Friday, September 28, 2007

Ride or Die

This week I photographed a guy who used to be the editor of a major daily newspaper. He still reads four papers a day even though he retired 10 years ago. We were talking and both agreed that the idea of printing information on a piece of paper and then delivering it to someone by hand was a pretty primitive way to communicate. Newspapers and magazines are struggling and a smart person might find another way to make a living than making pictures that go in them.

There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that I am qualified to do nothing else. I have no skills outside of photography . I couldn't even work at Starbucks. When I worked at the country club I was known as the surly bartender.

The good news is that I am qualified to do nothing else. I will have to ride this all the way down or learn to adapt. I have no other choice.

Larry Fink

Photo/Larry Fink

I saw this ad of a couple dancing yesterday in The New Yorker and thought of Larry Fink. The picture of the couple kind of creeps me out but in a good way. The woman looks a little maniacal. I am amazed they used it in the campaign and doubt any of the potential customers got the Fink reference.

It was 4 o'clock in the morning in the middle of the Atlantic when we made the picture. I had not seen Social Graces since I was a kid but it made such an impression on me I was able to recall the work even though I was half asleep. His work has been part of my vocabulary since I started.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pot of Gold

Last week I went to see a consulant speak. They say a consultant is someone who takes your watch and tells you what time it is. She was fine but it got me thinking about all the people I have gone to see over the years and all the wrong turns I have made.
Once I paid one consultant 250/hour to provide me with some direction in the hopes of getting ad work. I would come to her apartment at the appointed hour. Invariably she would come to the door in her bathrobe. "I will just be a minute" Then I would here the shower running. A half hour later she would pop her head out, "I just need to change the cat box" and on it went. Two hours after my appointment was supposed to start we would sit down and talk about the photographs. I wish I could say that it only happened once. I wish I could say that I never went back to see her. Or that our meeting was an aberration: the next time she was on time and professional. The sad part is that I was so desperate for someone to tell me what to do that I went through this over and over.

It has been my experience that the only way I have learned anything is through making mistakes. In this business these mistakes tend to be expensive.

Years ago I sent out a bunch of promo cards, took space in Blackbook and Workbook and still had no ad career to speak of. I talked to a rep in LA and she said she liked the work and to stay in touch. A year later I sent her a portfolio full of new photographs. She said I was going in the wrong direction. She said I was wasting my time because my pictures did not look like advertising. It was a 10 minute conversation and it changed my career. I wasn't paying her anything and she had nothing to gain but for some reason she was willing to tell me the truth.

I created a bunch of new pictures that looked more like ads, they started getting some attention and I got a rep with a national reputation. The rest is history: cocking rocking and rainbows.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Runnng the projector

At the end of a recent shoot I looked down at the film case and saw we had only shot 40 sheets of 4x5 .WTF! That's like one roll of 35mm. The client spent all this time and money and all we have to show for it is the equivalent of one roll of film. We were going to be fired for sure.

I looked at the contact sheets the next day and was relieved to see that we had not blown it. In fact each frame had something we could use. When I edit a digital take I spend alot of time wondering what the hell I was thinking when I pressed the shutter. Jock McDonald calls it running the projector: Firing the shutter and just watching images pop on the screen as everyone is gathered around.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Feeding the beast

The pressure to shoot new work is like feeding a beast with an insatiable appetite. I have been working on this new project and shot this picture this morning.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tupac/Biggie...50 Cent/Kanye West...Tommy Lee/Kid Rock and now.....Broening/Saunders

Photo/Jonathan Saunders

I got my first flame and I wear it like a purple heart.

Jonathan Saunders commenting on my blog:

"haha, i love the advertising photographer ($ making, family supporting, nice lifestyle), starting the ball rolling in complaining about having to hear the struggles of those less fortunate then he, thomas, if its so offensive to you to hear the struggles of others, don't read it, i have dropped reading you regularly as your constant bragging is equally annoying as those that bitch. so this was the perfect thread to create, a backhanded insult to other photographers not as successful as you disguised again as a chance to brag.

if this blog was to be another tool for you to pimp yourself, make it that way and leave it that way, don't piss on others to further yourself."

I just started shooting again when I first met Jonathan. It was after the temping/nanny period but before I figured out how to make a living as a photographer.We met at a photo group and I assisted for him a few times. My wife and I refereed to him simply as "the genius". As in , who was that on the phone? Answer: The Genius.

