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Career Path Part 2

Lesson 5 from: Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects

David H Wells

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Lesson Info

5. Career Path Part 2

Lesson Info

Career Path Part 2

And then along the way, moved to the middle east and did a whole bunch of work. There are someone which I'll show you a little bit while there's my israeli press card, my palestinian crest press card got both sides, and the next project is another one that's really instructive, both in terms of my career path and all the other lessons we've been talking about a date which is called I called distant relations it's the complexities that relationship between israelis and palestinians remember I said the idea, one of the online people asked about photo story versus photo essay, and I came back and said, point of view, the hardest thing, and if you think about the israeli palestinian relationship, what could I possibly say that hadn't already been said? Because we're this project is now nineteen, ninety, ninety one, ninety two? What can I possibly say that hasn't been said about these were the palestinian relationship, so I actually ended up moving there to do to do one project, which was d...

idn't succeed, by the way, interestingly enough, and I ended up changing it in doing another project. This is the photo that typically ends up, as the magazine cover, because it has both an israeli and palestinian is actually a street in jerusalem that they share, these were the palestinian conflict relationships are is almost by definition to find by the conflicts, so I am in fact going to spend a lot of time photographing the conflict in this case, you have a bus with windows that have been smashed by palestinians throwing stones than israelis on the bus, israelis at a checkpoint, palestinians going to the same checkpoint and again try not to think, oh, it's photojournalism! I don't do photo journalism it's not photo is photojournalism it's a story in this case? I'm talking about the israeli palestinian conflict and admitted it comes together going to start saying, okay, so that's his point of view and then I'm going to get into the outlets issue that I'm going to get into the milieu issue all the issues that I've been talking about or we'll come together, I promise. Now the checkpoint, all these guys are throwing stones at those guys, and it was like some weird tennis match these guys here to my left, these guys are my right. We're just going back and forth and there's about five of us were lined up under a steel awning in a grocery store, and so what I've done and I had to do because I'm talking about the israeli palestinian relationship, you do have to say there is a conflict there there's no question of that is a long historical conflict but what I discovered while I was doing that work in which actually had not been photographed very much and that becomes part of our process was that israelis and palestinians also coexist. This is the tomb of abraham muslims and jews trace their lineage to the same patriarch abraham, and at one point in time historically they used to share that shrine and this is shift changed the uh, muslims were finishing up praying and the the jews were just about to start israelis and palestinians sharing a street shooting the breeze, a palestinian who works as a housekeeper for a jewish family so he's sort of integrated in the family he's sort of not at the same time a mixed livestock market makes school program where they bring kids together from both sides um shopping side by side israelis and palestinians shopping side by side and then a mixed rally for peace both israelis and palestinians together. And I'm hoping what you're taken away is that not just this conflict, but there's also co existence and co operation that's my point of view so I've already given away kind of the answers is but did that work give you a point of view communicated idea with minimal estimation? Was it linear portfolio that's a tricky part again, but since I did not see any specific characters, I'm going to go portfolio because there was no I mean, the irony isn't again, this is a very large multiyear project, and a lot of my chutes are linear in terms of the individual shoot that the the food abdel palestinian works as a housekeeper spend a day with him so you can see the relationship even flow. But you only see one or two pictures, so together it makes a portfolio right now, you were spot on, um, didn't tell you something about my expertise, passion and skill set, and you want to see more. So I'm getting something successful. The broader question to go back to the the essay part of photo essay because we can agree it was made with photos, right? We're past that part, but the question is what's. He s a what was my idea? What was my point of view? Now I actually put me on the spot, dear fours like your idea with the palestinians. And the idea was, what I got from it was the fact that they can all get along. But, I mean, they can actually co exist in a particular spot without, you know, being a battle between the two it's. Basically, you read my next life. I can show you how the two slides, not only the conflict, they do there's no, chris, question the comfort, but also co exist and they can cooperate. And the weird thing I discovered over time and looking at the relationship sorta holistically is that they can sometimes do that all three of those in the same day, which is sort of very bizarre, but very telling about sort of way that the two peoples are much more intertwined than I think we give them credit for. So the project was my response to having done many, many assignments in the middle east, and I always feel like I never got it right. I mean, the conflict was there, but there was something else going on, and I started to see it. And then I proposed initially to go back to my failure, a project on lee on the cooperation between the two, and I couldn't get any money to do that. I think people thought put him in the cooperate, so I redefined the project is all three aspects conflict, co existence and co operation, and I was amazed that the macarthur foundation gave me grant you all heard the macarthur foundation, they had their genius grants, I didn't get a genius crap, I got what I think it was a very intelligent grant. What is important and it becomes really important for our process this is another one of those you really want to write it down? Things was that the macarthur foundation used to have a programme called research and writing on international peace and cooperation. And the trick that I did was I took my photography of that relationship with all those aspects and convince them that photographing conflict co existence and co operation was research and writing on international peace and cooperation, I discovered that the importance of subject matter expertise as versus photography expertise. Okay, we're gonna talk tomorrow about grants I'm going to talk a lot about subject matter expertise because the grant world it's very competitive there's a lot of people that they want to do this thing if you do it based on photography, you and ten thousand other