Professional organization

Mystery writer portraits, New England chapter

Photographing mystery writers is an absolute delight; I get a little tingle of happiness when I'm contacted by an author who delves into the deep dark depths of the human psyche to create their stories. Recently, I photographed Ray Daniel and Anne Macdonald, both wonderful writers and human beings, who are members - and in the case of Ray, the president - of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, New England chapter.

When photographing a writer of this type, I try to avoid the obvious cliches, but infuse a subtle tinge of drama and gravitas through lighting and positioning. The goal is to create an author photo for book jacket and publicity use that tells a visual story about both the book and author in a beautiful manner, inviting their readers to get to know both them, and their books, better.

A photographer amidst writers: venturing into the Muse in the Marketplace writers' conference

My booth and the exhibitor's area and bookstore at the Muse in the Marketplace at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel

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.

Snapshots of registration table and the morning breakfast briefings at the Muse in the Marketplace

Snapshots of registration table and the morning breakfast briefings at the Muse in the Marketplace

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?!)
Snapshots behind the booth at the Muse in the Marketplace. From left, celebrating the last day of Passover, and right, my loot from Porter Square Books

Snapshots behind the booth at the Muse in the Marketplace. From left, celebrating the last day of Passover, and right, my loot from Porter Square Books

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.

Writers and presenters  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)

Writers and presenters 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)

Shalon interview featuring artist Bradford Johnson: part of the independent creatives series

Image by Sharona Jacobs.

Image by Sharona Jacobs.

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.

ASMP MAG: The Boston professional photographers' salon, featuring interview of ASMP president Mike Ritter

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.

Prudential Center, by Mike Ritter, Ritterbin Photography
Prudential Center, by Mike Ritter, Ritterbin Photography
Portrait at Epiphany School by Mike Ritter, Ritterbin Photography
Portrait at Epiphany School by Mike Ritter, Ritterbin Photography

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.

Tito Puente Series, by Mike Ritter of Ritterbin Photography
Tito Puente Series, by Mike Ritter of Ritterbin Photography
HighRes_Lighttest_0221-9
HighRes_Lighttest_0221-9

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?

MR:

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?

MR:

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?

MR:

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 (

www.bostoncornerstones.com

) 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?

MR:

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.

Shalon interview featuring author Robin Lippincott: part of the independent creatives series

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.

Robin Shalon-7120
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Sharona:

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.

Sharona: 

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....

Sharona: 

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.

Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Robin Lippincott, photographed at Mt. Auburn Cemetery