Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jess T. Dugan


What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?


In retrospect, I have always had an interest in taking photographs. As a kid in Sherwood, Arkansas, I would create elaborate scenes in the backyard with my cats and teddy bears, shooting roll after roll of film and waiting impatiently to get the photographs back from Walmart. I moved to Cambridge at the age of 13 with my family, and I have a vivid memory of daydreaming about setting up a photo studio with a black velvet background in my new room and creating portraits. However, despite all of this, I didn’t get a chance to study photography in a formal way until my last year of high school. Throughout high school, I found solace in the art department and spent my days drawing and throwing pots, but photography was the most popular course and I wasn’t able to take it until my last year. Once I got in, I was immediately hooked. I would often completely skip whatever class came after photography, too immersed in my work and unable to pull myself away from the darkroom. I began photographing incessantly. Though I was exposed to other kinds of art before, I had finally found the way I was able to connect and communicate with the world and was completely addicted. As a young queer person, photography also gave me license to explore my identity. My first real photographs, taken at age 16, were of my fellow queer and gender variant friends and peers. I was just learning how to use my camera and technically, the images were not very good, but the process of making this work was my first experience with the power of exploring identity through photography.

By the time I fell in love with photography, I had already applied to art school, and I began studying at MassArt the next fall. I immediately enrolled in a photography class and never looked back. Luckily for me, I had the chance to study with an absolutely amazing group of photographers: Abe Morell, Nick Nixon, David Hilliard, Barbara Bosworth, Sage Sohier, Shellburne Thurber, Laura McPhee. I realize more and more each day what a privilege it was to learn from these inspiring artists. As a practicing artist, I am very aware how important my time at MassArt was. It gave me a solid foundation on which to stand, both in terms of technical knowledge and my sense of self as an artist, and for that I am unbelievably grateful.

I make photographs because I have to. It is the way in which I relate to the world around me, and the way in which I am able to know and understand myself. I primarily photograph people, and my camera functions as a way to get to know a wide and diverse group of people very intimately. One of the things I love about photography (and this is a sentiment borrowed from Barbara Bosworth) is that is gives me a reason and medium to explore absolutely anything I am interested in. My camera functions as an access card in many ways, giving me a reason and opportunity to know someone or something in a very personal way.

Right now I have two bodies of work going concurrently. The first is called A Place so as to Stay and is an exploration of people within their spaces and environments. I have absolutely loved making this work because every single person I photograph is fascinating and unique, and for a few hours, they let me into their world and show me who they are, at their core. This kind of access is not something I take lightly, and I am continuously grateful that people share their lives with me with such openness and trust. The second body of work is called Open View, which is a year-long documentation of a small, sustainable, peace and education oriented fiber farm in Western Massachusetts. It is one of the most amazing and beautiful places I have ever been, and I am thrilled to be making a long-term body of work there. Making this work has been an incredible experience, as I visit the farm for 2 or 3 days at a time and really immerse myself in that world. I only began shooting this work in May, but already I feel like the people on the farm are like family to me. Even in a relatively short amount of time, I have forged very deep friendships with many of my subjects and look forward to spending time with them every time I visit. In this way, my commitment to making pictures enriches my personal life in a way that is profound and meaningful.

I am always photographing other people, but in some ways my images are always a reflection of myself. If there is something I don’t understand about myself, or something I’d like to explore, I make images about it until I do understand. My image-making process ebbs and flows, sometimes more internally focused and sometimes focused only on the outside world. Being an artist, to me, means constantly evaluating and re-evaluating your own thoughts and emotions. It’s not for the faint of heart. If I’m not able to be fully present and aware of my own self, I can’t make good work. And sometimes that happens, and it is ok- I just shoot through it, and wait for that presence to come back.


In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?


I think a very important part of beginning to show and promote your work is having solid work to begin with. I see a lot of photographers who are so eager to show a body of work that they don’t give it the time and emotional energy to let it develop to its fullest potential, whatever that may be. That being said, I find it incredibly helpful to have a network of trusted people who I can show new work to and who will tell me, honestly, what they think, long before I’m ready to put the work on a gallery wall. It is so important to have a sense of community and people that you trust to look intelligently and critically at your work, and unfortunately, this is something that you really have to make for yourself once you’re no longer in the comfort zone of art school.

