A Personal Letter to Art Buyers & Art Directors, from a Photographer

Why you should hire someone based on their eye, and not on what’s in their portfolio.

It’s funny, that years after I didn’t land a job shooting for Men’s Health, Brooklyn Academy of Music hired me to shoot a bunch of pieces revolving around movement, especially in low-light. It became a bit of a specialty then, as I was pigeon-holed even there, into shooting pieces that were some of the most difficult to capture. Motion, as it is, is one of the more challenging things to showcase in photography, since by default, photography creates a “still image.” And yet, with little to no experience, I was thrust into pieces which demand I stop that motion while still showcase it’s energy - captured motion in still form.

The irony, thinking back, is that the thing stopping Men’s Health from hiring me, according to their art director, was a lack of “motion” in my photographs. They felt that each frame was expertly composed, but that they had a feeling of being still. Produced. They were almost “over-produced” I guess, was the general gist of the conversation. As it turns out, shooting motion and creating motion in photography is it’s own skill-set, and a desirable one. I was confident, even then, that I could of produce it, but had nothing to show for it. “Come back and let’s chat again when you’ve shot some motion.” Now, years later, that same art director no longer works at the magazine - and re-establishing an intro so many years later feels strange. (Of course, this is not a reason not to reach out again. Take note fellow photographers.)

Excuses aside, I guess the lesson that I’m going for here, is that at large, art directors do not see -potential-, they only see guaranteed results within a very specific set of parameters. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a strategy to narrow down the competition - for there are so many photographers, many of them skilled (and with talent too!) that the act of finding -the- photographer is a process of ever-dwindling specificity. “We need someone who shoots high level marketing imagery - specifically in the automotive industry.” And then through those twenty returned results, we need someone who can showcase the color RED really well (looks for photographers who’ve taken pictures of red cars) oh, and the client wants a kind of rainbow transparent swish floating over the car - a kind of ethereal photoshop light-painting. OH, this photographer has done exactly that! And then comes the reach out… and finally the hiring.

I guess in an age of so much market saturation, the chances of actually finding someone who’s photographed a red car, and then decided to photoshop some light-magic swish around it, is actually pretty high. Because there’s so much work that’s been produced, we live in a landscape where it’s all been done before - and so that reflects the modern shopping mindset. In essence, the process of hiring a photographer is a process of consumerism (the cynicism being that the shopping never ends, it’s money spent on advertising which then is meant to make people shop for those things, and then etc etc.)

But how, then, in a world of “creativity” does novelty ever see the light of day? Perhaps only new ideas come from those truly revolutionary ad-men who see opportunities instead of products, or see process and risk and fun as the ultimate pursuit, rather than the cut-and-dry process of “getting the job done.” Isn’t it those ad-men, the revolutionaries, those featured excitingly in drama-filled reenactments of a bygone era (Don Draper), who are actually the most effective at their jobs? And aren’t those the same people that don’t hire by the numbers, but hire based on that ineffable quality - the IT factor?

Well, friends, I’d like to imagine that those who have climbed the ranks of the ad world are indeed those “Don Drapers” - however, the truth lies somewhere closer to baseline. For, any industry that aims for a shakeup might ultimately settle for a shake-down.

So, dear Ad-men, art directors, and those with “vision” - stop hiring based on what you see in front of you, and start hiring based on that greater vision that’s begging to get released into a world of Ones and Zeros. Be that hero. Be Don Draper. Hire -me-”


Max Gordon

High Resolution Realities

We live in the age of high resolution. Millions upon millions of pixels are being captured in micro-seconds. What started with the megapixel race, has continued into the quest for ultimate Dynamic Range (the capability of a camera to capture detail in both highlight and shadow). The original digital enthusiasts flocked to cameras that offered more megapixels, and when that importance waned, Sony and digital Medium format offered 16-bit RAW. All the while, film photographers continued to tout analog as being the ultimate resolver of detail.

The argument still holds. While many believe that digital has finally surpassed film, true old-school players know that an 8x10 film scanned in a drum scan provide something in the realm of -over- 1,000 megapixels - 15x more resolution than any digital camera to date.


Now that you understand the backstory, I’d like to bring up the more important question: what do we DO with all this digital real-estate - all of this space, which ultimately (in many circumunstaces) will be viewed on a screen, tablet, or the couple square inches of Instagram’s virtuosic platform?

The truth is, few make prints anymore - and the photographers who do print work rarely have their work seen primarily in that medium.

Printing offers the ability to take an image and blow it up to a size where one can really see the details.

On platforms like instagram, or facebook where you can’t zoom - the photographer is left with a debilitating choice: do you alter the composition by cropping in order to reveal the details, or do you leave the image as is, where one can view the entire picture but none of it’s magical minutia. 

Take a moment and look at the image below, and then look at it’s crop. Were the image to be printed, one could simply step closer and look at the small details (for instance the lettering on the man’s jacket, or the individual snowflakes) and then step backwards to take in the picture as a whole.

It is a necessity that has become far less relevant to the art of photography. It is mildly ironic that as technology provides us a greater ability to capture detail, the evolving systems have no way to showcase those details to the greater public. Only the photographers themselves have the ability to look at images in their full glory - zooming, panning, and printing. It really is a totally different experience to have a FULL image, and to be able to zoom and manipulate it. It in many ways reflects the impossibility of modern society: the general public “can” do so much more, and yet the grand majority does so much less. We have all the details, but we spend so little time looking at, and considering them.

TWA - a trip into the past

Had the pleasure of checking out the old TWA terminal at JFK. Built in 1962 by architect Saarinen, the design is evocative and functional, sensual yet utilitarian. With hundreds of thousands of hand-laid tiles covering every surface, a sense of aesthetic and cultural influence is immediately apparent. There’s no doubt: the space flows and has a certain elegance - a quality supplanted by “efficiency” in most modern constructs.

Here are a handful of images from the day - all toned in black and white, which I feel best represents the “vision of the future,” from a 20th century perspective.

Wide angle street photography

With a super-wide angle lens, you can shoot from the hip and never miss a shot. Holding the camera at a low angle makes for added drama, and b&w accentuates details and interactions between people. Panning shots, when you have such a wide field of view, makes for some interesting and artsy results.

WeWork Summer Camp

I was recently brought on by WeWork to shoot their Summer Camp event. WeWork, which is a rapidly growing office space provider, hosts a once-a-year weekend takeover of a summer camp in the Adirondacks. I shot nearly 72 hours straight and over 7,000 images. (Going through them has been a decidedly full-time task.)
The weekend was packed to the brim with things to do, and lugging two cameras and slew of lenses around on the beach was at times difficult, and well.. sandy. Myself and two other photographers slept in a tent near the stage - which was built over the course of the week, and featured full state-of-the-art lighting rigs to host Girl Talk, Michael Franti, St. Lucia and other top-notch performers. It was an incredible and exhausting weekend. With music going till 2am, at the 36-hour mark, ear plugs and my most comfy pillow kept me sane. Check out just a small selection of the images below! For more info about WeWork, visit their website at www.wework.com

Fashion Advertising - TRAMPS Hosiery

I recently shot in the studio with designer Tomas Reyes for his new hosiery line: TRAMPS, which aims to corner the niche market of fashionable compression-wear. Check out his site here http://www.tomasrey.es/ to see more images from our shoot. Images below show the progression from the studio shot to final product on the shelf.

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