His pictures were a mix of the best of Richard Morgenstein and Dan Winters. I always struggled with the basics of composition and lighting. Invariably in my photographs there would be a pole sticking out of a guy’s head or a harsh shadow I didn't know how to get rid of. Somehow he always made it look easy.

Since I was a kid people have always said I was obsessed with photography but I was like a hobbyist compared to Jonathan. He was always taking pictures, or looking a pictures or talking about them.

I am amazed as anyone by the limited success I have had. When my wife tells people I am a photographer there is an awkward pause as if they are waiting for her to say "but he works in a office during the day '. As if being a photographer is like being a modern dancer, poet or potter. You certainly can't support four children doing it.

I lost a monster campaign a couple years ago. I had shot it twice before and felt it was mine. I felt the other photographer was a hack (he was not) and had under bid the job (he had not).I had been wronged and robbed! For months I was full of anger and resentment. It affected my relationship with my family, friends and rep. It was not pretty.

Years before during the "temping years" I was often broke. Extremely broke. When I met my wife she was on food stamps and we all agreed I married up. I had a friend who was a messenger and we would hang out at Mel's diner on
Lombard at night. I would order water and hope he would order a milkshake. He would drink the part in the glass and slide the extra bit that came in the metal container across the table to me. It cost $4.25.

When I measure my progress from where I started I have no option but to stand in awe. When I compare myself to where I think I should be I tend to spend my time complaining and see every interaction as a slight.

I wish I could report that I spend all my time thinking about that milkshake and not the monster that got away. But that would be a lie. Wouldn't it?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Complaining complainers complaining

I have noticed out there on the web a slew of photographers whining about the state of the industry. For sure there is a lot to be concerned about in our business: Magazines going out of business, WFH contracts, Getty under cutting us all etc. But it has been my experience that as a class: photographers are a big bunch of whiners.

When I was 17 I worked as a photo intern for the Baltimore Sun and I got to spend time with guys who had been at the paper since Eisenhower was president. They were protected by the union and were constantly on the phone running one or two side businesses usually revolving around some real estate enterprise. They all went home for three hour lunches and would drive out in the country (where the radios didn't work ) to go "feature hunting" (features are images of slice of life that newspapers run to fill the giant news whole). Invariably the photographer would come back to the office empty handed at the end of his shift and you swore you could still see a little drool in the corner of his mouth where had taken that nap on the side of the road.

I did not have a car and could only do assignments I could walk to so I spent a lot of time hanging around the office. I would be on the recieving end of many a harange from these old timers. The advice was always the same. Photographers are getting screwed. They are not appreciated and to get out while I still could.

So I went to college to become a photojournalist. I interned at a bunch of papers around the country and got burned out at 23. I sold my cameras, moved to San Francisco and worked a series of deadend jobs.

I worked as a temp in an office for a few years. For six weeks I looked at a rows of numbers on a of stack paper and checked them against other rows of numbers on Microfiche looking for numbers that were out of place. Each day I counted down the minutes until my break at 10:15, half hour lunch at 12:30 and another break at 3. Then one day a recent MBA grad my age came back to see the four of us who had been working this project. He said he had made a mistake. The numbers were fine and we could go home.

I drove an airport shuttle bus. Not one of those slick blue ones where the drivers wear cool satin jackets. I drove for an off brand company. I would arrive to work at 4:30 in the morning to drive and half my co-workers were still drunk from the night before. The vans were in such bad shape I couldn't go up steep hills in San Francisco and the Nob Hill passengers were always confused by the routes I would take.

I worked as a nanny, a bartender, a day laborer. It got so bad I decided to apply to law school. I was all ready to go back to a school in Baltimore when at the last minute I took a job as a photography intern at a small San Francisco magazine making minimum wage. Soon after that I got a job as a staff photographer at that paper and the rest is photographic history.

One of my first assignments was to photograph the head of a company. I set lights up in the parking lot and was ready at the appointed hour. 10 minutes passed and then 15. I was pissed. Where the hell was this guy? How could he keep me waiting? Didn't he know who I was? I was about to pack up the gear and tell my editor the subject was a no show when it occured to me that just six months prior I would have been willing spend the night in the parking lot for a chance to be a photographer and to be in this position.

I knew what is was like to work for a living and this was not it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Biggest Loser

Me of course. I just saw that I was mentioned in someone else's blog ( and it made me feel way too good.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Outake From Direct TV

This guy sells fire extinguishers in San Francisco.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Polaroid Holder Invention

A friend of mine who used to work for Annie (just Annie no last name) showed me how to build this thing.

Direct TV Campaign

Tuesday, September 4, 2007