photographers can do it, maybe you get it maybe you want if you have some kind of subject matter expertise that the other people don't have it's simple as that. And so I discovered the importance of subject matter expertise and so this work was published lots and lots of places. This goes back to that meal you question I initially applied in ninety I got the one, ninety, nineteen, ninety got the money ninety one, ninety two I don't remember, but nineteen ninety three the oslo peace accords came along and so there was a window in time where people thought there might be some real movement on the israeli palestinian conflict and so for a while this stuff was published and exhibited everywhere it was an op ed piece in a couple of newspapers people actually had me write op ed pieces it was published in a magazine very nice piece in the philadelphia inquirer sunday magazine it was exhibited and this is another one of those think about the framework thinks it was exhibited at the museum of anthropology and archeology at the university of pennsylvania they weren't exhibiting photography they were exhibiting somebody who looked at the israeli palestinian relationship it's again about subject matter so this is the cover of the pennsylvania gazette about that which led to a story I spent seven days with yasser arafat along the way ended up covering the first gulf war one of the great things I got to be a war photographer on life magazine's dime for six months which was an awful lot of fun and I never want to do it again but it was it was it was really good I was young it was a great experience I had more money than wisdom and enjoyed it a lot but it's not something I want to do permanently but I had the opportunity these are some photos from that time period working for the new york times magazine also covering the first gulf war just different examples of how this stuff was used and that idea of subject matter and the milieu is going to become really important and at some point I'm actually going to pick on you when we started talking about your projects and the question is going to become not only what is the project and I'll prompt you later but also this idea okay? I'm thinking maybe I can fit it in this larger discussion about this or about that and it's not like you're going to take your project and completely change it it's just going to say you got a kind of massage if you think of it just tweak it a little bit so it fits in that larger discussion so more examples of different uses of this and then the film if inquires sunday magazine assign me to do a story on the settlers in the west bank and these are some examples from that and then an article was written about the project because I was very fortunate enough to get the macarthur grant a bunch of these other exhibitions in photo district news which goes into this whole thing about building visibility which again spun off to do some other work this has found work for a foundation called the new israel fund they saw the other work that I did on the israeli palestinian conflict and they said okay, we'd like you to do our annual report so it's all about this thing of telling to the end user, you could do this this is why you're different at the same time as I was doing the israeli palestinian thing, I was doing another one of light studies member the train station story literally at the same time as I was being a war photographer for my brief six month stint, I was doing this story where I'd go to the western wall, which is the holiest shrine of the jewish faith, and photograph the play like the train station of just the light and shadow, nothing political about this story, but there was the other political story literally at the same time, sometimes I just ride this is therapy, and that is my politics, and it won an award from communication arts magazine. How many of you know communication, arts magazin? How many you're going to start reading communication or magazine after today? You don't necessarily need to subscribe though it's, a great magazine to subscribe to was published out actually a palo alto, I believe, and it really is probably the best publication for looking at how different kind of things like type and multimedia and photography are used in the publication world, and they have something called the cia, which communication, art, photography, annual and every year I apply and haven't been for a while, but when I wasn't c a few years ago because of this it's another one of those third party validations where people say, oh yeah, I saw that work and see a let's talk about and there are a lot of those things out there when you think you might get anointed cia is still probably the best one in terms of getting that kind of label and the other thing you should be looking at and I'm hoping praying that the audiences you probably subscribes to see and the first thing you want to be doing is looking at the last four or five years photography annuals because once here they have a annual the best of photography just to look back to see what's going on out there and that's what really important reference? Because these are people who've already done what we're talking about they've been anointed, they got paid to do stuff they developed personal style, they have authorship and so the communication art, photography, annuals a great resource I think I got an email from communication arts just this morning saying they announced the photography did today there's this today's the day, so I just thought I'd throw that out e I got a question for you to great car this is from vagabond questions related to re using photos for different publications are they the exact same photos or from the same set well the sort of short answer is it depends on complete what you negotiate my particular thing is that I only do jobs that I can own the work so therefore the second user it couldn't theory be the exact same pictures I will say one thing and this is probably a better answer ninety nine point nine percent of my users have what's called an embargo we're simply means that nobody else can use it before they do and it's perfectly logical I mean they paid a certain amount of money they want to use it first most of time it's a ninety day window so after ninety days it reverts to me and then I can do what I want and that's pretty typical but it's always a function of what you negotiate so yes it's funny you mention because I was reading my email this morning and there was cia's winners and one of things I want to do tonight is go online and you can actually go online to see eh tonight look att the annual photography winners and just go through it and you'll immediately said that's interesting I want to go look at that more never thought of how to solve the problem that way all the stuff we've been talking about and see is probably the best of what's going on there contemporary into publication another one of these lights studies that I did was on center city philadelphia again, this is all about the play of light and shadow in center city philadelphia, which typically spun off to, in this case the story on rowing, a single river, a story on the curtis institute of music in philadelphia and in terms of my career path, I'm now migrating on top of this expertise in certain but not all political subjects like the pesticides in the israeli palestinian conflict. I'm also becoming an expert in making color slides. You've heard of color slides, the primitive technology that proceeded digital. The reason I mention it because at one point in time, right before digital came along to be able to make color slides was one of those expertise is that not everybody had. So I was developing a reputation for a few things, many things I don't do well, because a few things I was doing well, like, for example, some color, some work with color slides, this music school story being an example of that. And I mentioned that because that's one of the determiner, which is completely gone by the wayside, that skill set question. Did you guys ladies shoot any color slides school? I did her yearbook, my senior year, okay? They actually I really think that they should require you all the shoot color slide, because if you really want to understand the discipline of exposure where you have no room for error except for the cost problem in these days of problem getting the film process shooting color slides is a fabulous discipline. So we're continuing on the career path mine had a daughter along the way, right? She's twenty one now she's a senior in college, she probably wouldn't be as livid as my brother, but her mother and I divorced. I've subsequently remarried. My second wife is from india, so we're going talk a lot about work in india as class wears on. So these are some examples of photos that I made in india. This is a story on pro processing for one of my favorite clients saudi aramco world people ask me, do I set up photos? Am I smart enough to hire four guys? Right? You hire three guys and what I want motorcycle, would you actually hire four guys? I can't even figure out how the last guys staying on no, it's, not it's. Not set up. It's. Just a found photo. I was in north india traveling and all this traffic was going by and I started photographing and it's really one of those you shoot and you realise, while that was really cool when you look at the back of the camera and you actually had it, please, jim. Yeah, I have a question that that popped in earlier and that photo sort of inspired me to ask it if you if you, uh this is from night bird, croatia, if you capture the photo that it has an interesting subject and focal point, but it's not really on tar. Technically, like the little blurry or under expos over if overexposed. Do you still consider using it? Wait, I know that was a it's. A big question. Let me give you this. I should watch files. I want to talk about work. So I'm going to talk about raw files. So if I get my explosion close not that I'm lazy, but raphael is giving me a little more room and then the second thing, and this is a perfect example of that. In hindsight, I think probably I thought, oh, I might be shooting it to slow a shutter speed but the panning works very well so I can't give a hard hard and fast answer one of them of course is how far off are you and then the second question would see end use I tend as I think I said earlier to shoot a lot of stuff I shoot very loose so I have a lot of choices from a given shoot, so if this one doesn't work, maybe the one before the one after work and so somewhere that I'm usually able to get the one and again also function of how tolerant is you and user and what is your end use? Can you define shooting loose, please? Oh sure I'm going to do something a little bit later but great, but basically the idea is that when I'm photographing the one thing I never want to do is come back and say, oh, I should have so I do verticals and horizontal is right and left and up and down all those variations. So the question was what if you're not quite well if I've done thirty or forty or fifty pictures of a subject, I'm likely to have the one that I want and you know jim and I actually practice what we just did because it leads into my very next slide thank you very much so I'm photographing in india and I'm feeling bad for this poor boy because he's gonna pull his backside and I just can't make that picture work right it's good, but it is doesn't doesn't work so I'm walking away and this is going back to what your question was indirectly is you should always be looking you should always be thinking okay, what could I do different? So I'm walking away and I said I really want something come out of that and I look inside the net and I see that okay, so you should always be looking and you should be always taking as many variations as you can because even though I travelled to india lot, I may never get back to this same spot I'll certainly never seen this kid in this exact same position again, so I'm always thinking, what are all the variations that I can take for a job photoshopped yeah, I'm just going to say one word I know the type of work you do it's editorial it has it has to have a very solid ethical background right? Uh a pole like even a pole even a lot even a light you know? Why would you ever take anything out? No, but that's why I don't bring that just sure let me give you a somewhat more useful answer one is you are correct my background, the journalistic ethic is one two is actually I'm actually more interest in the discussion about setting up on stuff and I'll tell you why because yes, I can't quite make that work maybe taking the pole out of this picture might have helped, but I'm always more interest in the fact that reality gave me that that's actually what existed and so I don't do that partly because of the journalistic ethic the other thing I'll talk about this later in the week when I do work flow in terms of how I shoot the only thing that you all have its value is your time in your expertise right? Gwen smiling at me already the more efficient you are in capture the more productive you are the more you get control over your life you work your time, the money all the stuff we're talking about so I try to do ninety nine percent of what I can in capture it may mean that I may shoot thirty or forty pictures and so I have to spend a little more time editing but one of those is going to be there so I do very little in post I do almost nothing in post actually partly the journalistic ethic but partly because my background in slides I learned how to do it all on camera more stuff from india and I love photographing at night in india one of the great things about india is that because of frankly, the lack of personal space for a lot of people much of life is lived outdoors, which is not you need to you need much of the rest of the world people live their lives much we're outdoors and so this is an intersection in a city called bangle or this's a night market in the same city, and I do a lot of street photography where I'm just walking around and to go back in directly to your question, jim, about photoshopping this stuff reality gave me that people are actually on a motorcycle in the middle of traffic, trying not to get hurt and all the stuff is wizened by and all I got to do is figure out a couple of technical hurdles howto make photograph to share with you, and so for me, the challenge is mostly in capture really, really important disclosure here that's me that's just my thing okay, don't take that as a value judgment whatever works for you works for you that there is a journalistic ethic kind of thing to keep in mind, but the fundamental thing is that we all make images we put them in front of viewers and we say to the viewer without being there, look at this had this emotional experience had this mental journey connect with that person that's what we do a stock rivers right however you do that is completely your call the trick though is to develop your expertise so whatever you do is better than anybody else so my particular challenge what I love about photography the most is being out there seeing things like that saying okay I want to create an image and then take that home and share it with other people that's my particular thing I know briefly from our conversations perform from your bios each of you has a different thing you're interested with and the trick is how do you draw that out that's what matters a little more world from india this is actually glass shop just a guy moving around sheets of glass in a glass shop in india is in bangle or in southern india where my voice families from uh dhaka in bangladesh a shout out to the students at path shala which is the photography school in dhaka bangladesh if you ever want a great experience llego path shall a dot net it's a photography school in dhaka bangladesh started by a social entrepreneur named shah dual alarm whose great thinker in terms of photography and his ideas that it shouldn't just be people like me from the outside going there but the people there should be able to tell their stories and so he started this great photography school and if by chance you ever get a chance to go there you really want to take a class because to see bangladesh from the perspective of the bangladeshis rather than an outsider is just a it's an unbelievable experience. And so I put that sort of in the might look at it someday. Category what was what was the name of schooling mashallah p a t h, s h a l a it's, the south asian school of photography and media in dhaka and if nothing else, it's another one of those you want to go look at it, you want to look at this at their sight, the way that they're telling stories you have photographers were obviously bangladeshi telling stories about bangladesh it's part of this discussion we're trying to have about the inside of the outsider. How do you tell stories? What's the narrative you kind of trying to create? Remember I said the good news, bad news about the world of photography twenty years ago, they used to pay people like me to go there because there was a perception that that was how it should be done now, there's a completely different perception, which is that they had the skill set there, they have the expertise they have the cultural understanding there actually probably ahead of me, because they're they're some of the some of my former students or very accomplished photographers there now because they've learned and they've risen up to the level justifiably so that's sort of the bad news for me, but it's good news for them, but you all in the web universe annual four here need to really understand who are all those other people out there who might competing, what do they bring to it? And pasha was just one of many examples of schools that were in those other countries you want to understand a little bit about what those people doing? How did they tell him the story? How are they doing everything I've been talking about about differentiating themselves? So I'm continuing on my career path just to give you a sense of how I got from they're here because you haven't run screaming out of the studio, so it leads me to believe you think that I should keep telling you this story uh, I do now a fair amount of travel either for jobs or for workshops for both. This is from guatemala this's, also from guatemala. This is out of one of those out of the corner of your eye pictures, you know, I'm talking about you see one thing and then corny or I says, ok, I've done this, which is a portrait of this family, but look, mom's got a pepsi cannon under her shawl, so then I want to do that also guatemala if you haven't been it's a great country to go through the sort of tug of war between the indigenous culture and the western culture is alive and well and I know it has its political moments that are good and bad, but just in terms of seeing those two different things coexists sometimes happily sometimes not is a really fascinating thing both anthropologically and photographically, and the other thing is a photographer to love about guatemala is the play of light and shadow we're in guatemala here also here now I'm in japan and one of the things that I'm doing is and I'll talk a little bit this later I want to talk about my work flow and my revenue streams is that most of my income these days comes from stock photography, and this is not a class on stock photography, though maybe I should talk about talk to creative live about doing a stock photography class another day, but a lot of times the stock photograph is something like this it's more iconic it's more simplistic it doesn't have faces, it solves a lot of all these problems, stuff like that so that's one of the things that sort of effected and evolved with my shooting style is to try to make these photographs a little bit more capable for stock photo use rather than something say like this where you have a face with issue again or something like this where you don't necessarily have a face issue where it's more abstracted so the british philosopher michel oak chef oka shep I apologize distinguished between technical knowledge and practical knowledge we saw those pictures and the reason I showed you all of those is because technical knowledge is something you can put into a photo textbook but practical knowledge which is what I'm trying to get you to understand that I I feel like I've accumulated is the knowledge that master photographers used daily the skills have this experience based on the intuition of my craft that's what I mean by and those are two different in technical impractical knowledge and so that's how I secured my technical knowledge of my practical knowledge and that's why I took you through all of that party so you understand why I'm up here but also to get you thinking about ok if I have this skill set good if I don't have the skill set how might I pick it up that's that's the real question so the question for each one of you now is just tell me a little bit about your background in photography and the skill sets you've picked up and especially is there a skill set your thinking you're missing and how do you plan to security? I'm not going to hold you teo but you see what I'm it's that thinking process okay so I'm good at this you're going to school, and they're giving you that much. But you're going to leave school pretty soon, I think finding, yeah, so and you need to keep drawing. So you need to be thinking about what the skill sets I have. What of the skill sets I want? And this feeds into both my understanding of you, but also in terms of where we're going with the project.