Once you feel like the work is ready, I would recommend taking steps to get it seen as well as becoming a part of the local art scene. Apply to group shows, attend openings, go to lectures, go to museums, look at other photographers you admire and examine what it is you like about their work. Talk with other artists in a similar stage in their careers and also talk with artists who are more established. I have found it very helpful to reach out to those who are in a place I’d like to be in someday and ask them how they got there, while keeping in mind that everyone has to figure out their own path and the same actions might not work for different people.

I am an obsessive looker, sometimes almost to the point of exhaustion. I like to know what is out there and what other artists are doing, but I also recognize when it’s time to pull back and sit with my own work and thoughts. The art world can be seductive- there is always another show to apply for or another contest to try to win, and it is easy to look around and see what everyone else is doing and feel like you somehow missed the boat or fell behind. At the end of the day, it is critical to find your own rhythm for making and promoting your work, and to be aware of the art world at large (and perhaps more importantly, the world at large), but not be driven by it. It is much more important to be able to continuously make your work and stay true to yourself than it is to get swept up in the tides of shows and “success.”


How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?


Success is a tricky concept. When I first left MassArt, I had a pretty rough transition from art student to working artist, largely because of my own expectations. For better or for worse, I left art school with a skewed sense of what it meant to be a working artist. I imagined an endless stream of residencies and traveling, constant states of change, eating ramen and freezing in the winter, etc. Very bohemian and unrealistic. I also left with the expectation that I would continue to be as productive and make as much work as I had been able to in art school, and for the first year, I struggled with letting myself down constantly. I had to find a job, pay the bills, find a way to afford my film, build a darkroom for myself, and discover that ever-slippery balance of time versus money, art-making versus real-world responsibilities. Eventually I adjusted my expectations and found my own rhythm, making work slowly but surely, printing one day a week and shooting when I could. For me, this is success. Finding a way to continue making work that I find meaningful and exciting amidst the confines of going to work and paying my rent represents a huge success to me.

The best kind of success, for me, is when someone sees my work and it makes them feel something. I never feel more excited about my work than I do when someone tells me how much they connected with it and that it had an emotional impact on them. This is something I love about having shows, more than the excitement and the reviews, is that people get to see my work in the way I intended it to be seen and I get to witness their reactions and hear their thoughts. Success is connecting with other people, whether they are my subjects or viewers of the work, on an intimate and meaningful level.

On a more tangible level, I have worked very hard to get my work seen and to make connections with galleries and other arts professionals. The summer after leaving MassArt, I interned with Joseph Carroll (of Carroll and Sons Gallery in Boston, MA) at the Bernard Toale Gallery, which was an invaluable experience and gave me so much insight into the way that galleries work. While working with Joseph, I met a lot of artists and people involved with other galleries in Boston. I also met Arlette Kayafas (of Gallery Kayafas in Boston, MA) and identified her gallery as a place where I would love to show my work. Over the next year, she and I forged a friendship and working relationship, and she gave me my first solo show of my black and white portraits in October of 2008. I recently had a second solo show of my series of large-format Polaroid photographs, Coupled, in March of 2010. Having gallery representation has been critical to moving my career forward, and I am so grateful to be represented by such a wonderful gallery and person. It is truly a blessing to find a gallery representative who understands and supports your work for exactly what it is. I have also continued to apply for group shows, grants, etc, especially those juried by people I respect or in spaces where I’d really like to exhibit. In the beginning, I applied for shows much more widely to try to build my resume, but now I try to be more selective and choose calls for entry that are appropriate for my work or that I feel will advance my career in some way.

Since joining Gallery Kayafas in 2008, I have gained representation in Chicago and regularly exhibited nationwide, from New York to San Francisco. I was recently in a group show at Carroll and Sons Gallery, and among the other artists in the show were David Hilliard and Sally Mann, and I was absolutely blown out of the water to share the wall with these folks.

Ultimately, it is important to know why you do what you do and to have faith in your own work. While it feels good to get into shows, get reviews, etc, you can’t depend on this kind of feedback to motivate you as an artist. There are always ups and downs. Sometimes you’ll feel on top of the world and other times you’ll feel like nothing is going your way and you’re totally lost and can’t figure out where to go next. It is all part of the process. Arlette has assured me on more than one occasion that the quiet time after a show or major body of work is as important as the excitement of exhibiting or achieving some kind of tangible “success.” What is essential to continuing to be an artist and to making photographs is your sense of self and your belief in your work. This, for me, is unwavering, and it is the anchor that keeps me grounded when things around me feel a little rocky or uncertain.

Lastly, you can’t do it completely alone. I have been influenced and positively affected by so many people, whether they are subjects in my images, curators or jurors who select my work for exhibition, or friends and colleagues who I go to for advice, friendship, and support. So many people have supported me and helped me along the way, and for that I am so grateful and hope that I am an equal support to others in return. My work and my life as an artist is as much about forging meaningful relationships as it is about the end product of seeing my work on the wall. For me the excitement and power is in relating to other people, and making photographs is the best way I know how to do that.

Dan, from the series Open View

Barb holding Frankie, from the series Open View

Suzi, from the series Open View

Violet, from the series Open View

Emmy making a basket, from the series Open View

Michael and TT at home, from the series A Place So As To Stay

Dad with his shotgun, Little Rock, Arkansas, from the series A Place So As To Stay

Shellburne at home, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from the series A Place So As To Stay

Ted and Virginia, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from the series A Place So As To Stay

Jon and Dixie, from the series A Place So As To Stay

© copyright all images Jess T. Dugan

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ken Rosenthal


What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?


Probably my earliest inspiration for making photographs was my father. He was an advanced amateur photographer, and was always taking photographs. I’m certain that I caught the bug from him. When I was about 4 or 5 he got me a little Kodak Instamatic (which I still have), and kept me supplied with film cartridges for it. I imagine that my proclivity for the square format comes from the little square prints that the Instamatic produced.

We had a darkroom at the house I grew up in (in Los Angeles), and I used to help my dad on the weekends when he would process film and print. It was (and still is) a magical experience, seeing images emerge in the darkroom.

In my teens, I realized that a camera gave me license to experience just about whatever I wanted to. Early on, that meant fabricating a tale that I ran a music ‘zine. Music was my main passion at the time. I used to frequent the clubs on the Sunset Strip (the Roxy, the Whiskey, etc.) when I was in high school. I’d call the publicity departments at record companies and request a press pass for the concerts I wanted to attend, and nearly always received one. The earliest prints that I made in the darkroom and still have are from a Lou Reed show at the Roxy when I was 14 or 15. I remember coming home late that night after the show, processing the film, blow-drying the film, and making small prints that I took to school the next day. To this day, a camera empowers me to approach people or situations that intrigue me.

What inspires me to keep working in this field? Several things, I suppose. I have an insatiable curiosity about the world in general…a wanderlust, a need to explore. I use the camera, in part, as a journal…the photographs preserve the memories of my life experiences. Mainly, though, it is not a choice. I NEED to make photographs. Simple as that.


In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?


This is a tricky question. I think one should begin to try to get exposure for their work as soon as they have made a series of photographs that truly excite them. Let me qualify this though: you need to crawl before you can walk. You probably shouldn’t be approaching AIPAD galleries as an undergrad with 12 great photos from your Photo 2 class that rocked your professor’s and fellow student’s world.

Start with a very honest look at your own work. You should be excited about your own work, impressed with the work you have created. Edit ruthlessly. If you have exhibited a long-term commitment to photography, and you have a tightly edited, cohesive, and well resolved body of work then ask yourself a few simple questions:

- What is your work about?

- Who is your audience, and why does your work need to be seen?

- Is the work truly unique? Are you bringing something new to the table?

- What are your goals? (i.e. do you want to be an exhibiting artist? Do you want to publish? Do you want to have your work placed in collections?)

These may seem like obvious questions, however I am surprised how often I review a younger or emerging artist’s portfolio and they are unable to answer these questions. You need to know your work as well as you know yourself. It is, after all, an extension and reflection of you.

I don’t know that there is one defining action that I would suggest to a photographer to help them take their work to the next level (though a well designed and maintained website IS absolutely essential, and is a great way to start getting your work seen.) I think it depends on what their experience has been to this point. If a photographer does not have a MFA, and it is an option to take the 2-3 years to devote to an MFA program, I would strongly suggest that. The ability to focus on your work for an extended period of time with a group of peers and mentors is an invaluable experience. If he or she already has a MFA, I would take as much time as is feasible and focus on nothing but making work. Try to stay focused on one project, and edit, edit, edit. Then edit some more. And if a photographer has been working for a while and has a mature, long-term project that he or she is fully confident is ready to be out in the world, then I would suggest investing in one of the major portfolio reviews (Fotofest, Photo Lucida, or Review Santa Fe.) They are an opportunity to not only meet with the top professionals in the field, but also to spend time with fellow photographers. I cannot stress enough the importance of being a part of the photography community. Simply put, photographers are the best people. Our community is extremely supportive.


How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?


It has come about through a combination of hard work, research, opportunity, and preparedness.

I consider myself successful in that I have met a number of goals that I set for myself. I sat down about 10 years ago and drafted a list of what I wanted to achieve as an artist. That was probably step one. I had studied how “successful” photographers that I admire put there work out there. I went to PhotoLA for a number of years, beginning in the mid-late 90’s, and learned so much about the business end of photography.

I knew that I wanted to have my work represented by galleries, but also had realistic expectations. I understood that I needed to have a mature and well resolved body of work under my belt before I approached galleries. I was fortunate in that I gave myself a year to do nothing but work in the studio. During that time I developed the core of my series Seen and Not Seen (which I worked on for about a year and a half.) After I felt it was ready to be out in the world, I sought the opinion of several friends who are professionals in the field. Their affirmation gave me the confidence to pursue a gallery. There is an amazing photography gallery in my city, Etherton Gallery, and I approached them first. I was very fortunate in that they responded to the work and took some work in on consignment. Not long after I was offered representation and a show. Terry Etherton, the owner of the gallery, has believed in my work from the beginning and has been a great supporter. He introduced me to his fellow gallerist, Michael Dawson, who owns a gallery in LA. Michael saw my work at Etherton, and through that connection he began representing and showing my work. I also applied to the photo-eye Photographer’s Showcase, and began showing my work on their online gallery. This was in 2001.

The next year I began attending portfolio reviews, and was able to build on the momentum of the previous year. I recognized the importance of trying to broaden the audience for my work, and approached a variety of opportunities in different markets. I met with commercial galleries, not-for-profit galleries, museum professionals, publishers, magazines, etc. In essence, things snowball. Get something started, let the momentum build, and then keep up the momentum…make sure things keep moving forward. It’s important to keep making new work, and to continue to gain increased exposure for your work. Additionally, I now have a wide circle of friends that I have met at portfolio reviews. We tend to help each other out, and suggest each other to appropriate galleries, publications, etc.

I feel as if I have been extremely fortunate in that I have been able to find and maintain an audience for my work, which was one of my main goals. That is not an easy feat. There is a wealth of great photography being made, and despite the myriad opportunities for one to get their work seen it is still tricky to find an audience for your work and to develop a following.

Seen And Not Seen # 001 - a - 1

Seen And Not Seen # 237 - 1

Seen And Not Seen # 1311 - 3

Not Dark Yet # HS - 11 / 12

A Dream Half Remembered # FB 41 - 1

A Dream Half Remembered # RBC 49 - 7 / 8

Missing # ZN - 52 - 10

Days Between # ROL - 52 - 9

Near Twilight


© copyright all images Ken Rosenthal

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Michael Kirchoff

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?


Even though I’m the sole artistic member of my family I’ve always had a curiosity with art and photography. Come to think of it, it’s that curiosity that still remains and continues to keep me inspired. Creating a tangible piece of art from nothing more than your desire and vision is an incredible and powerful thing. You have a vision and you know how you want the work to be, but the journey in between is always a bit of a question mark. Trying to figure out that question mark is what keeps me coming back for more. Since I was a child I’d always had a camera of some sort, but it was when my father brought home an early SX-70 Polaroid Land camera that I became hopelessly addicted. Looking back I think I must have driven my parents nuts from constantly asking where another box of film could be found. I didn’t have any money of my own back then, so they were always going broke from my new found love. I was amazed at its ability to make the real world so much more interesting by infusing my own creative vision into it. It’s ironic to me that my early days consumption of Polaroid rivals my current obsession with instant film, even though the accessibility has changed dramatically the last few years. My high school years brought me to the darkroom, and it was there that I knew I was in for life. In school I had always done painting, sculpture, drawing, and other artistic pursuits, but it was seeing that image appear on paper in a developer bath that hit me like a ton of bricks.

My photographic work continues mostly because of my love for taking the worlds reality and creatively putting my own personal spin on it. Taking the three-dimensional world and putting it into a two dimensional space with your vision is an addicting process. Not only this but the tools or techniques are often changing, and it’s this change that makes for so many opportunities to explore new ways to create art. You’ll find me using these words over and over again, but really, I’m passionately addicted to creative pursuits.

In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?


Take the time to self evaluate your images. It’s difficult to distance yourself sometimes from your work, as personal experiences from making the image can often obscure the value of the photograph within a body of work. Put the work together and look at it as a whole, and be in love with what you are creating Know what your work is about and know that learning to edit your imagery is key. A well rounded and inspired body of work needs to be accomplished before any real marketing or promotion of the images is sought. Once you know that you are showing your very best work and your very best prints you will have a great start. Stick to what you believe in with your work and stand behind it faithfully during its promotion.

I have to say that building and expanding your network of others in the industry is extremely vital. It seems to be easier these days to alert the world of your images with all of the social networking tools out there now. However, the personal relationships you make with individuals in the real world are what will move you further and faster than anything else. Joining photographic groups and organizations like Center, APA, and ASMP with like-minded people to share knowledge and ideas is a key component. Knowledge of the business of photography will come from this as well. Attend exhibit openings and lectures, talk with others about what they are doing, and above all, be supportive of your fellow artists. What goes around comes around is very true in this aspect. These relationships will be the foundation for every move you make while you strive to attain your goals in the industry.

How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?


Hmmmm…. achieving status as a successful anything makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. It sort of sounds like you’re at a plateau with what you do. Success is rather subjective and not so easily defined in the art world. I’d hate to sit back and rest on my laurels with what I’ve done, rather I want to keep hammering away at making new work and keeping myself intrigued with the artistic process. As long as I’m continuing to work in this field I will personally feel successful, though others may think that fame and money are essential to your success. I think my status as a passionate and dedicated photographer would sound much better!

The steps taken are far more important than the status level you could achieve. So much depends on your level of commitment and the effort you put forth to feed that need. The steps have been many, but a couple of important ones are rooted in the answer to the last question. Most certainly my relationships with others have been truly important to my success. I have to note as well, though I’ve done certain steps in my career to achieve what I have, the steps never go away and will continually be something that I work on without fail. Completing them once does not mean that it’s over and I can move on to something else. Momentum does build up, but you always have to be looking at what else is it that I could be doing.

I’m always shooting something new, and have adopted the process of getting a finished work out there as soon as possible. I may sit on an image or a body of work for a long time before I consider it done, but when I do, I get it out there and tell as many people about it as possible. It’s tough, but hitting the ground running goes a long way when you’re excited about your own imagery. It also keeps your name out there; you definitely don’t want to get lost in the throng of other artists out there. I’m always writing emails, knocking on doors, and ringing that bell in the town square, if you know what I mean. Being coy doesn’t get you very far with so much competition out there.

Know what to say about your work, especially with describing its purpose or your reasons for doing it at all. Speaking and writing about yourself and your work is quite mandatory, especially in the fine art world. I’ll admit that it can be difficult for many artists to do this, including myself, but it is quite necessary. A well-written artist statement goes a long way. You simply cannot go far by “letting the work speak for itself.” I’m continually writing and re-writing statements about myself and the individual bodies of work.

The bottom line is that your audience is out there; you just have to work extremely hard to find it. Perseverance is essential.

St. Patrick's Cathedral #2, Dublin, Ireland, from the series Cross + Stone

Ruins Arch, Kilfenora, Ireland, from the series Cross + Stone

Above Paris, from the series Vignette

Chimney Sweep, Listvyanka, Siberia, from the series Vignette

Monk's Quarters, from the series Vignette

Maarjamäe War Menorial, Tallinn, Estonia, from the series An Enduring Grace

Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia, from the series An Enduring Grace

Naval Cathedral, Kronstadt, Russia, from the series An Enduring Grace

Hindu Temple, from the series Los Angeles Study

Union Station, from the series Los Angeles Study

© copyright all images Michael Kirchoff

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Palmer Davis


What inspired you to start taking photographs and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?


I took my first photography class in high school and it changed my life. Suddenly my eyes were opened to a different way of seeing and perceiving and understanding the world around me. It was an epiphany that started me on an exploration that keeps unfolding. I recently came across a snapshot of myself at 16, and sure enough, I had a camera around my neck! Back then my photography teacher, Walter Rabetz, was the first of many mentors, whose insights, encouragement and example have made this journey possible for me.

My education in photography continued at Hampshire College and later at the International Center of Photography, where I am now a member of the faculty. Because of that early obsession with photography, I was drawn to a career in advertising, where I became a creative director, responsible for national brands at top Madison Avenue ad agencies. No doubt, working with professional photographers all those years, art directing and editing images honed my eye.

But it wasn’t until I transitioned out of advertising, that I was able to really dedicate myself to photography. Upon my return from a year in Italy photographing formal gardens in the Veneto, I participated in a group show in New York City. This led to several more shows in and around New York. By that point I was able to attain representation with art dealer Carol Craven, who has been an invaluable artistic guide for me ever since. For almost ten years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the few photographers exhibiting in her gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, alongside such important mid-century modern painters as Thomas Hart Benton, Milton Avery and Max Beckmann. This honor has been particularly meaningful for me because I consider my aesthetic to be more painterly than purely photographic. As a result of showing there, as well as other galleries, most recently Kenise Barnes Fine Art, I’ve established a considerable following of collectors and enthusiasts.

Besides the obvious rewards of exhibiting, I would have to say I continue to make photographs because I can’t not photograph. I’m increasingly addicted to that euphoric state of hyper alertness and simultaneous calm. It ignites my senses and makes me feel more alive in the moment. I find every aspect of the process of photography as gratifying as the end result: conceptualizing, shooting (color film with a medium format camera), printing in the darkroom, editing, sequencing and finally showing— whether in a gallery, an art auction, a juried show, an online magazine or blog like this one.

Still, nothing beats the feeling of walking into someone’s home and seeing one of my photographs hanging on the wall, or hearing a collector tell me how much my work means to them. So, yes exhibiting and selling one’s work is crucial, but I believe those things should come second. Creating the work comes first. The rush of creation is my primary motivator.


In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?


Creativity cannot exist in a vacuum. I’m always telling my students “You need to put your work out there. It’s a vital part of the creative cycle, otherwise you’re just talking to yourself.“ It’s important to get feedback from others in the field—anyone whose advise you respect. In addition, you need have an honest, ongoing dialog with your work. It will tell you what it needs, what is working, what is missing, what new directions you should pursue and whether or not you are ready find a broader audience. In order for you to communicate to others, first you must know what it is you want to say.

Once you are ready, there are an infinite number of ways to share your work with the world at large. It used to be that you had to lug your portfolio from door to door to get your work in front of people. Now, you can send your images to gallery owners, editors, art directors and collectors across the world on the Internet at the press of a send button. The exposure you can get from a single posting on an important photography website can be amazing. After some of my images were featured on Flak Photo, there was an entirely new audience looking at and discussing my photographs. For me to be able to read someone’s comments in Italian on my “Italian Light” series, or to be featured on Moloko + (a Russian online art and design magazine), or to see my images posted on a blog in Australia, seemed surreal to me.

So you need to get your work out there any way you can. This could be through the Internet, but if you’re just getting started, it could also be as simple as hanging your photographs in a local coffee shop, an outdoor arts festival, entering a photo contest, applying for a grant—whatever you can do to get a foothold. My first solo show was in a public library. I ended up selling more than I expected. Use your contacts; ask your friends and family and art colleagues for their connections. Once you start getting recognition for your work, one opportunity often leads to another. It makes me feel good knowing that my photographs are out there in the world, living and breathing and speaking for me—inviting people to think or wonder or simply exist in the time and place of my images.


How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?


Successful is a tricky word. I prefer to define a successful artist as one who arranges his life so that he can continue to do the work he wants to do. It can be a long and lonely journey for anyone on a creative path, so it helps to find another definition for success that works for you. When I look at a contact sheet and find an image I’m excited about printing—that’s success for me. Of course, practically speaking, it helps to have other streams of income, which is one of the reasons I teach.

To get to this point in my career has taken blind faith, self-determination and passion for the work. As an artist, you need to embrace uncertainty, not knowing where the road you’re on will ultimately lead to. There are no short cuts here. You just have to trust your instincts and stick with it day in and day out.

You also need to surround yourself with a community of fellow artists and colleagues that will support you and inspire you as you navigate your way. So many of my breaks in the fine art world have been the result of someone putting in a good word for me at the right time. For example, Tema Stauffer, a fellow ICP instructor, introduced me to Daniel Cooney, who sold my work on an online art auction through his Chelsea Gallery. That same auction led to the Flak Photo posting I mentioned earlier. As I said, it’s all about getting your work seen. In fact it’s because my photographs are featured on, a curated resource for contemporary art, that Michael Werner discovered me and invited me to be interviewed for this blog.

At the end of the day, as a photographer, I feel like I have a story to tell and no one else on the planet can tell that particular story but me. So against all odds and in spite of all reason, I keep on telling it.

all images below are from Palmer Davis' series American Stories


American Gothic

Beer and Cigarettes



Gilded Age

Swimming Hole

Sunday Paper

Broken Windows

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© all images Palmer Davis

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Amy Elkins


What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?


I had always been drawn to the arts growing up- drawing, piecing things together, painting, gluing together handmade books and collages, making things with my hands that came out of thoughts or emotions in my head. I was sort of a loner and spent a lot of time throughout my childhood riding my bike or walking around with amplified thoughts and daydreams racing about in my head. Los Angeles was sort of an isolating place to grow up. It was too big to go off and explore too often. Friends from school lived scattered across the city. My parents lived in two apartments, one in Santa Monica and one in Venice Beach. So I escaped in ways I knew how.. I liked the way I could transform things in my head onto paper. My father had studied art and has always been making and inventing things (from polarized plastic art to massive collages), his mother had been an eccentric painter who later became obsessed with Egyptian art. My mother has always played music and uses her hands to create things that way, the same way that her father had with a mandolin and my brother continues to do with many instruments. I suppose these things get passed down. I had always been very curious about photography growing up. My father had bought the entire 19-volume set of Time-Life Photography books from a thrift store when I was really young. I would lay around engrossed in the photographs for hours. Even then I was more drawn to photographs of people. A little later I ended up getting a red 35mm camera for my 8th birthday, which I used often. Years later, when I first started taking photography classes in college I was also studying life drawing, print making and various courses in psychology and cultural anthropology. I kept leaning heavier towards photography, eventually abandoning most other studies for it. I guess you could say I connected more with photography and its ability to represent things in a way that I didn’t find so much in other mediums.

What lured me back then, still lures me. I use photography as a means of looking into people’s lives in a way that I simply wouldn’t be able to, let alone have the nerve to do, in any other way. I draw often from an interest in psychology and a desire to connect with others, tending to work extensively on one subject/project at a time to try and understand it better before moving to the next. I consider myself a fine art portrait photographer and have always worked very slowly and formally with each subject. That curiosity, sometimes obsession, regarding the lives of others remains a constant source of inspiration.


In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?


