It’s All Jeff’s Fault

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It’s all Jeff’s fault.

Why am I sitting here pondering my fate, future and fortune? Why are my friends doing the same? “That was all I needed, just Duane last night and Eileen this morning,” a friend said. “I’m changing things, I’m getting my life out of a box.” Why? Because Jeff put all these people together. It’s his fault.

The Palm Springs Photo Festival 2014 is over. It is. Over, done, final, complete and we have all moved on. Or have we? You see this isn’t a “photography event.” Don’t think trade show or geek fest. Think image. Think ACTUAL photography and the meaning behind why people do it and what it means to us as record, history or simply entertainment. These “little” gatherings are rare indeed, especially in an era of technology and over-interaction where nobody can seem to put their phone down long enough to actually find real purpose and real meaning, but during the festival they do, and they did.

Everyone was there. There was Duane, Frank, Greg and even a Gregory. There was Ian and Brian and Elena. There was a Tim and a Todd. There was Fletcher and Stanley was there too, and these were just the ones who came to share what they knew. You wonder why they did this? Because of Jeff. It’s his fault. He’s a strange bird this Dunas character. I sat in the audience, night after night, as the words and pictures flooded out, personal things, and private things and astounding things, things that branded even the longest running of those of us who have looked at life through little squares and rectangles, and I wondered “Do people really know what this is?” “Do they know how special this is?”
I wanted to blurt out my feelings and castigate anyone who even thought of leaving early. Like looking out over open prairie while the songbirds sing, knowing that the land has been sold to developers. You better pay attention now because you just never know if you will ever see or experience this again.

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I was there to work, to give information, to listen and to respond. Things I normally do, regardless of where I am, but more focused perhaps. Intense. Creatives are needy. They need time, critical thought and sounding boards. That’s just the way it is. The energy comes and goes, gets sucked out of you and then replaced by the words or images searing through your retinas or gently floating through your ears. “Your life is THE event,” we are told. Clearly, but thank you for reminding me.

“Who did you talk to?” she asked. How dare you even ask? Everyone. How can I even begin to remember. But here goes. Kelly, Michael, Tony, Brendan, Justin, Kari, Dan, Laura, Anthony, Douglass, Alexa, Randy, Michelle, Chris, Leah, Matt, another Chris, Greg, Valentino, Ray, Jesse, Sean, Dan, Tara, Susan, Matt, Cain, another Jeff, Mac, Peter, Andrew, Casey, Mike, Michael, Teru, Daniel, Ken, Sherri, Sue, Anna, Christa, David, Sonja, Holly, Jennifer, Miriam, Norman, Dina, Carolyn, Allegra, and Mary, and I’m not even social. I went to sleep early. Jeff’s fault.

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There was also the soul thing. Ya, that. That thing you think is just babble until you are staring at it and no matter which way you look you can’t see around. Ya, that. I learned, after twenty-five years that cameras have souls too. Mine does, or doesn’t in some cases. A switch. A spotlight shined at me. “Hey, dipshit, what are you doing?” “Stop doing it and get back to doing what you do.” Ya, I had that moment too, because of Jeff. And it wasn’t just me. What’s even better than having these moments is watching others have them. They do things like climb over four rows of seats in a really nice theatre just to tell you about something they figured out. They leave untold numbers of messages on your phone, or they lurk in the shadows near your hotel room and when you walk by they hiss and whisper, “Hey, wanna know what happened to me?” Creative breakthroughs needs to be shared, to be taken off the chest and released. It happens. It really does.

You want to know the truth? What came from all this? The consistent thread? Do your work. NOTHING else. You simply don’t have time to screw around. Want to be the one on that stage? Quit pretending, a photographic life isn’t a masquerade ball, it’s a police lineup but the only police lineup where you want to be the one picked out, and to do that you gotta find your particular visual crime. “Have you seen good work?” I asked. “Yes, but I often times have to wade through the work they think I want to see before we get to who they really are,” he answered. There, I just saved you months of work and therapy sessions. Just go figure it out and put it on paper. Then bring it back and show it to us. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Ya, I still blame Dunas. This post, the thoughts in my head and the direction I will take with my first step on this Sunday morning. The residue is there, like SPF 80 sunscreen. You KNOW it won’t come off easy.