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Ratings and Reviews


First off, I was a photo assistant for a few years to a photographer who did numerous multi-day workshops. This was my first time as a student sitting in on a webinar that actually kept me interested. Sometimes I'm turned off by the pace of the teacher, his or her voice, or the manner in which they disseminate the information. But this was truly fantastic. David showed lots of his work in a way that was NOT egotistical in any sense (something that does happen quite often). I was utterly impressed by the quality of his work, the wealth of knowledge he has on the world, culture and politics, and how he shoots "on the go". All of those qualities are essential parts to creating a great photo essay/story. I came into this seminar needing inspiration and in the end I have more ideas than I know what to do with. David's work is truly magnificent; his photo stories pertain to people and their struggles, which really could be something any one of us could go through at any point, but he shows it in a way that is beautiful - either beautifully desperate or beautifully destructive - instead of in an exploitative way. On a side note, he also offered up a lot of great information having to do with funding, exposure, workflow, time efficiency, income streams, releases... you won't find this a lot with other photographers. You will find the "go find the info yourself" attitude. This has been my problem as of late with photography - we don't work together as artists, we work against each other competing for what, I'm not sure. David's seminar seemed to embrace photography as the art form it is, and shared with us the tools that we as artists need to really understand and utilize in order to get our story out there. A story it seems he really wants to see/hear. Just an amazing "Thank You"!!!!

a Creativelive Student

I have purchased a number of classes on Creative Live. This class taught by David Wells is one of the best. David is a thorough teacher, personal and connects with his students. Along with his superb and inspiring imagery David talked about his experiences in getting funding, his workflow, developing his stories and distributing his work. David is talented, generous and an excellent teacher. Highly recommended class.

Anjani Millet

Just completed the course. Fantastic, practical information on everything from grant writing, finding foundations, proposal development, even how to shake hands overseas. I am not sure where else I would have found this information for photographers. So appreciate it. One friend asked if this would be worth watching for anyone outside the US and the answer is a definitive yes. Very happy I purchased, and already starting to implement.

Student Work