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News & Insight

‘Criticism & Romance’ Is Becoming The Hallmark Of The Starving Photographer

By Kishore Sawh on January 29th 2016

The world of photography is all at once huge and small. Small enough that if you’re a crap person and start talking trash, it’s going to get around quickly, but big enough that there are so many insanely qualified and talented working professionals shooting the kind of work many of us dream of that you can’t possibly know them all by name or all they’ve done.

Marco Grob is a photographer native to Switzerland, though his photographic endeavors began in LA as an assistant, and the work he’s most known for has been shot stateside also in NYC. He is, by pretty much any qualifier, a very good and successful photographer. His client list reads like the seating chart at the Academy Awards or the guest list for a Presidential inauguration – in other words, his work speaks for itself, and he is clearly very good at a multitude of facets of the business to separate himself in this noisy world.

A photo posted by Marco Grob (@marcogrob) on

But recently he shared an image on Instagram that he shot a while ago of George Clooney for Time Magazine, and for the techies, even treated us to a little look at the setup and the gear he was using – Hasselblad H4 60MP with 80mm lens. It looks like a relatively simple setup resulting in a simplistic but nice shot. Generally speaking, I would think a ‘thanks’ would be in order, but there’s been a fair amount of crap surrounding it as well, typically starting with the ever-easy, off-the-tongue, and always destructive, ‘I could do that.’

I had a conversation about this with someone who just could not for the life of him understand why Grob needed a Hasselblad to shoot this, or why he was even chosen for this kind of work. “People only think it’s special because he’s using a Hasselblad but I could shoot it with my Mark 3. And the lighting is coming from below which you never do. This guy got lucky and shot one celeb and the rest followed.” I sort of just stared blankly and blinked a lot, fully aware there’s nothing I could say that would get him to reframe his thinking.

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I won’t go on and on about this particular instance, but I run into these people all the time. They are often the same ones that get annoyed when their phone isn’t ringing off the hook with business inquiries but that some guy with an iPhone or a Rebel with 500k Instagram followers is flush with clients. Let me break this down for those who are of similar persuasions:

No one cares. You may care, and maybe other photographers may care to an extent (because we know what it takes), but we aren’t the consumer market, and the market decides.

Everyone has a different idea of what quality is, and that’s generally what the market or the consumer dictates through eyes-on-images, butts-on-seats, and cheques written. Right now, there is probably the most amount of good quality work ever in the history of imaging – until tomorrow. And if you’re going to try to measure success by the amount of work you get and hope to get it by just being technically better, you’ll likely fail.

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[REWIND: 3 THINGS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY RESULTS FOR LITTLE TO NO MONEY]

There’s a lot of people out there who are technically proficient to compete with who are not idealizing and just producing what’s their own voice and/or what sells. I would suggest trying to be different, and in any case, saying ‘I could do that’ doesn’t just suggest that someone else’s vision and work has little value, but insinuates that someone as ‘lowly’ as you could produce it. You’re better than that.

Right now the barrier to entry into photography is the lowest it’s ever been, and that means there’s just more amazing work out there and technical proficiency is either simply expected or at times not the focus. Rather than saying you ‘could’ do that, I’d like to reference the immortal relevance and self-interrupting genius of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, ‘we’re so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Amendment:

To give an off-the-cuff example, yet one that’s all so prevalent and eluded to in this post, is Instagram usage and filters. While the definition of a ‘great’ photographer may be nebulous, one aspect tends to be conceptual and technical understanding and the ability to execute on them. That used to take years to learn and was, in many ways, specialty knowledge kept in certain circles. But the democratization of information and technology, has led photography in a different direction in terms of production AND consumption.

We see this exemplified with Instagram – where the ‘best’ old school photographers aren’t the ones whose work is getting consumed the most. That hurts a bit, sure, but waxing poetic about the glory days of the old-school photo industry model without working towards positioning yourself properly in the current model could lead to a famine of paid work. And does, often. I’m sorry some 16 year old with an iPhone and lots of time on his hands and $10 worth of VSCO filters is killing it, when the romantic artist in us wants to keep things as they were, within the bounds of familiarity and what we consider to be craftsmanship worthy of appreciation and $$$. But simply put, we don’t decide

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jim Johnson

    I love it when photographers are amazed at others’ simple lighting setups. There are only so many lights and lighting setups in the world. You don’t need anything fancy. You just need to master the basics. Stop thinking you need an $8k Broncolor umbrella. Get out there and shoot.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Jim, preach with me. If only many photographers truly understood this we’d all be better off. In fact, for almost all shoots I do I need one strobe no more powerful than 400w (600 is good to have but…) 2 light modifiers (i prefer umbrellas – two specific ones) ….that’s it. V-flats and so on…i like to have. But all of that could be had for under 1k

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  2. Barry Chapman

    Could you please explain the significance of “romance” in the title? I agree with your premise but don’t understand that reference.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Sure Barry, it’s the idea of romancing, in other words idealizing what photography should be like, rather than what it is, is becoming, and so forth.

      Edit: To give an off-the-cuff example, yet one that’s all so prevalent and eluded to in the post, is Instagram usage and filters. While the definition of a ‘great’ photographer may be nebulous, one aspect tends to be conceptual and technical understanding and the ability to execute on them. That used to take years to learn and was, in many ways, specialty knowledge kept in certain circles. But the democratization of information and technology, has led photography in a different direction in terms of production AND consumption.

      We see this exemplified with Instagram – where the ‘best’ old school photographers aren’t the ones whose work is getting consumed the most. That hurts a bit, sure, but waxing poetic about the glory days of the old-school photo industry model without working towards positioning yourself properly in the current model could lead to a famine of paid work. And does, often. I’m sorry some 16 year old with an iPhone and lots of time on his hands and $10 worth of VSCO filters is killing it, when the romantic artist in us wants to keep things as they were, within the bounds of familiarity and what we consider to be craftsmanship worthy of appreciation and $$$. But simply put, we don’t decide.

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    • Ramon Acosta

      I think this should have been in the article, I also was confused by the romantic part. Thanks for clearing it up.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      NO problem, and as per your suggestion, I will amend it. Cheers

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    • Jim Johnson

      Romanticism is just another way of being nostalgic. And like nostalgia, it is based on a false notion of how it was/is/should be.

      It also causes you to stagnate, because you have limited yourself to only doing what you think has been done already.

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    • Jeff Ladrillono

      Regardless of the era of the working photographer, there’s still a lot to be said about craft. In a world of content that’s here now and gone in 10 minutes, the people that find a way to stick around are usually the ones that hone their craft and continue to make work that sells.

      The working model for photographers has changed over time with technology but the demand for compelling content is still there.

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  3. Stephen Glass

    Love Marco’s work!
    Marco thought of lighting one of the more good looking people in the world with a lighting that is perhaps the least flattering in the world. It’s interesting.
    It’s not enough to be good for editorial. You’ve got to be good that’s a given! Beyond that you have to stand out and be interesting.
    Doesn’t it make Clooney look like a young Ernest Hemingway?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      You know, it struck me it reminded me of someone and I think you just nailed it. How the hell did I not pick that up before…

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  4. Andy & Amii Kauth

    “Winners focus on winning . . .” – Conor McGregor

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  5. sam tziotzios

    First of all I appreciate this photographer sharing this info with us. As to it being difficult or not it doesn’t matter. I guess anyone can play Smoke on the Water but they wrote it.
    When you enter a room and have to pull out some ideas on to treat a subject (angles, lenses, light etc.) the solution might be the simplest, but only a pro would know.

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  6. Ramon Acosta

    “If you know how to do something and you don’t do it, it’s like you don’t know it at all”

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  7. Jeff Ladrillono

    “I could do that.”

    But you didn’t.
    End of story.

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  8. Michael Henson

    Great reminders! See, I always try to praise others so others won’t notice my lowly-ness…

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