A table spread with photographs and a fishbowl in front of me, three seven-foot banners dwarfing me from behind, I prepared myself to meet hundreds of writers over three days at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel with a 50/50 mix of exuberance and uncertainty. This scenario lay before me earlier this month when I had decided to take a stab at being a sponsor/exhibitor (party of one) at the Muse in the Marketplace writers' conference organized by GrubStreet, one of the nation's leading creative writing centers (and where my show, the Boston Authors Project, resides). My expectations were fairly low-key; connect with writers, and see how I could help them prepare their book jacket and publicity photography for their upcoming releases.
In truth, I wasn't sure what to expect. I generally work with folks one-on-one, with the exception of gallery openings and speaking at events, so I was equal parts hesitant and excited to take this on. For the first time, I had put together a fishbowl-type of raffle for an author to win a portrait sitting, which was a lot of fun and led to a full fishbowl (won by the lovely Kelly Ford - expect a blog post of Ms. Ford in the soon future). There were photographs in place for people to pick up and examine, a large screen with a slideshow of author images for attendees to peruse, and the requisite marketing materials (livened up by the fabulous faces of past clients).
The wonderful thing about authors as clients is that they uniformly have interesting lives to draw from; at the Muse, I met writers who were art historians, writers who were vets, writers who were professors, writers who fundraise, and writers who work at bookstores. Fiction writers, poets, business writers, all who had come both to get inspired and to learn the intricacies of how to get a book out into the world. While many of the folks I spoke with were from the Northeast, I met a good handful who had certainly gotten their frequent flier milage in - some from California, the Midwest, one from Ireland, all happy to take in as much as they could in three days.
Many of my conversations revolved around the following points:
- Are you a writer? (Not really, unless maintaining this blog counts. And academic articles.)
- What made you want to photograph writers? (Answer: here.)
- Jokes with the punchline being that I only photograph people who hate to be in the spotlight. (It's mostly true!)
- Tell me about how the publicity process works when a book comes out. (I did, very happy to help with that, as it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially to newly-published authors.)
- Where are the photos you create used? (Book jackets, book publicity, editorial/magazine use, webpages, social media.)
- Do you photograph anything but portraits? (I specialize just in commercial/editorial portraiture.)
- Your work is beautiful (Thank you - who doesn't feel good about hearing that?!)
Some of the highlights of my time:
- Seeing beautiful artwork by an author/collage artist
- Reconnecting with past clients and current friends, like the glorious Lara Wilson and Rita Zoey Chin (who also spoke about the essentials of dialogue and is one of the kindest human beings on the planet), and the super-delightful Whitney Scharer
- Stopping by the panels of distinguished writers Jennifer Haigh (Topic: Building the World of the Novel - who is also lovely and a fantastic writer - check out her newest novel), and new-to-me writers Anjali Mitter Duva (Topic: You're the Boss! Taking control of your book promotion plan) and Crystal King (Topic: How to use social media for self-promotion and not be annoying) - though sadly I couldn't stay long, as I had to get back down to the exhibitor's room
- Buying books at the Porter Square books table, run by the delightful and wickedly funny Robert Smyth
- Getting hugs from GrubStreet staff and friends like Eve Bridburg and Sonya Larson, who with Christopher Castellani did a wonderful job running the event
- Making connections with the other vendors - I kibitzed with the beautifully-named Jana Van der Veer from Lesley University, and Jenn Scheck-Kahn of GrubStreet and Journal of the Month
- Eating matzoh behind my booth as I finished out Passover in the most crumbly manner possible
All-in-all, it was a delightful way to meet some fascinating people! I slept well afterwards, too.
From the first e-mail I received from Sarah G. Ross, PhD, I knew I was fortunate enough to meet a kindred spirit. Sarah's delightful and wicked sense of humor, quirkiness, and warm humanity made her a joy to photograph, as well as an honor due to her impressive background as an academic and author in early European history at Boston College,
Given her background, Sarah was looking for an academic/author portrait that placed her in the Gothic architecture at Boston College; the more Gothic, the better, said Sarah. She also requested dramatic light, which I was happy to deliver. Much of her work follows the everyday life of past European artisans, and it was only fitting that the imagery, in a nod to her subjects, would be infused with art and beauty.
With my assistant, Tim, we kept an eye out for archways, textured stone, and stained glass to frame Sarah's portraits, and Boston College's campus did not disappoint. Our only sadness was that unlike Oxford University, the inspiration for BC's architecture, there was a sad lack of gargoyles on campus. We joked that should we do another shoot, we would have to install stealth gargoyles somewhere - perhaps the BC version of a MIT-like "hack."
