Career

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

Starting over for grownups

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.

Rocky DiRico, now a 10th degree black belt in Kenpo karate, started his karate training after age 35 and went on to over 700 first place finishes and 100 grand championship wins. He, and my own experience coming back to karate as an adult learner, inspired this post.

Rocky DiRico, now a 10th degree black belt in Kenpo karate, started his karate training after age 35 and went on to over 700 first place finishes and 100 grand championship wins. He, and my own experience coming back to karate as an adult learner, inspired this post.

 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.

Karate blog-9431
Karate blog-9431

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.

Karate blog-2368
Karate blog-2368

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.

Regret, parenthood, and career

"Have you ever regretted having children? I'm wrapped up in my work right now, and I feel pretty good about my life; I like having "me" time occasionally. But if I don't have kids, will I regret it later? I don't want to be alone when I get old. What's the right choice?"

Parenthood path-5490

Regret is a hot button. Parenthood, likewise. Put them together, it's explosive, and everyone has an opinion.

As a former therapist, who has currently hung up her shingle to be a commercial/editorial portrait photographer full-time, I still sometimes still get asked the BIG questions. I even spoke about navigating through work/family snags at the Inspire photography conference last year, and have mentored those in the arts as well as those in technology careers, pulling on both my mental health therapist and career counseling background.

Several folks I'm spoken with about potential parenthood have given me the feedback that my thoughts on this topic have been helpful. So, today I'm posting my personal .02  in the hopes it will be useful for those who might be debating if and how to juggle intense careers with the possibility of eventually hearing the pitter-patter (ha, mostly clomp-clomp) of little feet. Because I am of the female persuasion, most of what I write is from a woman's perspective, but I believe there's a lot in here that also will relate to men. Enjoy, and let me know if you found this post helpful.

Finding your path, parenthood or no
Finding your path, parenthood or no

- The right choice (e.g. right-for-you choice), to have or to not have kids, or how many to have, is based solely on you and your circumstances - not what others think or what you feel pressured to do by your friends, your family, or society-at-large. There is no right answer, only your answer. This bears repeating ad nauseum. Knowing yourself, and your spouse, if applicable, and your resources (time, support, energy, goals, financial situation), and sitting with that knowledge for awhile without judgement can be helpful when trying to figure out whether creating a family is right for you. You don't need to make a decision immediately - consider waiting for some clarity, instead.

- It is neither selfish nor unselfish to choose to be childfree or child-full. Human beings bring beautiful things into this world. Unfortunately, this world also has more than enough people, many of who desperately need more than they have. Does the world need more artists, inventors, visionaries? Yes. Is the world being stripped of resources because there are too many people? Yes. Does all of this really matter when making your own personal decision? That's up to you.

- Liking having personal time isn’t selfish; it’s healthy. Those of us who live in the US (the only country I can really significantly speak to personally) live in a strange culture where mothers are supposed to sacrifice all their time to care for others, mostly because we don’t have enough institutional help and support so that we can take time for ourselves. And most of us live in small nuclear families away from the support of an extended family. But it can be done with careful planning and family/friend support. This situation doesn't appear to be the same for my family in Argentina and Europe - there seems to be more acceptance/support for woman to have a life outside of motherhood. Motherhood/parenthood in those areas seems to be just one aspect of a personality, rather than being a Mom with a capital M.

- It is really hard to make a decision if you’re not sure about having a family, and sadly, everyone and their mother has an opinion if you’re a woman of child-bearing age. But it’s not their life. They’re not paying for childcare and college, they’re not going to be there on sleepless nights when you all have stomach flu and you’re trying to figure out who gets the last bucket.

- We will all ultimately die alone. Please don’t make the relatively short period at the end of life the sole justification as to whether you want to bring another life into the world (unless this works for you and/or your spouse, see disclaimer above).

- If you lose a child, whether it is an only child, or one of many, no one is going to replace that child. It is going to hurt, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent or ameliorate that pain except having loving souls around you to be there for you as you mourn. If you have any control over the number of kids you have, have the number that is right for you.

- Friends can be as close as family, conversely, family is no guarantee of love. But if you’re a person in a happy family situation who wants to be there, it can feel like there is love flowing through your veins. However, being in the midst of a bad family situation can feel beyond lonely.

- There’s no guarantee in life. Make good friends, be a good friend. Ultimately, love, whether romantic, familial, or platonic, is one thing that makes life worth living, in all of its beautiful permutations. #steppingoffthesoapbox

P.S. As for me, no regrets.