some the excellent end results from my students from a recent mobile phone photography course I ran in Hermanus, on the Garden route in South Africa.
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How I learnt to love mobile phone photography after I started to teach it.
I have written a short diarised version of my current trip to NYC to talk at the SVA, show work and attend PDN Photoplus. I freely admit that I have modelled it a bit on Peter Dench’s excellent diary series ‘The Diary of a Sometime Working Pro’ in the UK-based ‘Hungry Eye’ journal (a must-read for both photogs and film-makers alike). I guess in Peter’s seemingly random daily ruminations I see my own disjointed life narrative that makes up my sometimes surreal and very personal experiences as a photog.
Thursday 13th October
Wake up at 4am after a bad nights sleep still jet-lagged. I had added an extra day to my trip before giving a brief presentation at the SVA in the hope that I would be well rested but no luck there. Start the day completing a general marketing brief, sending material for social media and website updates for the studio in Cape Town and preparing for talk later in the day. I try and sleep some more but with no success. Go into Manhattan to do all my international magazine and journal shopping – smthg I am very much starved of in Cape Town. Come back at 4pm – plan to relax a bit and make my way to the SVA at 6.30pm.
8.50pm – wake up in a daze… where am I?! Oh yeah – in NYC – isn’t there smthg I am meant to be doing?… FUCK!!!!
In a confused mix of daze and panic I phone the SVA event organiser Lavonne Hall. She confirms the event is nearly over but is thankfully merciful and relaxed about the whole thing. She tells me we will re-arrange the talk and confirms our meeting the next day anyway.
I decide that getting some sleep is a top priority.
Friday 14th October
4.30am – awoken by messages on my SA phone asking me about studio hire and equipment rates in Cape Town on Saturday the next day. I am instantly annoyed as I just know this request won’t happen by the tone of message. Go through the motions of arranging with my ever reliable first assistant and get back with other info. Tell the potential client to confirm before 3pm SA time knowing full well they won’t and try and get some more sleep.
Spend morning showing work briefly and then end up at the MoMA with Lavonne. End up seeing photography work much of which I’d mostly seen before. Nan Golding’s exhibition there for example… interesting little exhib of scenes of destruction from Aleppo, Syria in back-lit mahogany boxes. Lavonne comments on the fact you can see the shadow of the wiring coming through in a few of the boxes. The Photographer could probably say it was all intentional. That’s the beauty of art photography.
Trump – Trump – Trump-ety Trump everywhere. I can see why the US is so sick of it all – away from the TV in NYC, all mentions of Trump are usually a comedic ruse at money-making.
Saturday 15th October
11am – Outside of photography I have 2 goals for the immediate future. One is to become good at kitesurfing (or at least not get blown into the bushes at the back of the beach so much) and the second is to watch as many Arsenal football games in as many different settings as possible. I decide to go to the Blind Pig off Union Square to watch Arsenal vs Swansea. I only make it for the second half in the end… but the pub is crammed full of Arsenal memorabilia, TV screens all dedicated to Premier league football and with American Arsenal-loving supporters almost as mad and passionate as fans in the UK… this could honestly be a pub around Finsbury Park. ‘God Bless America’ I think. Can’t resist the temptation of ordering a pint of Guiness to take in the atmos…
1pm – Go get a bite to eat and spend the next couple of hours drinking as many liquids as possible trying to get rid of the buzz that comes from 3 pints of Guinness before going to an open gallery event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
3pm – The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an interesting place. Packed with studio spaces for various types of artists – from photographers to painters to sculptors. Spend the next few hours mostly trying to find all the exhibited work in the sprawling redevelopment…
Sunday 16th October
On the way to meeting a friend for dinner, I pass through Times Square. The buzz and atmos of the place – and of Manhattan in general is amazing – it almost feels like in the areas immediately surrounding Noting Hill in London as people walk away from the carnival – but all the time. The throb of people becomes uncomfortable as I pass an event dedicated to the ongoing Hindu festival of Diwali. Having been to a few in London I am not so interested and instead take pics of the statue of Francis Duffy there – a priest and First World War hero – juxtaposed against images of 20th Century icons. I hear one of the speakers talk about how there is renewed evil in the world and about harking back to better times. I am instantly annoyed and see in his speech undertones of the ‘Make America Great Again!’ theme of the Donald – I wonder whether the speaker was at or even helped organise the recent ‘Hindus for Trump’ event in New Jersey (where Trump infamously and nonsensically said ‘I am a big fan of Hindu and India’)… ‘Humans have always been evil dude’ I think to myself and walk off to meet my friend – my disinterest in the event complete.