Despite our sad lack of gargoyles on campus, we found a surplus of beautiful locations to shoot, and as the sun and rain came and went, got some gorgeous moments, with some help, as needed, by strobes and our voice-activated light stand, Tim (who is a retired historian himself).
Sarah now has a collection of images to chose from to use for her professional needs, whether it be a speaker bio, author photo for an upcoming book, or for online professional use on her academic blog. All in all, this shoot was delightful from start to end, and I look forward to following Sarah's work in the future!
Last spring, I posted about the Shalon, a cross-collaborative professional creative group formed between myself, an author, an artist, and a filmmaker (we just added a mosaicist/educator as well, but more on that soon!). Inspired by the concept of 18th century French salons, we meet monthly to discuss our goals, be accountable to one another, and brainstorm ideas. The three menfolk of our group suggested the name based on the first three letters of my name.
Being an independent creative professional can challenge the most stalwart of creative souls, and this group helps keep all of us focused and productive, both creatively and from a business standpoint. I hope that this, and future interviews with fellow independent creatives will inspire and support those of us making a living with our art. In that initial post, I mentioned that I'd be focusing on the Shalon-ers individually so you can learn a little more about them and their work.
For this post, I interviewed our resident artist, Bradford Johnson. Brad has been painting now for nearly three decades and exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions—garnering acknowledgements and awards from such prestigious organizations as the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and Yaddo and MacDowell Artist Colonies. Throughout this time he has focused on “first-level” questions: who are we, where do we come from, why are we here, what has gone wrong, where are we going? In his work there is often an element of immanent danger and potential or actual disaster. Images of wrecked ships, airplanes, and balloons alongside ordinary human activities; indicators of aspiration and failure, calamity and hope — overlaid with time and memory. Without further ado, let's talk to Brad about his work (all images of artwork are courtesy of Bradford Johnson).
Sharona: Hi Brad, and thanks so much for speaking to us about you and your work! Could you tell us a little bit about what drives you as an artist?
Brad: I'm fascinated with the boundaries between photography and painting. I delight in criss crossing the line between both - embedding objective photographic backstories with the subjective painting process. Even during the formative training as an artist at The Rhode Island School of Design to my MFA at Hunter College, NYC, I was captivated with memory and the past in visual terms. This was central in my show at the UniLu Gallery in Cambridge MA, Spaces Between the Splendor- Painting Encounter and Conquest.
SJ: How did you first venture into the art world?
Brad: I came to art making sometime late in high school - my application to the Rhode Island School of Design a kind of afterthought amid other liberal art colleges. When I was accepted there I (naively) took this a confirmation of an artistic path. This unexpected stroke of luck or grace was the gate through which I found a vocational calling.
SJ: It's true, luck can certainly change an artist's course, both for good and the difficult! What are the greatest challenges in your work, and what helps you overcome them?
Brad: I think it's particularly hard to hold on the value of myself or my work consistently. There are plenty of metrics in the world that diminish livelong pursuit of painting (or any creative path). Painting can be isolating. There are many moments of self doubt. The only way through these periods is through community and connection. It can also be helpful to muster a determination to keep throwing any shit at the walls until something sticks.
SJ: Absolutely! Persistence is underrated as a vital commodity in an artist's survival and success. Speaking of success, whose work do you most admire or influences you?
Brad: An early guiding light for me was the quirky painter A.P Ryder and some of his obsessive gritty mysterious paintings. Later Robert Rauchenburg offered a way to work with photographic images that was liberating. I also lean pretty heavily on musicians like, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and Nick Cave as inspiration.
SJ: Sounds like you like to draw from multiple artistic disciplines to create your work, much like we at the Shalon like to support each others' work though we each create with different media. How is the Shalon, or meeting within other creative professional groups, helpful to you?
Brad: The Shalon has been a lifeline of artistic and personal accountability. This group of friends are a remarkably undefended fellow creatives who generously share the burdens and joys of the artistic road.
Mark John Isola, a writer and English professor hailing from both Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts, contacted me recently to photograph him as he had recently finished working on his first story collection. Fascinating work, his new book explores the social within the sexual to consider the reflective, romantic, and randy aspects of human experience.Read More
In which our daughter celebrates another year, Star Wars-style.
Generally, this blog is dedicated to portraits and headshots of writers, academics, artists, and those with Very Large Brains (I've always enjoyed how A.A. Milne used creative capitalization). Today, I thought we'd take a brief break to be a bit a personal, and even a little bit silly, and give you a behind-the-scenes view of the non-photographer side of my life. Well, at least the side of my life in which I rarely use light modifiers and I'm not actually required to hold a camera (but end up doing so voluntarily).
My husband, Jeremy, and I have a rather sarcastic yet delightful daughter named Lilia, who recently turned eight. She enjoys Harry Potter books, zombies, karate, and is currently obsessed with Star Wars - a passion she strongly shares with her dad (I am Star Wars-supportive, but was brought up in a more Star Trek-loving family myself).
Together, the two of them dreamed up the idea to take over a local black box theater at the Arlington Center for the Arts, invite some of our kid's closest buddies, and pull together a home-made belated birthday party made almost entirely of stuff that Jeremy, Lilia, and our neighbors/adopted family members, James and Jean, made themselves. I'm not talking Pinterest-worthy stuff, just a few basics to make a bunch of kids happy and keep the adult Star Wars fans amused. Pool noodles were cut in half and silver-taped at one end to make light sabers that wouldn't create bludgeoning injury, a chocolate cake was baked by my husband (not fancy, but delicious, with the new Star Wars action figures nestled on top - including our strong females Rey and General Leia) and a bunch of activities were dreamed up that Jeremy thought would be fun.
Coming from a theater background, Jer taught the kids some basic attack/defense sword fight choreography and then paired them up with their pool noodle light sabers. After that, still clutching their sabers, he organized them into groups to take turns pitching bean bags so that kids holding a light saber/now baseball bat could take a swing.
And finally, after Jer's Famous Mac n' Cheese (it deserves capitalization) and cake, the kids lined up to beat the stuffing out of a papier–mâché Death Star that Jer made out of a beach ball, flour, water, and the requisite silver and black paint. The brave adults standing guard kept blood from being shed while each child put their full effort into grabbing as much candy as possible.
While we all had a lot of fun, after a couple of hours, we were ready to calm down each sugar-charged, pool-noodle-armed kid, hand them back to their families, and go home for a brief nap.
Despite the breezy tone of my title, I have to say that new author, Neil Hayward, is one of the most charming gentlemen I've met! He recently contacted me as his new book - "Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year" - was coming out in May, and his editor sent him my way to create the imagery for his book jacket and his promotional material.
Hayward, a rather educated Oxford/Cambridge-educated scientist and consultant, decided to take a year off and attempt what’s known as a “big year” — seeing as many different kinds of birds as possible, traversing the continent to do so. He managed 749 which made him the North American bird spotting champion. And prompted him to write a book, as well.
When he came my way, what could I do but take him outside? We had a lovely day in terms of clarity, though it was brutally cold, which Neil took like a trouper, eventually becoming rather blue in the process, but certainly game to try new landscapes outside.
We also shot in the studio, playing with strobes and ambient light, to get some beautiful headshots. Though as much as I love my studio, I have to say that the field trip outdoors felt necessary and true in order to capture the spirit of Neil's big year.
Every once in a while, a client will walk through my door who immediately brightens the room. I feel very fortunate to have photographed Colleen Chapman this past week, a public health expert who lectures at Harvard, Boston, and Georgetown Universities, in addition to running her healthcare consultancy. Hailing from Waban, MA, Colleen was truly a delightful person to photograph; witty, warm, and brilliantly clever.
Colleen was looking for a professional, warm, and polished headshot to be used on her speaker bios and for her company's marketing material. My goal was to convey her wit, vivacity, and lovely personality in her imagery, which was truly a pleasure on my part!
Stacy Kennedy is a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition and an integrative nutritionist. Featured in the award-winning documentary films, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2, Stacy is a senior clinical nutritionist at the Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center Hospital, and is an adjunct professor in wellness and health coaching at William James College. She, along with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy, PsyD, run a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC, in Wellesley, MA, creating individualized plans for optimizing weight management, disease prevention and management, and promoting longevity.
Stacy, regularly featured in TV, radio, and print media, came to me looking for a series of environmental portraits that supported her private practice and media work. A lively and personable woman, Stacy was looking for compelling imagery that conveyed both her approachability and deep professional knowledge. In additional to her nutrition background, Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist as well as a yoga teacher, and it was important to us both to create portraits that also touched on her fitness background as well.
A Netherlands-based publication, Filosofie, entirely dedicated to philosophers, recently contacted me to photograph Adam Sandel, PhD, a Harvard lecturer in social studies and rising star in the philosophy world. The art director of Filosofie was looking for portraits for an interview-based article for their November edition of the magazine, and gave me a lot of creative freedom to create a several images that highlighted this young professor whose new book was shortly to be released in Europe.
Sandel, son of noted philosopher Michael Sandel, also of Harvard, was a joy to photograph. Filosfie's interviewer was running a bit late, so I photographed a bit of the interview while I waited.