Portfolio Reviews: Fotoweek DC

I rarely get a chance to review portfolios. In the past year I’ve only had one chance, so this coming opportunity at Fotoweek DC is a gem I’m very much looking forward to. What I like about reviewing is seeing how someone will take something they love, something that is so important to them and encapsulate all of it into a very small, edited, edible size. It isn’t easy, but that is the point. HOW someone does this is also very interesting. What do you present? How much? And in what form will you deliver the work?

If you haven’t had your work reviewed I can’t emphasis how important this is. What is the difference between showing your work on an iPad and showing a box of prints? What about a book? How many images do you show? What if someone sees something they like? Should you have extra work in reserve? What should you leave behind? Are you prepared for rejection? All of these questions are a starting point for being reviewed. Also, choosing the right reviewer is a key element.

The last time I had my work reviewed, for real, I was completely and utterly unprepared. Completely. I was showing the work you see here to book publishers, and beyond being able to answer the question, “What is your name?” I was unable to answer a single question in relation to this work. Who is the audience, Italians or Italian Americans? Where should the book be printed? How many copies? What size book are you thinking of? How many pages? What paper? Who is going to write the forward? Are you prepared to have shows in NY and LA entirely on your own? Etc, etc, and perhaps most importantly, do you have “X” amount of money upfront?

This was me…”Ahhh, I don’t know?”

My advice, learn from my mistakes.

The reason I included these particular images is that they are all portfolios from the exact same body of work, but each portfolio was designed for a certain type of review, or a certain situation where I might end up showing the work. And these are ONLY the print versions. Let’s not forget I have these images on my phone, website, etc. After having created these different versions there were a few that immediately began to stand out. The large print box (13×19),the smallest print box(3.5×5) and the smallest book(7×7) were the items I used the most. The iPad was, and is, the version I use the least. For some reason I don’t think work is considered the same way with the iPad that it is when showing prints or a book.
However, the phone has worked very well because the size actually brings people closer to work. The phone is like printing tiny prints which force the viewer to get close, as opposed to wall size images that actually physically make people back away. All of these dynamics are changing with the current explosion of viewing options. This is a good thing.

There are several things I would advise. First, you don’t need massive prints. I see this once or twice every time I’m at a review. Occasionally this can work but in many cases the idea of handling massive prints becomes an obstacle, and with twenty minutes total, most of the time it doesn’t work that well. And, if you are going to make massive prints make double sure your imagery requires this size print. I see a lot of work printed huge for no particular reason other than we now have the capability of doing so. As a reminder, my box of 3.5×5 prints has been as well received as anything I’ve ever done.

You also don’t need to show a huge number of images. Most of the time I’m going to see what I need to see within about ten images, twenty maximum. It’s great to have work in reserve, so if something strikes someone you can pull out the backup.

Finally, I think it’s best to have a user friendly portfolio. I know there is something museum like about white gloves but I don’t want to wear them and I surely don’t want you to have to sit there and turn the prints for me. At my last review I was approached by several people with white gloves and STACKS of prints. STACKS. Once they began turning prints, without me touching or feeling anything, I was so ready to say, “Okay, DONE,” but I’m too polite and endured the print onslaught. However, after about ten prints I was only thinking about how to get out of the review. And people I’m a “build you up, look for the positive” type reviewer, not the “break you down, focus on the negative” kind of reviewer.

Ultimately, in addition to all these physical or electronic options at our fingertips lies the all important reality that as an “artist” we MUST to able to TALK about our work. Did I mention how important this is? I might look at a body of work and think, “Not my thing,” or “Not sure what to say about this” but when the photographer can clearly state their intentions their goal and their influences, feelings, reason, etc., it allow me to sometimes see the work in a new way. When I learn the “why” I can sometimes aim the photographer in a direction I might not have otherwise been able to do.

And just to emphasize my obsession, I’ve included this image of me TALKING about this same work. Don, if you are out there, I think you shot this but let me know if I’m wrong about that.

Enjoy the review process, it’s one of the most interesting things we can do with our work. Take the lows and the highs and chop them off. Most will walk away somewhere in the middle, which is my experience isn’t such a bad place to be.

Fotoweek DC Schedule and New Additions

I’m officially signed up to be a part of Fotoweek DC, which is in November of this year. I’ve heard about this festival for years but never had a chance to attend, until now. The organizers are an interesting lot and they have come up with a couple of new programs for this year, including a new contest, education and portfolio reviews, etc.

