeo.

Save your “Likes” buy a print? (if you can)

I wrote this post a few days ago and then when I reread it I felt like perhaps I was coming across as a world class a$%hole. I thought, “What right do I have to condemn anything, especially when it comes to supporting someone or something?” so I decided to delete the post. Then I promptly forgot about it. Then I read it again. I’m still not sure, but that is what you are here for. To make your own decision. I’m obviously not against support, read the post, just stunned by how much stock we put in something like a single keystroke, often times lost in the hundreds of billions of keystrokes. On the other hand that makes me think of another post. Last year I ran into someone who as spending every waking second plotting the development of his social media following. He was up in the near one million followers category and someone said “Geez, you must me making some serious coin from that.” “I haven’t make a penny yet,” he responded. Someone said “What’s the point of it all?” There was no answer. So, this is my take on this scenario.

What is a “Like” really worth?

You click, you move on. How many of these do we do in a given day? “Wow, thanks for the like.”

Now return to the real world where you find yourself standing at the counter at the local dealer holding a bottle of developer in one hand and a bottle of fix in the other. You need both, but you can afford only one. Where is the like? Can you use it for barter? Can you tell the salesperson, “Hey, you should see how many likes I got.” “Any chance I can trade those likes for this fixer?” “Seriously, a lot of people I don’t even know are telling me I’m awesome and liking pretty much everything I do.” That has to be worth something right?

I’ve thought a lot about this online reality. It’s my fault for doing so. I’ve formed a few opinions, spent much time watching, and am still so puzzled by it all, so puzzled by the addiction to check in and see who is providing the much needed electronic nurturing. And I wonder how much more the artist could have accomplished had they not spent so much time online and fractured their skull and attention by trying to consume so, so much.
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So when I encountered Jeff Frost a few months back, and he told me what he was working on, I thought to myself “Well, that sounds admirable….how can I get involved?” Jeff was up to his normal shenanigans, spending weeks and months in strange, twisted places consumed by broiling temperatures, dust, periodically hostile locals; left alone with only the thoughts in his talented little head. And believe me, most of us are unprepared for what is floating in Jeff’s head. He’s an artist after all.

Jeff explained to me a new print idea he’d hatched, editions of one, 24×36, printed by Mac Holbert. “I’m in,” I said. “I want two.”

Let me back up.

I like Jeff. I like Jeff’s work. I admire his tenacity. I know A LOT of photographers who have yet to discover their inner fire, but he found his a long time ago. He is relentless, and again, he is working in places that are not easy to be, doing difficult time consuming work but yet he’s there, time and time again because he is possessed. I have great admiration for this. A lot of people stand around and wait for handouts. They wait for donations, or the perfect setup or situation. Jeff just makes work. He finds a way. His odometer was somewhere near 250,000 the last time I looked. These were HARD miles. Dusty. Four-wheel-drive access only. No air conditioning. A little puff of smoke with the turn of the key.

There is a madness to these things. So when it came time to get involved I bought prints. They were expensive, at least for me, and so was the framing. The prints are BEAUTIFUL. Loading them in the car and the person helping said “God these are cool.” True, they are. They are Jeff. Every minute of his childhood walking the hills of Utah with his grandfather, learning about cave paintings. Every second of his staring at the stars and learning what was where and why. Every second of his art training. Every MILE on that odometer is in these prints. I know because I went out there and watched. I got a little dust on my boots. Just once, but enough to know.

These prints aren’t going anywhere, including on the wall anytime soon. You see, I don’t have the space to hang them but I got them anyway. I don’t care if they lean against the wall until I move in the distant future. It was important to me because I know how important it is to Jeff. The career of an artist is a battle. What Jeff does, or any artist for that matter, is their business. I’m not condemning promotion. I’m just saying there is a big, big difference between tossing out a “Like” and really getting involved. So what is your time worth? What is your word worth? And before I go any further, in addition to respecting what Jeff does…I LOVE THESE IMAGES. I don’t buy to collect, although it’s kinda cool to know I’m the only one to have these two images at this size, I buy because I love the actual work. Same for my books. I buy things because I want to look at them, again and again, for YEARS at a time. I’m fortunate to be able to afford these, something I do not take for granted. I work hard. I spend hard. I felt my support would lead to tangible, real-world results, like gasoline, paint, cameras, food, etc. I don’t know for sure, but that was my intention. I’m only saying these things because I think most people have a good heart. They mean well, and they want to help, but these online support things of today are often times just noise that doesn’t swing the bar outside of the site itself and the corporations buying your personal information. When you buy direct, when you get involved in a concrete way, its spawns potential for real innovation, experimentation, failure and the breakthrough.

The real, tangible world is out in front of us, starting just beyond the screen. This is the world I choose to live in. It’s fantastic in ways beyond your dreams. Like it or not.

PS: My wife came home at midnight so tired she walked right past these babies without even a notice. She is going to scratch her head and say “What have you done now?”

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Jeff holding a print of an image I made of him on our first shoot. California desert, 2014.