Once the interview was complete, I shot Adam both indoors and outdoors on campus, using several different lighting techniques, first in the ambient light, and then shooting to create a virtual night in order to separate Adam from the background.
Adam was infinitely patient as I tinkered around with several lighting set-ups (my assistant's car sadly broke down in one of Boston's innumerable tunnels, so I was flying solo). Adam beautifully coped with me dragging him to different setups, turning and twisting him around, with a lovely personable sense of humor and a quiet thoughtfulness as he answered my questions and quickly adapted to each physical and lighting environment. A lovely afternoon all around, and I even finished on time for him to make a family dinner!
Creating the right headshot for a thought leader in technology
Theresa Regli, chief analyst of Real Story Group, a global digital workplace and marketing technology analyst firm, speaks at technology conferences throughout the world. She contacted me recently because she needed an updated, sophisticated portrait that accurately conveyed both her experience and her real-life presence.
Intelligent, witty, and well-traveled, Theresa had a wonderful gravitas about her, a feeling of great internal strength, and it was important that these qualities would shine through her portrait. For an accomplished person like Theresa, I felt that her headshot had to be like a short story that described her world of work and her confidence in that world just through her gaze, stance, and body language. We were both very pleased with how the images conveyed both her internal and external presence.
This past month, I was asked to photograph a co-author team at Harvard University who've recently finished writing a book about Chinese philosophy. Michael Puett, who is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, teamed up with Christine Gross-Loh, author and Harvard PhD graduate, to produce a book for both general and academic audiences.
The authors' European publishers, based in the Netherlands, approached me to produce promotional portraits, both singly and together, that conveyed the authors' combined intellect and warmth.
Michael, considered to be one of the most popular professors of Harvard's faculty, and Christine, whip-smart, kind, and prolific author of many books, were an absolute joy to work with - both so friendly and sincere. We shot around Harvard's campus, both in academic and wooded areas, and created beautiful portraits that flattered both the petite Christine, and the very tall Michael, bringing out their distinct personalities.
Emily O'Brien is a recorder and traverso player who now hails from Boston after studying recorder and french horn at Boston University, and recorder and Baroque flute at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe, Germany. She performs both classical and historically informed music, and approached me to photograph her for an upcoming CD of music that features her performing on a modern tenor recorder.
Looking for images both elegant and interesting, Emily wanted photographs that conveyed the gravitas of classical musicianship as well as the warmth of her own personality. The photos needed to feature both Emily as well as the detail of her instrument.
It was a wonderful afternoon of music and and photography, and I hope to post images of Emily's upcoming CD soon!
Last week, I blogged about Manuel and Joe, two men I photographed for BNY Mellon and PFLAG, to showcase portraits of members of the LGBTQ community in order to raise awareness about Pride Month. Peter Tenggren, my contact at BNY Mellon who asked me to create this small group of work, sent me the below picture of the portraits, (printed by Bob Korn Imaging) now settled in the first of its four traveling stops throughout the Boston area for the month of June. I thought I'd share with you all the images, and very importantly, the words behind each person photographed, below.
The Pride Project
I’m delighted to work with BNY Mellon and PFLAG, as a proud ally, to present this collection of five portraits of vibrant members of the LGBT community in honor of Pride Month. With each photograph, I worked to display the humanity, warmth, and intelligence of the person pictured; to show both their inner world as well as to document each person’s features, relationships, and character. Part of the process to create these images was to get to know what was important to each person, and to create a safe and warm environment so that each man and woman pictured would feel at ease to truly be themselves. My goal with each person photographed was to foster a genuine friendship and alliance enabling the viewer of the portrait to feel as though they had somehow already known the person in the photograph. As a portrait photographer, storyteller, and former psychotherapist, it is vital to me that each portrait creates a narrative and sense of recognition between the viewer and the viewed.
- Sharona Jacobs, June 4, 2015 www.sharonaphoto.com
The Pride Project
Amy and Lori, 2012
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 30 inches
“This portrait was taken hours before I married my best friend. It was amazing to have one of the best days of my life documented in such intimate and lovely detail. To me Pride is confidently walking down the street, holding hands with my wife while pushing our 18-month-old twins in their stroller. In the past 20 years my Prideful life has shifted from bar-fueled weekends to Saturday Gymboree outings. What hasn’t changed is me going about my out life in the most honest way possible.”
"Pride is raising our children to know that Different doesn't mean Lesser. Differences are a good thing and we should always try to embrace what is different about ourselves and others. Our family might look a little different to some people, but it is full of love and laughter and both the family we were born with AND the family we chose."
The Pride Project
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 30 inches
This portrait of Mark was taken the day Lori and Amy were married, and he and his partner hosted their celebration. Amy: "There’s the family you’re born with and the family you choose. Our chosen family includes two of the kindest, most generous people on the planet who opened their home to host our fabulous wedding.”
The Pride Project
Robin Lippincott, 2015
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 27.4 inches
Robin: "I am a writer of literary fiction and nonfiction. I have two books coming out: Blue Territory: A Mediation on the Life and Work of Joan Mitchell (November 2015), and Rufus + Syd, a young adult novel co-written with Julia Watts (Spring 2016). I am also the author of the novels In the Meantime, Our Arcadia, and Mr. Dalloway, and the short story collection The 'I' Rejected. My fiction/nonfiction has appeared in over 30 journals, including "The Paris Review," "American Short Fiction," "Fence," "Memorious," "The Literary Review," "The New York Times Book Review," and others. I teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Spalding University. Simply put, pride means having the self-respect to be fully myself.”
The Pride Project
Manuel and Joseph, 2015
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 26.5 inches
Manuel: "We are constantly making each other laugh. A common scene would include me talking about my day, but in Sofia Vergara's voice, followed by Joe bursting out laughing with his eyes shut, probably thinking to himself, "I hope this is only part of today's show, and not what I actually signed up for!" The roles reverse when Joe starts walking around the kitchen imitating a praying mantis while re-enacting a scene from Isabella Rossellini’s, "Green Porno" (which we went to see on our first Valentine). But life is not all about laughter and smiles. With our highly sensitive and introspective personalities, we often find ourseleves having to support and uplift each other, especially after reading one article too many about some form of injustice in the world. In this higly curated society driven by selfies and social media, we are proud to show all sides of our love, from laughter to tears. And as Milennials, we are thankful that we can safely show this connection outside of our private spaces (even if Joe sometimes shrugs off one too many of my PDAs)."
The Pride Project Joseph, 2012
Archival Digital Pigment Print
20 x 30 inches
Joe: "I have an innate fear of photographs. Perhaps it's from a youth deeply concerned with judgement and being misunderstood. Or perhaps it's because I've spent my life seeking out difference and broadening my knowledge, skills, experiences, and connections into the multi-faceted person I am today; I feared a portrait could not distill this. Yet Pride, for me, is an inversion of that fear. It is acceptance, celebration, and love for the diversity both within and outside ourselves. And it is in this light that I couldn't be more proud to show--at least an aspect of--our selves and our love.”
Recently, I was asked by a friend at BNY Mellon to showcase some of my portraits of individuals and couples from the LGBT community in conjunction with their partnership with PFLAG in honor of Pride Month. My friend, Peter, biked with my husband and I across Europe in 2002 in the European AIDS Vaccine Ride - 575 miles in seven days with a $5k minimum fundraising goal to help fund research for an AIDS vaccine - and we had kept in touch ever since; it was a pretty intense bonding experience! Peter had seen my Boston Authors Project show at GrubStreet, and asked if I could do something similar for BNY Mellon's partnership with PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends and Allies united with LGBTQ people to move equality forward) - of course I said yes.
For this project, I photographed Joseph, an architect, and Manuel, one of my former students at MIT, now a scientist, along with a few others - I could only choose a couple of these for the show, so I'm expanding a bit here. Both Manuel and Joe are incredibly funny guys, smart, and a joy to be around - Manuel has a particular touch for interacting with kids of all ages (my daughter snagged him as I took Joe to the studio first), and Joe has a wicked collection of expressions that were just a joy to shoot, as well as similar literary tastes - everything from mindfulness to Orson Scott Card (we both enjoy the fiction, though neither of us share that author's politics). My goal with this collection of photographs was not only to reveal each man's loveliness and character but to also to describe the warmth and joy of their relationship.
Last week, I wrote about the cross-disciplinary artists group I assembled called the Shalon, made of up a commercial/fine art photographer (yours truly), an artist (Bradford Johnson), a writer (Robin Lippincott), and a filmmaker (John Neely). This week, I am taking a brief break from introducing the members of the Shalon, to introduce you to another small creative group I belong to that is just for commercial and editorial photographers in the Boston area.
This group, is one of a handful in the New England area organized by the New England chapter of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers). ASMP is a national organization with 39 chapters from Alaska to New England. These small groups are run through the MAG (mutual accountability group) program. MAG is for ASMP members and designed so that you can either find a group currently meeting to join or start your own all through the MAG website.
Our group is composed of Boston commercial, editorial, and fine art photographers – it's up to the individual group to decide how to best use the knowledge, support, and motivation of fellow photographers to achieve the group members' goals. Our group tends to lean on the mentoring, creativity support, and advice side of things. Recently, we've used the group to get feedback on developing new branding strategies, crafting beautifully designed direct mail campaigns, and critique of project work. We even have a monthly creativity support exercises in which we come up with a theme (for example, white-on-white images) to stretch our creative muscles.
I should take a step back, and say something briefly about the national organization of ASMP for those of you unfamiliar with the organization. For photographers either involved or interested in editorial and commercial photography, as a resource, ASMP is an amazing asset. It's a really strong national organization that offers events, resources, incentives, discounts and lobbying for photographers at the national level for those of us that shoot non-retail work – meaning those of us that don't exclusively shoot weddings or family portraits. It's a fantastic resource, providing everything from health insurance to marketing resources to licensing and pricing guidelines for independent commercial photographers. The New England chapter also puts on an amazing free portfolio review each fall in Boston where photographers can meet up with regional art directors, art producers, and curators to get the real scoop on how their portfolios appear to industry experts - this year's event is scheduled for October 16th, 2015.
But the small MAG groups offer something far more personal than insurance, or a great discount on software. It offers a place for photographers to be real about our triumphs and struggles, and get the support of others who understand our exact situations. We are own best resources - if we're unsure how to price a job, need a pinch-hitter because of an emergency or illness, or are feeling stuck professionally or creatively, we know we have a group of fellow professionals in our corner, ready to help the others out. Commercial and editorial photography can be a tough and competitive business, but our group is made up of more than just colleagues; we are friends and supporters of each others' work and businesses.
To that end, I'd like to introduce you to Mike Ritter, of Ritterbin Photography, the current president of the New England Chapter of ASMP, and also one of the founding members of our MAG/MMG group. In the next few weeks, I'll be introducing you to a few of our other members as well through short interviews and examples of their work. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Mike, our intrepid ASMP NE president, and all-around awesome guy. Sharona Jacobs: Hi Mike! Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mike Ritter: I'm a Pennsylvania hayseed who went to school in the wilds of Maine and then ended up in the big city (for New England) - Boston - in 2002. I worked in a photo lab and photo gallery before heading out on my own freelance photo career in 2005. My photography has taken me all over Boston and through Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and New Orleans. My wife and I live in a Dorchester triple decker with our daughter, Vivian.
SJ: Can you give us a little bit of information on your company and your typical clients?
I've run Ritterbin Photography for 10 years focusing primarily on Boston area clients - I primarily shoot events and on location portraits. My clients are principally schools, financial services companies, non-profits, and event companies.
SJ: What made you want to be a photographer?
My dad gave me his camera in college, and I enjoyed learning on it. While I love the craft of making a great picture, I'm even more excited by the life I can live as a photographer. I meet so many people from so many walks of life and get to know Boston much better than I could in a job at one location with one group of co-workers.
SJ: What type of projects will you be working on in the next few months?
I'm adding video to my services which is very exciting because it's a collaborative process with other creatives, and it can communicate certain things better than photography (and vice versa). So, it will help me tell clients' stories in as effective a manner as possible. I will also begin to do more direct marketing to clients I'd like to work with rather than relying on word of mouth. And, I'm putting together a website for my Boston Cornerstone project (
) which will roam all over Boston looking for cornerstones and then shooting a time collage cityscapes where they are found.
SJ: Can you tell me how the MAG group helps you in your career as a professional photographer?
My MAG partners have dealt with issues I'm trying to get under thumb and vice versa. Sharing our work as it's in progress whether it's a recent shoot, website redesign, or a contract etc., makes for a much better final product whatever it is. It's too easy for photographers to work almost entirely alone, but our work and our ideas improve tremendously when we share and work with others. That's why I joined ASMP and was interested in helping re-organize the MAG program.
A few months ago, I posted about the Shalon, a cross-collaborative professional creative group formed between myself, an author, an artist, and a filmmaker. Inspired by the concept of 18th century French salons, we decided to meet monthly to discuss our goals, be accountable to one another, and brainstorm ideas. The three menfolk of our group suggested the name based on the first three letters of my name. Being an independent creative professional can challenge the most stalwart of creative souls, and this group helps keep all of us focused and productive, both creatively and from the business standpoint. I hope that this, and future interviews with fellow independent creatives will inspire and support those of us making a living with our art. In that initial post, I mentioned that I'd be focusing on the Shalon-ers individually so you can learn a little more about them and their work. This week, I interviewed our resident writer, Robin Lippincott, the author of the novels "In the Meantime", "Our Arcadia", and "Mr. Dalloway", among many other published works.
Hi Robin, and thanks so much for speaking to us about you and your work. Could you tell us a little bit about you and your work?
