23 epiphanies: Ramblings on artistic influences

Power plant accoutrements -- by Joe Reifer

Power plant accoutrements — by Joe Reifer

My presentation at last week’s Mono Lake Night Photography Festival was about the value of cultivating a diverse set of artistic influences. You are already doing this informally. The idea is to talk or write about your artistic input, as a playground for better understanding how these things are influencing your artistic output.

I had 45 minutes to talk, and spent just under 2 minutes talking about how each of these artists has influenced my night photography. As the presentation was both fast and media intensive, I’ve reproduced the list of artists below for those who attended the conference.

I encourage you to make your own list of influences. This could be a desert island list of your favorite films, photography books, novels, museum exhibits, dance performances — whatever you’re into. Making a list is the first step — the epiphanies are born out of process of articulating why you love this work, and how the work has influenced you. The writing doesn’t have to be lengthy — start with one sentence for the why, and one for the how. Have fun, and feel free to share your list.

  1. Gordon Matta-Clark: Conical Intersect [video on UbuWeb] [photos & bio on artnet]
  2. John Divola: Vandalism Series [photos on divola.com]
  3. Roger Ballen: Outland | Shadow Chamber | Boarding House
  4. John Pfahl: Altered Landscapes
  5. Draw on your image: To be discussed in a future blog post
  6. Gaspar Noe: Enter the Void [Netflix]
  7. Matthew Barney: Cremaster Cycle
  8. Werner Herzog: Of Walking In Ice
  9. Mark Rothko: Rothko’s Rooms [Netflix]
  10. William Vollmann: Imperial
  11. Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert [Netflix]
  12. David T. Hanson: Waste Land
  13. Flotation Tanks
  14. Haruki Murakami: A Wild Sheep Chase
  15. Ikeda Carlotta: Butoh Dance
  16. Yasujiro Ozu: Tokyo Story [Netflix]
  17. Master Musicians of Jajouka: Apocalypse Across the Sky | Pipes of Pan
  18. Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed [Netflix]
  19. Caspar David Friedrich [friendsofart.net]
  20. John Hind: Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight
  21. Chris Verene: Family | Chris Verene
  22. Jacques Tati: Playtime
  23. Erik Kessels: In Almost Every Picture #9 Black Dog

Note: Book and movie links go to Amazon, and help put a few extra pennies into the epiphany research jar.

10 questions about fine art photography: An interview with Joe Reifer

Joe Reifer interviewed by BFA candidate Holli Brunkala, April 2011

1. Did you receive any formal training in photography? How has that helped or hurt your business?

I learned traditional black and white developing and printing from a college friend, and worked in a black and white lab for a short time. I was primarily focused on playing music during my 20′s, and didn’t get serious about photography until about 10 years ago.

I used to think the photography business was 80% business and 20% photography. Now I think a conservative estimate is more like 90%/10%. Marketing and negotiating are more important than f/stops and shutter speeds. John Harrington’s Best Business Practices for Photographers book is really the best 20 bucks you could spend on your photography education.

2. It seems you do not have a rep. How are you marketing yourself? Due to the current economic status, have your strategies changed from when you were first starting out?

I am an artist with a day job. For the last 4 years I’ve made most of my income working 25-30 hours per week at a photography website company, teaching photography workshops, and teaching Photoshop at an art college. I’ve done occasional event and editorial work over the last 7 years, but I’m not actively seeking this type of work. My primary marketing activities are related to teaching workshops – blogging, social media, and email are the primary tools.

My job as an Account and Project Manager has given me the opportunity to meet and network with a wide variety of photographers. Beyond a handful of people who are doing weddings and corporate work, very few people I know are making a living as a full-time photographer without teaching or another source of income.

3. I could not find any books that you have published. Do you have another means of promoting your work?

Eventually I’m hoping to publish a book. Having a physical end product that’s paper instead of pixels seems immensely satisfying. I’m encouraged by the quality improvements in the print-on-demand world. But I want to take my time. Going on road trips to out-of-the-way places and absorbing the atmosphere under a full moon is my favorite thing to do. I’m more interested in making work that pleases me and having adventures than I am in packaging and selling my photos.

4. The work on your website is geared toward the fine art genre of photography. Have you been able to make a living from selling these images on your website, in galleries, etc. or do you have supplemental income?

This is mostly addressed above, but here’s the lowdown. Almost nobody makes a living solely as a fine art photographer. Beyond a very small roster of art world stars, even most well known successful fine art photographers have to teach or do commercial and editorial work.

Being a fine art photographer is a lot like being in a garage band. You might make enough money for a new guitar or camera, but you still need a job to pay your bills. Whether that job is shooting weddings or designing websites or working a regular job is up to you. My strategy has been to maintain a day job that leaves me the time and energy to shoot what I want.