I thought I would wrap this post in a range of random DC images. I love this town, and I love to photograph there. My goal is to get in early, hit the opening night gala and then take the next day to wander and shoot. Or I could be doing portfolio reviews the entire day, which is more likely! It’s also the PERFECT time to walk. Cold, potentially rainy and just up my alley. There are links below to both the educational program and the awards. Have a look and hopefully I’ll see you there.

Details and Links:

FotoWeekDC 5th Annual International Awards Competition:
Honoring professional and emerging photographers from the DC region and from around the world
Cash prizes totaling $26,000
Winning images will be exhibited during the FotoWeekDC Festival
Great online exposure
New Photo Book Competition – winners exhibited at the Goethe Institut’s Gallery, FotoWeekEDU
New Modern-Vintage category in photo competition – images captured with Brownie, Polaroid, Holga, Diana, Lomography, pinhole cameras and mobile devices.
Deadline: 9/17/12 at 11:59pm PST
Competition Link

Make sure you ping me on Twitter if you are going to be around. @smogranch

FotoWeekEDU – Seminars & Portfolio Reviews:
Leading names in photography share their insights and advice through the all-new educational program
FotoDC and the Goethe Institut partner this year to bring educational programming to the FotoWeek Festival.
Early bird deadline 9/7/12 Seminars & Portfolio Reviews Link:

I also love the fact they are having a book contest, which I would enter were I not working for Blurb. If you get a chance to go to DC make sure you let me know and we can connect. DC is such an incredible city. Every single time I go I find something new. And you have all the museums, openings, monuments, etc.

Palm Springs Photo Festival

Someone asked me, “Hey, how as the festival?” I thought about it, tried to figure out how best to answer and then realized the obvious.

“Where else can you talk photography and books at 3:30AM?” In short, this kinda sums up the entire event. The PSPF is simply unique to the United States. Where else can you get symposiums, seminars, lectures, nightly projections, nightly parties as well as workshops from photographers who simply do not teach anywhere else. The event is intimate and set in a location that offers everything from high desert mountains to the Salton Sea and beyond. Want to take a nude workshop from Ralph Gibson or Robert Maxwell, yep, there’s that too. How about showing your book to a curator, gallery owner or art buyer? Yes, you can do that too.

This entire event is the brain child of Los Angeles based photographer Jeff Dunas who has a background in photography unique to my experience. Because of this background he can pull off an event like this. And for those of you who don’t know, this event isn’t something that comes together last minute. This is a year-long expedition, complete with massive crew and logistical needs that go well beyond what you might imagine.


Think about this. On the way home, my wife and I were discussing the festival. Neither one of us heard a single complaint about ANYTHING. Not even hotel parking! Come on people, we are photographers, we LOVE to complain and yet I can’t remember a single whimpering gasp.


These images are a superficial peak at a few of the smaller moments. You have daylight panel discussion, nighttime gatherings, poolside parties, a few working photographers and Thomas Michael Alleman showing off his Blurb book.(You knew the plug was coming.)


If you are a photographer and want something different, come to this festival. If you are LA-based and haven’t been, please send me a letter and explain??? I’m puzzled. Unless you are working nonstop and then by all means. Or you are having 22-inch spinners installed on your blacked out Escalade.

And if you are still on the fence….just think about this……

Anthony Bannon, David Fahey, Frish Brandt, Gerd Ludwig, Holly Hughes, James Whitlow Delano(Finally got to meet him), Kevin Miller, Lisa Kerezi, Lise Sarfati, Mary Virginia Swanson, Michelle Dunn Marsh, Nigel Parry, Robert Klein, Ron Haviv, Shelby Lee Adams, Weston Naef, Robert Maxwell, Ralph Gibson, etc, etc. And these are A FEW of the people attending, teaching, speaking, etc.

You know me people, I’m jaded, and yet for an entire week my veil of jade is lifted and I’m allowed to just be in the world of photography(And work in the Blurb cabana suite, yes I said “Cabana Suite” it IS Palm Springs after all.) In fact, on the way home I told my wife, “I might try to show work next year,” and for a moment I thought she might dive out of the car but her shock was so great she was frozen in her attempt to grab the door handle.

For the next week or so I will actually feel slight depression as I do my best to ween myself off of the festival atmosphere. Thank you to Jeff Dunas and to the entire crew of the PSPF…….you nailed it once again.