While faith in one’s own work goes a long way, it has always been helpful in my experience to have a network of friends/peers that are photographers or artists, perhaps a professor or mentor or someone within the blogging community to be able to show work to and get feedback from. This really can help an artist ready themselves for how to talk about/think about new work, polish up a statement, put together a final presentation, figure out print size or output or sort out who would be interested in their work. While in school, this feedback is ongoing and easy to come by but once out of school it becomes harder to keep that dialogue going. While in my last year at School of Visual Arts I reached out to several photographers I had a great deal of respect for and we would meet from time to time in person to talk about photography and maybe look over the work I was making. These mentors that I was so fortunate to have really pushed and encouraged me continue making work, to enter competitions, build a website and get my work out there.

The Internet also creates a very accessible community. My first experiences with showing photography in New York came through Joerg Colberg, who runs the website Conscientious. I had emailed him and eventually when I had a website up he featured my work on the site, later doing my first interview. Roughly a year later he put me in my first New York exhibition with Todd Hido and Alec Soth, two photographers that I had tremendous respect for. There’s simply no real way of knowing what can unfold by simply contacting somebody or by putting your work out there to be seen. And it seems now it’s easier to do so than ever through reviews, competitions, grants, blogs, group shows, fairs, publications and d.i.y. project spaces.


How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?


I do have quite a long way to go before achieving the status you mention here. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever get all the way there, but I’m ok with this. I realize that this field is very competitive and challenging. I would like to get to a point where I can let go of my day job and make my entire living off of my art. Like most artists early in their careers, I still struggle to fund shooting and producing my projects as well as finding the time to work on them.

In terms of what I have achieved so far- none of it has come without working hard, being persistent and continuing to make new work. I feel like when one does these things and the right opportunity presents itself things fall naturally into place. Without all of the hard work and persistence, without working on projects for yourself, those opportunities can fall flat. It seems the photo world is very small and that many things within it are deeply connected. Six degrees of separation, especially using the internet as a tool to reach people beyond your physical location. Being involved in a few group shows in New York very early on definitely unfolded into many other unpredicted opportunities for me. The exposure lead to my first private commission, my first editorial job with New York Times Magazine and introduced my work to Yancey Richardson, whom I’m currently represented by. When Yancey Richardson gave me a solo show of my Wallflower portraits in the project room, a curator from Vienna happened to see it and selected 5 of my images (from Wallflower and Gray) to be included in a history of portraiture show at Kunsthalle Wien, a contemporary art museum in Vienna. At the press conference for that museum show in Vienna I was introduced to a gallery owner in Frankfurt who ended up taking several Wallflower works to Pulse Miami during Basel. The work then sold to a gallery owner from Montreal, who curated it into a portraiture show that is currently on display at Pierre-François Ouellette art Contemporain. The way these sort of events unfold constantly surprises me and makes me feel very fortunate and grateful. Not only for the opportunities that have come up, but for the support of those who believe in my work and get it out there. It hasn’t always been as graceful an experience as those mentioned, and quite often it is far more challenging than that. There is simply no predictable path in this field. But I suppose if there were, it wouldn’t be quite as interesting.

Bon, Brooklyn, NY, 2008, from the series Wallflower

Brendan, Brooklyn, NY, 2008, from the series Wallflower

Jake, Brooklyn, NY, 2008, from the series Wallflower

Momentary, Brooklyn, NY, 2007, from the series Gray

Whispering Pines, West Greenwich, RI, 2009, from the series Gray

Heidi, 7th Ward, New Orleans, 2009, from the series The Weight of Air

John Ben, 7th Ward, New Orleans, 2009, from the series The Weight of Air

Bella, Uptown, New Orleans, 2009, from the series The Weight of Air

13/32 (Not The Man I Once Was) from the series Black is the Day, Black is the Night

26/44 (Not The Man I Once Was) from the series Black is the Day, Black is the Night

© copyright all images Amy Elkins

About this Blog

Two Way Lens is a project designed to inform and inspire emerging photographers wanting to focus their creative output in a way that enhances their chances of finding an audience, being included in exhibitions and ultimately achieving gallery representation. The journey from inspired artist to successful artist is one that is often difficult to negotiate and hard to control. On these pages, I will feature the experiences and opinions of other photographers who I have found inspiring, and hopefully the knowledge they have built in their own experiences will be valuable to all of us finding our own way to sharing our creativity with the wider world.