Monday 17th October
3.30pm – Had an interesting meeting today at Polaris Images – my reportage and documentary agency with the legendary in photographic circles, JP Pappis – its head. Before the meeting I was pleasantly surprised to receive a cheque for library images sold… that’ll cover my spending (and part of my drinking money) on this trip…I look at the list of images sold. One particularly lucrative sale was for: ‘Current Afghan President Hamid Karzai’ – ‘Fuck’ I thought – I’ve never photographed Hamid Karzai – I’ve never been to Afghanistan for that matter’… I consider for a while whether I should mention it and risk losing the sale. In the end I mention it… turns out it was thankfully a small admin error and the sale was mine.
Spent over an hour chatting to JP.. awesome character. He gives me the lowdown on the ever-depressing state of the reportage and documentary world of photography. Apparently Getty caught everyone unawares this year at Perpignan by announcing that Getty Reportage would close down and be replaced by Verbatim – still run by Aidan Sullivan – but focusing on corporate work instead. We also talk about the rise of Shutterstock and royalty free micro stock images and what it has done to the business. He tells me about his accident where he tripped and broke three ribs a few days before having to travel to Perpignan (for Visa pour l’image – the annual photojournalism festival in France) – but still got on a plane and went- even driving to and from Barcelona. As I say – legend.
I tell him about all my new focus on different types of work and that I don’t do reportage and news any more – ‘I’m 40 and I’m Greek – it’s all about the money now!’ I joke. We discuss putting up a corporate portfolio on the soon to be revamped Polaris website. I get interested though in discussing how the South African narrative – internationally speaking – has stuck with independence and Mandela when so much has changed since then. I offer to send some story pitches in this regard as well… guess I will always have a finger in the reportage pie one way or another.
I leave the Polaris offices happy that my last meeting was so fruitful… I go to the bank and cash the cheque. Walking up to meet a friend in Bryant Park about 8 blocks uptown, the wheels of my roller bag which I use to transport my smaller portfolio catches on something. I aggressively try and free it before realising it is catching on my one and only decent leather jacket which was draped over the bag. I inspect the damage to the jacket and ruminate that a new one would cost as much as the cheque I had just gotten. I arrive in Bryant park in a dark mood. A Hare Krishna passes and offers a small bright, golden-coloured leaflet. I take it – partly out of curiosity to see whether it was yet another NYC hustle and partly because I have an affinity with Hare Krishnas after they had kindly and mercifully put a blanket around my shoulders almost two decades before during one particularly bad moment at Glastonbury when I had lost friends and had run into their tent to seek shelter from the torrential rain. The young man stops and turns with a speed and focus that can only mean he is about to ask me for money. ‘Take it back take it back take it back’ I say firmly waving the leaflet over the palm of his now outstretched hand before he can say anything. He takes it back and leaves me alone.
Wednesday 19th October
wake up at 4am again – I decided before the start of PDN Photoplus today and the start of very hectic 12 hour days (if you include openings and after parties), I should say smthg about my trip to NYC on social media. I get depressed thinking that very much in the same way that if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it making a sound, then if I go to NYC and don’t talk about it on social media – did it really ever happen?
I write 2 blogs then decide to get an hour’s sleep before having to head to the Javits… I set my alarm this time.
‘Publish your Photography Book’ by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson and general notes on getting my own photo book published
I recently finished the excellent ‘Publish your Photography Book‘ by Darius D. Himes and the irrepressible Mary V. Swanson, who I have had the absolute pleasure to meet on 2 occasions and is one of the true characters of the photography world. You can see her authentic energy and passion for the photography book interwoven into the fabric of this excellent book.
While some in the industry give downbeat accounts of the state of the photo book publishing world, from the outset ‘Publish your Photography Book’ is positive and charts in great detail the structural changes that the photo book publishing (and indeed the publishing industry as a whole) has undergone in the last two decades – especially with the onset of PoD (Print on Demand) technologies.
From the very first sentence there is a sense of optimism and a belief that the dynamic nature of the industry will lead ultimately to a healthier and re-vitalised landscape in coming years:
‘Talk to anyone who has been involved in the photography world over the last ten to fifteen years and they will affirm that the photography book market has exploded…Never before has there been such widespread interest in the printed image.’
In consideration of the question: ‘Will books fade?’ The book states:
‘The short answer is no, not a chance… Books are conveyors of ideas, mementos of civilisation & harbingers of change…’
The book is highly informative as well and a must-read for those seeking to publish their own photography books. It opens up and explains the inner-workings of the photo book publishing industry and process required to attain that goal. From encouraging the photographer to ask themselves the tough questions required before beginning the process and breaking down what makes a successful photo book and what doesn’t – to the in’s and out’s of the submission process and inner-workings of a publishing house – right through to the design and production process and the specifics of a successful marketing strategy for the book itself.
It also includes very useful testimonials from a wide range of well-placed people in the industry – from the likes of Robert Morton, Michelle Dunn Marsh, Denise Wolff and Rixon Reed to photographers themselves like Alec Soth and an in-depth interview with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on a rare collaboration between photographers on their book ‘Violet Isle’.