Robin: I am a writer of literary fiction and nonfiction. I have two books coming out: Blue Territory: A Mediation on the Life and Work of Joan Mitchell (November 2015), and Rufus + Syd, a young adult novel co-written with Julia Watts (Spring 2016). I am also the author of the novels In the Meantime, Our Arcadia, and Mr. Dalloway, and the short story collection, The 'I' Rejected. My fiction/nonfiction has appeared in over 30 journals, including "The Paris Review," "American Short Fiction," "Fence," "Memorious," "The Literary Review," "The New York Times Book Review," and others. I teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Spalding University, and am also an avid film/museum/gallery goer, as well as a frequent walker in the city.
Sharona: How did you first venture into writing?
Robin: I first got into writing as a result of grief, not death but loss, as has been true for so many writers—one long, hot, long ago summer in Central Florida, where I grew up. Van Gogh's letters to his brother, collected in Dear Theo, and Anne Frank's Diary, were seminal aspects of my aesthetic and moral education that summer.
What are the greatest challenges in your work, and what helps you overcome them?
Robin: The greatest challenge in the work itself is simply getting it right, and in creating something that's beautiful and true. And then there are the challenges that occur at the intersection of art and commerce, at which there's most always a collision: sometimes it's only a bump or a scratch or a dent; at other times the vehicle is totaled. In both cases, you've just got to keep at it, teeth (sometimes) gritted.
Sharona: Whose work do you admire or influences you?
Robin: The list is long. I consider Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence as my literary parents, with Emily Dickinson as a great aunt, and from there it's largely the great minds and/or stylists (the writer's writers), as well as a few Southern writers, whom I most admire. Here's a shortlist: Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, John Berger, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin, Elizabeth Hardwick, James Salter, Grace Paley, James Schuyler, Toni Morrison, Renata Adler, Michael Ondaatje, W. G. Sebald, Anne Carson....
How is the Shalon, or meeting in other creative professional groups, helpful to you?
Robin: The Shalon is invaluable to me for several reasons. First, I believe the artistic pursuit (and the life that goes with that) is best and perhaps only really understood by other artists; in my experience, non-artists just don't/can't fully get it. And so I receive meaningful emotional support, both generally and also specifically. And I also get ideas and inspiration, and stimulation, as well as direct, inside exposure to the work of artists working in other art forms.
Before you read a word about Regie Gibson, please listen to his work - whether you're a poetry enthusiast or not, his work will blow you away. Have a listen to his recent TedxBoston talk, below, a mix of poetry and groove that mixes deadly serious topics with wicked humor via one beautiful voice:
Regie is a former National Poetry Slam Individual Champion, and was selected one of Chicago Tribune's Artist of the Year for Excellencefor his poetry. Poet, songwriter, author, workshop facilitator, and educator, Regie has performed, taught, and lectured at schools, universities, and theaters on two continents and in seven countries. Regie and his work appear in the New Line Cinema film, love jones, based largely on events in his life. I was introduced to Regie through photographing him for the Boston Author Project, and I feel very fortunate to now call him a friend.
Every time I enter an author's chosen space to photograph, I'm visually thinking about what spaces will best convey both the writer's work, and character of the writer. When I walked into Regie Gibson's house, I was immediately drawn to a door with beautiful hand-drawn texture to it, full of scratches and scrapes that had been etched into it over the years. I'm afraid that I may have been a bit faint in enthusiasm with my first hello to Regie, because I was so fixated by his door. I knew that I had to integrate it into some of the portraits of Regie.
It is easy to get carried away as a photographer when photographing someone as striking as Regie, making cool images for the sake of it - so many beautiful, hip, moodily lit images came from our session together.
Yet the final image chosen for the Boston Author's Project show really represented Regie's true character - engaging, warm, and open, in front of a well-scratched door that had been chiseled by his kids over the years.
Nicholas Cole and I first met in 1997 when we were both studying in England, and we immediately struck up a fast friendship. I joke that Nick never left school, as he is now a professor of American history at Pembroke College, Oxford University. I generally try to avoid discussing local politics with Nicholas because it gets a bit embarrassing to be regularly schooled on your own country's current politics and history by a foreigner :-).
Nicholas came to Boston this past week, and we were both delighted that we had time to work together in the studio. Photographing him was a joy on so many levels - good-humored banter alternating with gently poking fun of the other, as old friends do. Even though it had been almost a decade since I'd seen him last, we immediately relaxed into working together in the studio while amiably chatting away.
My goal with Nicholas' portraits was to capture his intelligence, warmth, kindness, and dry humor. In a few of the shots, I included his beautifully crafted titanium and leather crutches to create some environmental context. Yet front and center, I focused on Nick's expressive face and the intelligence and dry amusement that lights his eyes. As a photographer, capturing the life of the mind - and what a great mind I had to work with! - is a never-ending joy.
Rocky DiRico, a 10th degree black belt in Kenpo karate, started competing after age 35 and went on to over 700 first place finishes and 100 grand championship wins, making him the most awarded senior competitor in the history of sport karate. He, and my own joyful/humbling/frustrating/wonderful experience coming back to karate training as an adult learner, inspired this post. He is pictured here with his wife, Shihan Wendy DiRico.
One of the things I most admire about children is that they're not afraid to fall down on their butts when they try something new.
They'll just keep trying new approaches, sometimes clever, sometimes awkward, to achieve what they want. No one expects children to be particularly good at anything. Figuring out how to pull life's strings is what childhood is all about, and kids, on the whole, think its really fun to learn new things. They grow creatively when they try to solve problems, and at least in the first few years, don't care how they are perceived while trying out new ideas.
Fast forward to adulthood and self-awareness and the need for basic competency in front of others. We've spent most of our formative years training to do something, whether it is singing, acting, or accountancy. Adults are proud of the skills we've gained and these are generally the ones we use in front of company (unless it's karaoke, and then, all bets are off as there's generally alcohol involved). Starting something new as an adult feels especially awkward, because our brains aren't as malleable, we're resistant to change, and don't want to look silly or incapable in front of others as we figure out our next new skill.
So what happens when we're forced to change and learn something new? Either because of circumstance, or because we're stifled and need to do something differently, the game changes and it's time to upgrade our skills. With the exception of some open-minded, driven, and adventurous souls, most adults react by feeling uncomfortable, perhaps even a bit scared. Some of us even get paralyzed, and don't know what to do next. So we sit and grind our wheels, using our energy to feel anxious, rather than harnessing the angst into something productive. We tend to cling to what we know, even though it is time to grow or change. Do any of these sound familiar?
- I want to start a new project that's different than my current work but I'm not sure where to start - I have an idea, but I just need motivation - I'm afraid I'm going to look like an idiot trying something new
So what should you do to kick yourself out of your paralysis? Shakespeare would say, "To thine own self be true." The ancient Greeks would say, "Know thyself". Francis Bacon would say, "Knowledge is power." And Nike would say, "Just do it."
When you don't know where to start in a new endeavor (career, project, hobby), start with your interests and daydreams, perhaps even document your current problems. Did you daydream about being an astronaut as a kid? Take a night course in astronomy, create a beautiful portrait series of local astronomy professors in the moonlight, or get a second-hand telescope and start a basic blog about your own discoveries as a new star seeker.
What are your favorite holidays and celebrations? What is on your bucket list, and you always hoped to do someday? Combine those interests into a new project. For example, if you're a autumn-loving, adrenaline-seeking photographer feeling stale, do a skydiving shoot on Halloween with models in full costume at sunset - mix, match, see what happens. Juxtaposition is your friend; combine bits of who you are to create something no one has seen before.
But most important is the mental game of getting out of our own way. I have a few suggestions from back when I worked in vocational psychology, which I'll write in layperson's terms so you don't fall asleep at your computer.
1. Write a worry journal
The basis of cognitive psychology is, "You are what you think." I'd add, "If it's on paper, it's not in your noggin." Write down all your worst fears, then counter each fear with a more positive likely scenario. E.g.:
Negative thought I will never learn how to use off-camera lighting because I'm not technical
Rational thought I can learn how to use off-camera lighting by taking a workshop that is aimed at lighting for beginners
2. Talk to a friend
Sometimes you need a sympathetic friend to kindly listen to you, and then kick you in the behind once you've unloaded your concerns. Better yet, create an accountability partnership so you both have someone to check in with about your new ventures.
3. Find a mentor
For some people, it really helps to find an advisor who has more knowledge and experience. Some mentors are volunteer professional contacts, others are coaches, and another source of great advisors are mental health professionals, for when you're truly feeling stuck. I currently advise a few photographers looking for both technical advice, portfolio reviews, and accountability - it can be a useful tool in your professional arsenal to get unstuck. But for many, all that is needed is someone who they meet with on a regular basis who has more experience than they do.
4. Let go of perfect
It's better to do something, anything, and get it out there than to create the most perfect creation that never sees the light of day. This is when you bring out the Nike slogan!
5. Make a date
Mark in your calendar the date you are going to have accomplished your goal of a new skill. Tell your accountability buddy.
6. Reward yourself
Whether it's a big box of chocolate, a marathon tv-watching session, or a weekend trip, make sure you promise and deliver a big reward for getting out of your comfort zone.