5. What are the essential steps for an up-incoming photographer to make a successful living as a fine art photographer?

The best photography career advice I ever got was from Joe McNally at a workshop 6 years ago. He said “be an octopus.” You need to have an arm in everything, because it’s unlikely that one thing will pay your bills. Fine art photography is the least likely thing to pay your bills actually. For most photographers, there isn’t enough editorial work to pay your bills. So do both. Do headshots of lawyers. Pursue an in-demand specialty.

Once you have some experience, consider teaching. Love Photoshop? Lots of teaching opportunities there. Maybe you’re really good at masking and compositing – look for work as a retoucher. Talk to people who are doing the kind of work that you’re considering. Find out what it pays and how hard it is to get jobs. Do some assisting. Get to know some working professionals that will share their industry knowledge. Get a job at a lab or a high-end gallery. Don’t get discouraged. If you really want to make a living in photography, you can do it – HOW you do it may be much different than you suspect.

6. You and Troy Paiva have images from the same places. Are you ever worried about preserving your identity and whether or not your images will look too much alike?

Troy and I have very different styles – part of our compatibility is because there isn’t a threat that our images will look the same. In John Szarkowski’s construct of Mirrors and Windows, he’s a mirror and I’m a window.

7. How has it been beneficial to work with another photographer on night shoots?

The best part about night shooting with other photographers is networking about locations, camaraderie during the drive, and safety at remote locations. Seeing how other people shoot a location is also really interesting.

8. I am interested in photographing and/or documenting abandoned buildings, much like the images in your portfolio. How would a photographer go about gaining legal access to these types of places?

Make prints and be nice to people. That’s the secret. Getting permission is all about social engineering. Many property owners are concerned about liability, so having insurance can be really helpful, too. Troy Paiva’s chapter on location access in Lance Keimig’s night photography book has extensive advice on this topic.

9. What makes Southern California, as opposed to other desert-scapes, the ideal place for night photography?

The Southern California desert has a wide variety of junkyards, mining ruins, and military and industrial sites to photograph. It’s also about proximity for me – 6-7 hours in the car, and there’s always something interesting to shoot. Western Nevada is also pretty nearby. With more time and budget, I’d do some shooting in Arizona, and New Mexico. The reality of working means if I’m driving more, I’m shooting less. Why drive further when the quintessential desert is only 300 miles away.

10. I noticed you update your blog fairly frequently. Why is it important for a fine art photographer to have and continually post to a blog?

Blogging is one of the best ways to get people to your website. Over 1/3 of my web traffic comes from people who are searching Google. There are a lot of ways to share your images online. I prefer using the blog format because I’m in control of the of the container, and it’s integrated into my website. Once images and articles are posted on my blog, it’s easy to share them on other websites.

Thanks again for the interview. Let me know if you have any follow up questions!

Pier 24: An amazing collection of photography in a big quiet space

What if I told you there was a place in San Francisco to view an amazing collection of modern photography from the 1920′s to present.
And what if it was free to get in. And the space was huge.
And only 20 people were allowed in at a time, so you could stand in front of your favorites as long as you want.
And there were no crowds. And it was quiet.

This amazing place exists. It’s called Pier 24.
A whole room of Bernd and Hilla Becher typologies.
A whole room of Lee Friedlander.
A whole room of Robert Adams.
Arbus. Eggleston. Winogrand. Frank. Evans. Sugimoto. Misrach. Weston. Stieglitz. Strand.

The current exhibit runs through February 28th. Appointments to view the collection are available starting on January 3rd. Get this on your calendar for 2011!

Update: More motivation to visit Pier 24 from B.

Framing Time-Lapse: A few days before the show

Two minutes in the life of a photographer. Well, 2 minutes in time-lapse form anyways. Today I framed some 20″x30″ prints for the Dark Resort show that opens next week. The video above shows a time-lapse of the framing process. The music is from Serge Gainsbourg’s album Histoire De Melody Nelson. At first listen, it’s mellow music with a French guy talking. But there’s a lot going on here. The string arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier are superb. This album will get under your skin. I also highly recommend Gainsbourg’s hilarious novel Evguenie Sokolov, a bizarre meditation on flatulence and art.

Anyhow, here’s how the video was made:

  • A Ricoh GRDII was setup to record exposures at 5 second intervals
  • Exposures were 1/2 second at f/4.5, ISO 200
  • A total of 371 photos were used for the video
  • Music was added in Lightroom 3, using “Fit to Music” for the slideshow timing
  • The video was exported from Lightroom, and imported into iMovie to add titles and credits
  • iMovie has a built-in YouTube upload feature

And a few notes about the framing process:

  • The photos are digital c-prints made on a Lightjet
  • The finished prints were mounted on 3/16″ black gatorboard by Colortone in Berkeley
  • Frames were ordered from Frame Destination, including spacers to separate the print from the glazing
  • Essential tools included: Brillianize polish, anti-static cloth, a cardboard tube to remove peel the paper on the plexi, needle-nose pliers, a white glove, yerba mate, and some good tunes.

Hope you enjoy the video — let me know if you have questions about what’s happening. See you at the Dark Resort show next Friday, November 5th!