The book has certainly helped me to chart a course for my own work and to start to clearly see how I could take either of my long-term projects forward. I have been in touch with a few publishers who have shown initial interest. The main obstacle at the moment is finding an audience for the very niche subject matter of my current work. I’ll give an example in the form of a convo I was recently having from one very helpful and interested publisher who I met last year at Paris Photo in LA:
So nice to hear from you. Hope you are doing well. I love your photos. If you are interested in submitting a book proposal that would be great….My concern here is where is the market for the book? As you must be aware book sales have been tough in recent years. Are you represented by major galleries, do you have exhibitions lined up?
If you can help us identify the market for a book that would be a very big help.
Let me know your thoughts.
I have only recently began presenting myself to the outside world as a book and gallery photog and need to find a voice and audience within that world. That will take time. More importantly, I have to engage a local audience in South Africa – with which my work is more relevant firstly, before being able to engage with the international market more fully.
‘Publishing your Photography Book’ has helped a great deal in understanding the goals I have to set myself if realising my long-term projects as photo books is to be realised. While in NYC, I am mostly looking to engage with contacts – both old and new – to find interested magazines and editorial space (both published and online) for them and to begin conversations with as many publishers, consultants and galleries as possible with a view to engaging them in the long-run if I succeed in building an audience for the work.
I cannot re-iterate more the basic given that completing a long-term photo project is only the beginning of a very long process that requires just as much energy and passion as constructing and putting together the images themselves. ‘Publish your Photography Book’ is a great and essential resource for anyone setting out on that long journey themselves.
My 2 long-term projects are available to view on LensCulture website:
‘The Other Side – Portrait of a Colored Community in South Africa’:
‘Karoo – A Changing Landscape’:
A Selection of Images from my final trip for my long-term project in the Karoo ‘A Changing Landscape’
The current online edit of ‘Karoo: A Changing Landscape’ is up at: http://www.georgephilipas.com/gallery/karoo/
Just spent a good while in the Karoo (semi-arid region North of Cape Town) finishing up 1 of my long term photographic projects ‘Karoo: A Changing Landscape‘, along with continuing a bit more time lapse out there. Unless I see a gap in the work in my final edit, this was my last trip out for it. I certainly hope it will not be my last time out to the Karoo though – a place I have repeatedly said is amazing to visit and spend time in. I was initially intrigued by the serene and timeless landscape but I def ended up going again and again for all the eccentric and amazing people there as well. I do still have a time lapse show reel to finish up at some point so further visits are almost certainly to come.
I usually put the unprocessed images from a long-term project to one side to give me a chance to detach myself from it. This always helps later on with the editing process but I decided this time to put together a small edit to see if I was on the right path in general with the overall look and feel of the piece. The visual narrative of the work has built up throughout the time I have spent on it but certainly on my latest trip I think I dug deep into the very essence of the story and the way I initially foresaw how I might tell it.
Since leaving the world of more instant news, pic library and NGO type photography I have always known that the key to any decent work would always be finding my own visual voice and signature. I have found it interesting to see how my work has developed relatively rapidly through earlier projects such as ‘Hangberg – The Other Side‘: http://www.georgephilipas.com/gallery/hangberg/ .
I believe it is in this work though that a stronger visual signature has developed – especially on the portrait side of things. From sex workers in Beaufort West, to sheep farmers, to city types flocking to the Karoo for the annual Afrika Burn event out there, there is a visual consistency throughout the portraits which speaks of the inherent beauty of the Karoo but also of the impending uncertainty that coming change might bring.
It is interesting how I have began to see and notice things differently than what I used to as well. A case in point is the following pic I took while speeding back to Cape Town on the final leg of my recent journey:
I saw the above scene on the side of the road as I whizzed past it at around 100km/h just north of a small town called Laingsburg. I instantly recognised in it an earlier photo I had taken over a year ago that was very similar in nature and thought how it may fit well when placed next to each other.
I didn’t stop though at the time… but it played on my mind for nearly an hour. It was more than 60km after passing it that the feeling of an opportunity missed overwhelmed me and I turned around and went back (yep – that’s over 120km round trip to take a pic of a damn cactus in front of a railway power station). I am not sure if I’ll even use either pic (the latter isn’t even in my first edit at the mo), but having the option there was important enough for me to turn back. This might be more of a study of one man’s OCD rather than anything photography related but the fact I could instantly recognise the image there, is a sign of how much the way I perceive an image these days has moved forward from past work.
The next stage, once the dust has settled and I’ve done my own edit, will be to seek out a professional edit and layout before starting the challenge of marketing the project. After all the time worked on it, I look forward (for once) to the marketing side of things and getting it out there in general!
A short, current edit of the project ‘Karoo: A Changing Landscape’ can be seen at: