Simon Marsden – Spectral Visionary

by Julian Jackson

Photographer Simon Marsden was haunted by ghosts. His father told him terrifying tales as a boy. His favourites were M.R. James and Arthur Machen, whose stories of the supernatural chimed with the young lad. “In later years I was to discover the works of Edgar Allan Poe, whose dark tales of decaying mansions and moonlit abbeys seemed somehow to mirror my own obsession with the ghosts that haunted them,” he said.

His photography is of “The Haunted Realm” – title of one of his books: eerie, ominous, monochrome images of ruins, graves, deserted abbeys, sinister statues. It seems like a portal into another, parallel spirit world.

Whitby Abbey – a famous ruined Abbey in England used in the Dracula novel by Bram Stoker

Whitby Abbey – a famous ruined Abbey in England used in the Dracula novel by Bram Stoker

Born into the English aristocracy, he was officially Sir Simon Marsden. He spent his whole life immersed in his unique genre of photography. Sadly he passed away in 2012 at the young age of 63. I met him on a few occasions and he was a lovely, charming man. Not some mad-eyed ghoul, as you might imagine.

Most of his photography was on infra-red film. A small amount was created using conventional B/W material. It is remarkable for its technical excellence and that, together with the hours in the darkroom, is what gives his images their ethereal quality.

During his lifetime he published 13 books, with titles like: The Haunted Realm: ghosts, witches and other strange tales (1986); Visions of Poe (1988); Phantoms of the Isles: further tales from the haunted realm (1990); This Spectred Isle: a journey through haunted England (2005); His final book was Russia: A World Apart (2013).

He was also active in producing book and album covers. U2 plagiarized one of his pictures for their album Unforgettable Fire. The supergroup settled out-of-court for a significant sum.  Advertising work was offered to him, but he declined, feeling it would compromise the purity of his artistic vision. Not many people have the moral fibre to do this when Mammon calls.

After his untimely death, it seemed that his work might be lost or forgotten, but his widow Cassie decided to continue with The Marsden Archive as a tribute to his legacy. As lots of his images were uncatalogued and not available she has been wading through the mountain of material he left. There are a thousand images on the website, but he left somewhere between five and ten thousand prints which she is slowly going through, cataloguing, captioning and uploading.

He was totally dedicated in his working methods, being meticulous in his research. Cassie has numerous Ordnance Survey maps, each with little red circles, indicating where he photographed. He spent a long time in the darkroom, which he loved, making sure that the final prints were outstanding. She says, “Simon had a unique vision. He went to amazing places, and saw things other people didn’t see.”

In 2002 Marsden’s visits to spooky locations in Ireland were the subject of a documentary/drama film, The Twilight Hour, directed by Jason Figgis. “The most chilling sequence was the deeply disturbing and creepily atmospheric ruined Palladian mansion of Woodlawn House in County Galway,” Figgis recalled. “It was here that we heard the weeping of a woman in some distress. Upon immediate investigation we could find no evidence of anyone in the sprawling mansion.” Peculiar happenings seemed to occur when Simon was around.

Venice, with the Bridge of Sighs in the background.

Venice, with the Bridge of Sighs in the background.

Jason Figgis is currently working on a new documentary called Simon Marsden – A Life in Pictures.

Nowadays, The Marsden Archive is concentrating on selling Simon’s remaining original signed prints. Cassie says, “I have an art gallery background so this comes quite naturally for me.” She held a small exhibition in a quirky art materials shop in The Kings Road, one of London’s most fashionable areas, before Christmas. It was packed with people, some of whom had come from Dublin and Helsinki to attend the opening night. So his work has a core of people who appreciate it.

The website also licences images for publishing, and that is continuing. As she has all the original prints that were used in the books, she is planning to offer them as “boxed sets” which include the book, and the original images.


There are a couple of options for the future of the archive. Cassie is exploring the possibility of selling the archive to a collector or institution. I suspect she would prefer to keep it in the family. There is some talk of their daughter, who’s returning to the UK from Singapore, might become the curator. I think that the archive would be better off in the hands of someone who loves and treasures the images, than perhaps a more distant owner.

It is pleasing that these powerful images are continuing to reach an audience of people who appreciate them, whether or not you believe in anything supernatural. Cassie says, “It wasn’t luck that created these amazing photographs, it was a huge amount of dedication and professionalism. He was an extraordinary person who lived for his work.”

Picture from 2016 Exhibition L-R: Green and Stone owner Roddy Baldwin, Cassie Marsden, Julian Jackson with some of Simon Marsden's Prints. Photo: Julian Jackson

Picture from 2016 Exhibition L-R: Green and Stone owner Roddy Baldwin, Cassie Marsden, Julian Jackson with some of Simon Marsden’s Prints. Photo: Julian Jackson

All Simon Marsden photos copyright The Marsden Archive.

juliancoffeshopcuJulian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His portfolio is here: He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course . Linked-in profile.



Decolonizing Photography History


Cultural protests at a lack of cultural representation in the pop mainstream might be more visible and glamorous at #oscarssowhite, but that only comes around once a year. For a sustained and more cogent (and far more diverse) portrait of current representation (and omission) in the photographic medium, the blog Dodge and Burn is a vital resource for photographers to investigate not only the work of and history of others, but also offers a number of activities aimed at cementing lasting links between communities.

In their own mission statement:

The Dodge & Burn blog seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by people within underrepresented cultures. The Dodge & Burn photography blog highlights those who are often “dodged” from the art scene and “burned” in art history: photographers of African, Asian, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander and Aleutian heritage, women photographers and works of photography about these and other indigenous communities of the world.

As could be expected, there is an undercurrent of anger, in tone, in much of the blog; which ingeniously and unapologetically uses a base level metaphor of “decolonialization” as its lode star. The intention is to reappraise the medium of photography’s history, both past and present. There is a real sense of an urgent energy, as one browses through various blog posts and photographer interviews; a clear connection between those historically excluded, and those working currently under different manifestations of the same root condition.

The website announces its intentions in no uncertain terms as to how it will seek to diffract the colonial gaze:

Dodge & Burn seeks to show photo-based work that deconstructs ideas of “wildlife” landscapes, the stereotypical images of “tribe” and “race”, the denigrating mugshot, the hypersexualization of women of color and other such examples of the historical violence and othering perpetuated by the camera.

However, just doing this might, in part, be giving too much oxygen to a history of oppression; and (at least to this visitor) Qiana Mestrich (the founder and editor) is clearly intent on creating new narratives, gathering the skeins of history and the present into new bonds; and, as such, Dodge & Burn presents so much more. Recurring content includes photographer interviews, profiles and features on trends and issues, collated by Mestrich, who is a photographer and writer in her own right.

A recent post, for instance provides an insightful look at honoring Black motherhood in the Brazilian slave trade. Artists Isabel Löfgren and Patricia Gouvêa, creators of the Mae Preta (Black Mother) exhibition (which opened in 2016 at the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos in what is described as “colonial” Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) delve deep into Black feminism:

… with the advent of the Internet, Black feminism in Brazil has blossomed and is becoming stronger and stronger, especially as more and more Black women are entering the universities and becoming historians, novelists, researchers, professionals. And this is just the contextual information (complete with timeline, in Portuguese) before they get around to discussing the exhibition itself! What follows is an enlightening history of Rio de Janeiro which was once the largest slave port in the world.

Other blog posts include: an interview with Hernease Davis, who discusses her black and white photograms that visualize self-care after trauma; previews of Solange’s A Seat at the Table art book featuring photos by Carlotta Guerrero; and an interview focusing on the funny but provocative color photographs of Oriana Lopes.

Cumulatively, Dodge & Burn seems determined to make networks and links visible that might have once seemed invisible: to academia, to museums, even to photographers maybe unaware of their own past (another exhibition listed on the site is called Kamoinge, which means “a group of people working together”).

These resources are supplemented with a monthly critique group (based in NYC), where photographers at various stages of their career can meet and share feedback on their work. Historians and curators also attend. Presumably, these sessions are liberating for Black artists, who can present their work in a context different from the mainstream gaze.

So check out Dodge & Burn: a vital resource for anybody interested in exploring complex issues of racial representation.


A Map to Photographic Process

When first scrolling Graphic Atlas’s list of pre-photographic, photomechanical, photographic and digital lists of photographic processes, even the lay photographer might think that they have stumbled upon an exotic and previously unseen science-fiction world out of “Star Wars.” However, “Dye Imbibition,” “Bromoil Transfer” or “Wet Plate Collodion” are not science-fiction characters; they are a wholly different level of geek: and inhabit the realm of the photography nerd.

Graphics Atlas describes itself as a “Sophisticated resource that presents a unique, object-based approach for the identification and characterization of prints and photographs.” If you take the website “Guided Tour” chronologically (although you can dip in and out in any order), you can start from an example of an Aquatint Hand-Colored Intaglio (a lovely view of a French village looking towards Waterloo) by R.Boywer, printed in a warm brown ink in 1816; and finish, in 2008, with a Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer (Dye Sublimation) snapshot. Unlike the unique former print, the latter is representative of a common replicated process commonly used in photo kiosks found in drug stores and photo labs. For the geek amongst geeks, you can dig even further; and also discover that the print was made on a “Portable Canon Selphy dye sublimation printer. It does not require chemicals, and so the machines can be small and are more efficient than the larger chromogenic color printing machines.”

Somewhere in between, you can take a walk through a kaleidoscope of photographic process history, from Kodacolor to Woodbury type positives projected by magic lantern; via issues of image stability, size in gelatin dry plate negatives, and photogravure staining. In addition, you can take even more microscopic (loterally) guided tour of an individual print via categories such as: glass support, image tone, pigment particles, magnification and layer structure.

As a resource, Graphic Atlas focuses on research and expertise on the nature of not just photographic but also other forms of print media. Archival and conservation issues are of primary importance, as is, refreshingly, the promotion of sustainable practices in environmental management and preservation.

Graphic Atlas is the creation of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI); a nonprofit, university-based laboratory devoted to preservation research. It is the world’s largest independent laboratory with this specific scope; a recognized world leader in the development and deployment of sustainable practices for the preservation of images and cultural property. IPI has created a program of research, education, products, and services that meet the needs of individuals, companies, and institutions.

It’s no surprise that libraries, archives and museums worldwide look to IPI for reliable information, consulting information, practical tools, and preservation technology; it provides information, consulting services, practical tools and preservation technology. It has long-standing partnerships with the Library of Congress, the National Archives & Records Administration, the New York Public Library, the National Museum of Denmark and many other institutions.

The IPI was founded in 1985 through the combined efforts and sponsorship of the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Society for Imaging Science and Technology. Funding for IPI’s preservation research and outreach efforts has come primarily from the national Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The IPI has won numerous awards, including: Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1997), and the Fuji Gold Medal from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (1998). As historical as the organization is, it always looks towards the future, and the creation of innovative new technological processes.

To take a tour, and enter into the amazing world of photographic processes, visit:

THE “WOW” 2016

Given the prevalence of photography, it might actually seem a little weird to put together a “best of” list of 2016 photographs; given that that’s almost like asking a whale to select which “best of billions of krill” it is going to sift through its baleens:- in short, there is an awful lot of stuff out there. According to a report on Deloitte Global:

… in 2016, 2.5 trillion photos will be shared or stored online, a 15 percent increase on the prior year.

90% of these images will be stored/captured on smart phones, which will probably surprise nobody. Neither will it surprise anybody to know, also according to Deloitte, that “The growing ease of creating and sharing images is arguably shaping the way people communicate. The speed and quality with which we can take photos encourages photos and videos to be substituted for spoken or written words. Also, increasing volumes of photos are being backed up because of the growing range of tools which enable this, at low or zero cost to the user.”

So, given that all of us – both amateur and professional alike – are looking for that “wow” moment, what value do we put on any one example of these trillions of images? How can we possibly decide what even has “value” any more?

Well… how about if we look at the images that professionals create, and use that as the end-of-year baseline? Just for one moment; forget all of the “wow” moments that amateurs make, all those selfies, those cool accidents, those meta-pics, those cool kittens, and all of the other folderol that makes photography so effortlessly and wonderfully and democratically available to all of us; and – just for that same one moment, like the snap of a shutter – surrender ourselves to the “best of” as dictated by those people who still actually do it for a living? And not, maybe, just for a monetary living; but because it’s what they have to do to live in the world? To understand it? And show us what we cannot see?

So, here’s to you, professionals, it’s time to take a bow; whether you be wildlife photographers, sitting in your tree huts on some godforsaken jungle, waiting days or weeks to get that perfect “Bornean orangutan scaling the rainforest” picture; or a photojournalist caught, simultaneously terrified and exhilarated in the melee of a political protest gone violent; or a fashion photographer racking their brains to squeeze out one last style wrinkle on how to ‘sell’ a teen anorexic catering an image to an older demographic without alienating them; or a sports photographer taking the perfect encapsulation of a stadium image that the 50,000 people in that stadium will all remember differently from a unique vantage point, but your version will enough for the witnesses to collectively share.

From the National Geographic to Harper’s Bazaar, from Sports Illustrated to Sony, from Time to The Week, and beyond: here are just ten links to the protean works of professionals, in all their manifold glories:

TIME’s Best Photojournalism of 2016


See 40 of the Best Photos Shortlisted in the Sony World Photography Awards


And (full disclosure, in the spirit of capturing something special, wherein amateurs can become professionals too) some of these links are to competitions. Which is how it should be. We are all working, whether in seconds or months, to capture that perfect image for that perfect time.

Deloitte Global report:


Autograph Media


Autograph Media is a new photography licensing agency specializing in all aspects of race and cultural diversity. Based, physically, in the UK, their ever-growing collection covers a wide range of historic and contemporary subjects from the abolition of slavery through to the most influential people in music, film, sport, TV and youth culture.

Autograph Media curated this comprehensive collection from established photographers and content partners worldwide. As one begins to drip into their collection, their dedication and passion becomes evident, as differing historical periods and socio-political moments accrete into a giant tapestry.

Interested in writing about the Hollywood “#OscarsSoWhite” phenomena, earlier this year? How about accessing photographs of African-American actors who attended the 2016 Oscars?

Or maybe you want to highlight grimmer fare; such as images that underscore the humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees? Bulent Kilic’s photograph of a Syrian refugee family from Aleppo, huddling under a shelter during a rainy day on March 8, 2014, at Uskudar, transmits the visceral pathos of current events.

Autograph Media’s website has been constructed with a rigorous and thoughtful dynamic, in terms of offering navigation through their archives; which are sorted in a number of different user-accessible (and often scholarly) ways.

Perhaps most enlightening (and wonderfully convenient!) is their Calendar section: which hones in on images that could be used to commemorate certain events. For instance, in December 2016, you can access sixteen different images relating to 18/12/1946: in 75 Years: Birth of Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. Biko was the legendary anti-apartheid activist and the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, aimed at mobilizing and empowering the urban black population in South Africa (Biko died in 1977, from injuries sustained while in police custody…).

Features, showcases carefully curated photography and commentary relating to race and cultural diversity, and chapters of both celebration and oppression that have shaped our world. One such example is the fight, in Alabama, of Mildred and Richard Loving; the subjects of a 1950s interracial marriage that had to fight its way through the courts; that will also be released as a Hollywood feature film (in a neat move, the website also delineates the legal differences in miscegenation between the US and the UK, for additional perspective).

Anniversaries highlights upcoming important milestones in history, accompanied by a carefully curated collection of relevant photographs. There is fantastic supporting information and essay sin moments such as Claudette Colvin: Rosa Parks’ Teenage Predecessor. This is the story of Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus nine months before Rosa Parks. Why wasn’t she the face of a new burgeoning Civill Rights resistance? Aged just 15, Claudette Colvin was thrown off a bus in the same town in almost identical circumstances. In response to her protest on the bus, the police were called and Colvin was dragged crying and screaming from the bus and thrown in a cell until her mother and church minister were able to bail her out

However, the Civil Rights movement that rallied behind Parks’ act of defiance failed to support Colvin. When asked why she thought this was, she remembers Rosa Parks being more ‘accessible’. “Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class,” says Colvin. “She fit that profile.” Claudette recalls, “My mother told me to be quiet about what I did. She told me: ‘Let Rosa be the one. White people aren’t going to bother Rosa – her skin is lighter than yours and they like her.’” This was a perception that extended up to even Civil Rights leaders.

In Opinion, guest contributors confront important issues and provide alternative perspectives to known chapters, from the past to the modern day. They also shine a light on surprising, lesser-known, stories of inspiring people. Less a photographic resource than much-needed contextual information (that, in itself, could spark off new curations), there are essays such as Alternative Perspectives – Seeing Through Race; in which Doctor Mark Sealy MBE argues that “I believe that we will, in time, come to realize that it is no longer valid to keep on inventing the ‘other’ in photography.”

The parent company of Autograph Media is Autograph ABP, a charity supported by Arts Council England that, since 1988, has collaborated with artists, collectors, curators and institutions across the globe to explore issues of cultural difference, social justice and identity politics. For more information, their site is here:

Regardless of one’s focus, there is a compelling resource here for inclusion in future exhibitions, publishing projects and educational programs.


(c)Robert Frank

(c)Robert Frank

Robert Frank is a little like a kaleidoscope: when you look at his body of work, you see different things from different angles. To some, the 90-year old master who revolutionized photography with his famous series The Americans: the iconic and seminal series of images in which Frank was an ‘equal opportunity’ portrayer of every sub-section of society (Americans often like to observe that there isn’t the phrase “class system” in the USA, but Frank vehemently disproved this notion).

The series deviated so much from accepted ‘norms’ at the time (low-lighting, cropping unusual focus), that he had trouble finding a US publisher for the book. The Americans was, therefore, first published in Paris (but finally in 1959 is published by Grove Press in the US).


Over two years, he crisscrossed the country, amassing a body of more than 28,000 images in just about every state. It’s all here, from the diner to the ballroom, the north to the south, the happy to the dispossessed. It’s tribute to Frank that, in some ways, the body of work seems less ground-breaking now; but only because he set the new tone for every photographer that would follow him. His style is still evident in the compositions and concerns of contemporary work.

To some, he will always be a fixture of rock music history, when, in 1972: he was hired by the Rolling Stones to shoot the cover of their album Exile on Main Street. Frank also documented the Stones on tour in what became his notoriously infamous film Cocksucker Blues (so infamous, in fact, that it was never released. According to court order, the film can only be screened a few times a year with the artist present.).

To others, Frank will more familiar because of his radical shift into more abstract realms of photography and cinema.

(c)Lisa Rinzler

(c)Lisa Rinzler

Whatever your perspective, filmmaker Laura Israel has just made an intimate film portrait of his various manifestations in Don’t Blink – Robert Frank: a collation of the vast amount of artistic territory he’s covered: from The Americans in 1958, through to his own documentaries, his return to still images in the 1970s (he published his second photographic book, The Lines of My Hand, in 1972) up to the present day.

At 82-minutes, Don’t Blink is a compact and beguiling look at the mind of an artist unfettered by the notion of putting himself in any box or style.

Chief among Frank’s artistic attributes that Israel wanted to explore was his style of creation; which owes something to the bursts of energy exemplified by the artists of the Beat Generation with whom he’s sometimes grouped (Frank’s own filmic portrait of them, Pull My Daisy was narrated by Jack Kerouac).

As Israel states: “I was interested in sharing my insights into Robert’s relentless pursuit of creativity,” Israel explained. “He’s big on spontaneous intuition. I think that’s something that younger people could use a dose of, and that other people could be inspired by. The creative approach of, ‘I’m just going to go and do it. I’m going to do whatever comes to my head. I’m going to think about it but I’m not going to think about it too much.’”

The structure of Don’t Blink is in keeping with the roaming, creatively restless and aggressive nature of Frank’s body of work (and uninhibited artistic style): a back-an-forth journey traveling through various aspects of and periods in Frank’s life.

Israel’s own filmic perspective stems from Frank’s rule-breaking spirit, evident in first body of work. “I would like this film to be a stepping stone for people to understand where he went after The Americans, where he was going after that. You know, before The Americans journalistic photography was more about the captions than the photographs. You couldn’t have a photograph that said something striking in the image. His photographs didn’t need captions but also rather than trying to explain something they evoked a feeling.”

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank trailer from Laura Israel on Vimeo.


Adventures in Art Buying with Andrea Rosenfeld

After a career in the stock industry as an art director for Getty, PictureArts and Corbis, Andrea Rosenfeld took a leap into the ad agency world as an art buyer and producer. Andrea worked for DDB, RPA, Saatchi & Saatchi and other agencies before landing at David&Goliath, a top creative agency in LA, as a senior art producer. We asked her to share some thoughts on her job and the production process.

By: Michael Masterson

Photo: (c)Stephanie Smith Artwork:(c)Isabelle Harada

Photo: (c)Stephanie Smith
Artwork:(c)Isabelle Harada

What types of accounts do you work on and how do you source the imagery for them?

Right now, I work mainly on KIA and CA Lottery, but have worked on many different brands throughout my career. Each project is different from the one before and we source imagery everywhere from stock photos to hiring photographers, CGI artists, and illustrators, to installation and street artists. To find the right one, I rely on my years of bookmarking, looking at source books, blogs, promos, social media, going to industry events, doing portfolio reviews and referencing my network of reps and photographers. It’s a mix of all that plus a little secret ingredient of just knowing.

Describe your role in a typical production at your agency.

Overall my role is a balancing act between producing the best creative work while staying on budget and meeting deadlines. It is really great combination of right-brain and left-brain functioning.

A typical production begins with one of my favorite aspects of my job: matching the visual artist to the campaign. When I am first presented with a campaign, my brain instantly kicks into creative-search mode of who would be the best fit for the look and feel of the campaign. I enjoy this aspect because it’s my chance to have an impact on the work by bringing the appropriate artist to the table. Sometimes it’s a needle in the haystack kind of search and other times, it is immediately obvious to me whom to put forward. Oftentimes the campaigns can be executed in several ways, so finding the best method is also a large part of my role.

Next comes bidding mode. This means overseeing communication of the creative vision and production needs to the artists. When the bids come in, the left-brain portion of my job kicks in when I review line items and fine-tooth comb the numbers, lest we forget something we need like a water truck, or funds to cover the 99 basketballs in the comp, and stuff like that.

The next part of my process happens when we award the job. At this stage, I manage approvals of casting, locations, set design, props, etc. Each component needs to be agency and client approved before we go for it. Once we get to set, all things should be in place and the magic unfolds.

Are clients asking you to create assets for social media?

Yes, we are creating assets for social media more and more. Sometimes we are able to leverage imagery from existing shoots, and sometimes we shoot solely for this media. I like the loose style and free form that usually comes with it. It’s almost like an improvisation at times, but within our production protocol of course.

You mentioned “influencers.” How are your clients using them and do you think they’re effective?

AR: Internet stars, Instagram sensations and bloggers are all opening up avenues to reach audiences that didn’t exist in the old model of advertising. Clients are tapping into this area in a big way, most often on experiential or digital projects. At the most basic level, hiring influencers to post about our brands helps bring new attention to the brands. It is also a smart way to reach harder-to-find and fickle, younger audiences. If the influencers are hosting an event, or contributing to a piece of art we are creating, they will organically bring a lot of eyes and ears to the work that aren’t reachable through traditional advertising channels. I’ve noticed that teens idolize and admire YouTube stars and these influencers are now starring in their own Netflix shows. In this way, they are very effective.

The trick is bringing the right influencers to the project without diluting or mismatching with the creative. It’s a balancing act between finding a personality with a large following as well as someone that is aligned with the message. There’s a sweet spot in there somewhere.

Tell us about the gallery space that’s been created at David&Goliath.

I am very enthusiastic about this, as it is a passion of mine. We just opened a gallery space, called Ampersand, in one of our lobbies. We picked the name as a nod to David&Goliath as well as the idea of collaboration – collaboration with artists, and with the viewers. Our first show was a rotating group show from the APA LA, and from there we are showcasing visual artists from all over the spectrum including photography, illustration, painting, muralists, etc. There really are no rules. We are a creative agency and it makes sense to see artwork as we walk into the office each day. It sort of sets the tone for the day. Everyone seems to really enjoy it.

Can you share any war stories about productions gone awry (without naming names of course)?

This question makes me want to knock on some wood. What comes to mind are stories of slightly absurd and funny moments. Here are a few that just popped into my head:

  • We needed a group portrait of a very well known heavy metal hair band to tie into a TV commercial they were in for one of our clients. We arrived on the TV set to find out that they won’t actually pose together anymore; after all these years they’d had enough, I guess! They each come out of their trailers, one at a time, posing alone. But the funny part is that they each knew how to pose “as if” they were together…. leaning, arm bent as if around another’s shoulder. It struck me as hilarious!
  • One of our concepts called for a very large hog and we did an actual hog casting. “Bob the hog” got the part. He weighed 800 pounds! It turned out he needed his own carpet all the way from the truck that brought him to the center stage of the studio so he wouldn’t slip and fall. But he was a total super star. It should have been a red carpet now that I think of it!
  •  Our 89-year-old talent was riding in a gold-covered chariot led by a team of donkeys. The donkeys were a little over zealous and lurched too quickly. The whole chariot went down in an instant and took the senior gentleman with it. We all gasped in horror. But without missing a beat, he bounced back up and said, “Did you get that on film?!”

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 3.35.52 PMMichael Masterson has a broad range of experience in marketing, business development, strategic planning, contact negotiations and recruiting in the photography, graphic design and publishing industries. In addition to his long experience at the Workbook and Workbookstock, Masterson owned and was creative director of his own graphic design firm for several years. Masterson has been a speaker or panelist at industry events such as Seybold, PhotoPlus Expo, Visual Connections and the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA) national conference. He is past national president of the American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP). He currently heads Masterson Consulting, working on projects ranging from business development for creative companies and sourcing talent for them to promoting and marketing industry events as well as providing resume and professional profile services for job-seekers. He can be reached at


100 photos that shook the world

It’s that time of year again: there’s something about the impending close of one year, and the dawning of another, that brings out the “list maker” in us all. Film fan are drawing up their best of the year movie lists, as are book critics, and music aficionados; but Time has come up with a candidate for most ambitious of the year: assembling a list of the “top 100 most influential photographs ever taken.”


Editors Ben Goldberger, Paul Moakley and Kira Pollack set about this daunting task by interviewing a host of photographers, subjects, friends and family, and just following the trail wherever it took them. As one might imagine, the very definition of “influential” was subjected to close scrutiny. What makes a photograph stick in the memory? Is it just because the photographer was there at the right time? Sam Shere’s record of The Hindenburg Disaster was clearly taken on the hoof, in the footsteps of history; but there is also a powerful aesthetic to the image, that perfectly captures a sense of combustible scale.

Is it because the subject matter is so important to our socio-political history? It’s no coincidence that there a number of choices in the list that document the effects of the Vietnam War (Malcolm Browne’s The Burning Monk, and Nick Ut’s The Terror of War); perhaps the first time when photojournalists fully broke with ‘official’ media-controlled narratives of a war effort.

Is it the intrinsic value of the photograph as art? The totemic shock of Andres Serrano’s Immersion (Piss Christ), or the ingenious deconstruction of feminism in Cindy Sherman’s Untitled series (#21 makes the grade, one out of her many diversions into examinations of fluid identity), point to a different dynamic than roving reportage, but have become as equally iconic (and of their time) as David Jackson’s terrifying real-life portrait of the remains of racism victim Emmett Till.

Goldberger, Moakley and Pollack manage to broadly identify at least one key aspect of the project:

In the process of putting this list together, we noticed that one aspect of influence has largely remained constant throughout photography’s nearly two centuries. The photographer has to be there. The best photography is a form of bearing witness, a way of bringing a single vision to the larger world. That was as true for Alexander Gardner when he took his horse-pulled darkroom to the Battle of Antietam in 1862 as it was for David Guttenfelder when he was the first professional photographer to post directly to Instagram from inside North Korea in 2013. As James Nachtwey, who has dedicated his life to being there, put it some years ago, “You keep on going, keep on sending the pictures, because they can create an atmosphere where change is possible. I always hang on to that.”

Whatever your own choices – no list is perfect, and, doubtless, some will quibble with the list not including their own favorites – there is a wealth of information here. In what, ironically, may be the most telling comment on the state of contemporary photographic dissemination, Time’s online version of the list is more comprehensive, and satisfying, than the print version (which only displays 17 out of the 100 images); not least because Time has attached an amazing amount of supporting materials that goes much deeper into the photographs themselves. A four-minute documentary of Richard Drew, explaining the selection process of which of his Falling Man pictures would editorially encapsulate the horrors of 9/11, makes for heartbreaking viewing, and a reminder of the power of the medium.

Conversely, click on Pillars of Creation, shot by NASA on its Hubble telescope, and one gets a sense of serenity and majesty far removed from earthly atrocities, delineated in a huge range of supporting images.

The cumulative experience is immersive, thought-provoking, richly informative and entertaining; almost like a Photography History 101; so take a little time to dip your toes in the river of history…

Tales by Light

Wildlife photographers must get the best air-miles; not only that, they get to go and see, in person, the natural wonders of the world. Luckily for us, they bring records back for us armchair explorers; so that, after a day of commuting, or cubicle-dwelling, or whatever we do to make a living, we can imagine ourselves connected to a larger world, by seeing images of a humpback whale teaching its calf new tricks; or vast penguin colonies living a hardscrabble collective existence in the outer areas of Antarctica; or the silent contemplations of gorillas in Ugandan forests.

Tales by Light Season One is now appearing on Netflix, (as of November 11th, 2016

) and it affords us some inspirational and compelling portraits of five photographers at the top of their game. Conceived and commissioned by Canon Australia, this high-resolution 4K feast is a six-part series.

“Having Tales by Light Season One available on Netflix is a wonderful acclamation of the quality and broad appeal of our Australian-made photography series and we are excited that it will now entertain millions of subscribers around the world,” says Canon Australia Director of Consumer Imaging and Executive Producer of the series Jason McLean. “This series is unique and started from our simple aim of celebrating the amazing visual storytellers who push the creative boundaries and it’s great that this concept resonates so well across regional divides.”

As a behind-the-scenes depiction, there is a certain fascination in seeing us ‘pull back’ from that original static image that the photographers selected (presumably from hundreds, if not thousands, of shots; photographers may get great air-miles, but they spend a LOT of time to get that one essential image). In these documentaries we hear their spoken thoughts, see their methodologies and processes; and thereby pull back one more time into moving video footage of them at work, combatting tides and jungles and language barriers.

The series was produced and directed by internationally award-winning Australian filmmaker Abraham Joffe, who has filmed professionally in over 40 countries on all seven continents. He is also an experienced underwater filmmaker and drone pilot (talents on evident display throughout the series).

Of the photographers, Art Wolfe (who has photographed for the world’s top magazines such as National Geographic, Smithsonian and GEO) is the only photographer to get two episodes, of the six, dedicated to him. Maybe this is no wonder, given that Sir David Attenborough, who has guided the world through various iterations of his own ground-breaking portraits of the natural world, states that: “Wolfe’s photographs are a superb evocation of some of the most breathtaking spectacles in the world.”

Wolfe shows us him capturing, on film, the great brown bear of Alaska’s mountains and glaciers, and migrating wildebeests in the plains of East Africa. Likewise, we see underwater and nature photographer Darren Jew peering down into an active volcano in Papua New Guinea.

Likewise, Peter Eastway (AIPP Grand Master of Photography) captures the wilderness and wildlife of Antarctica and South Georgia.

In addition, we see that “man” is an anthropological creation of the world, cohabiting with nature, with his/her own engaging rituals; and some of the photographers spend the same amount of time capturing human cultures as they do the intricacies of those species that share the planet with us.

Wolfe, once again, captures the famous mud men and the Huli people in Papua New Guinea, and works on his human canvas project with the Surma people of Ethiopia.

Krystle Wright (herself a pioneering extreme sports photographer, who pushes herself to almost the same limits as her subjects) captures the immersive world of free-diving in Vanuatu; a world in which humans almost transcend their limitations and join with other aquatic life.

Travel photographer extraordinaire Richard l’Anson (founder of Lonely Planet Images and the author of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography) captures the scintillating Festival of Holi in India, as Hindus celebrate a sharing of love realized in vivid real world pantones of spice and fabric.

Each photographer’s approaches – and idiosyncrasies – are totally their own; their ‘passport’ to a new land of riches; but if they share one thing in common it is a dedication to capturing their subjects in moments of truth and enlightenment. Tales by Light Season One shares this with us.


The President’s Photographer

President John F. Kennedy was always the most telegenic of US presidents; so perhaps it’s no coincidence that he was the first to appoint an ‘official’ photographer. In previous administrations, a random line of either military or park services photographers trailed the most powerful man in the world; but Cecil Staughton was the first to be plucked out from the press pool, and quickly began to record the glamorous iconography that was to establish the idea of a modern Camelot in the minds of US citizens.

There have been eight photographers since then, working with the nine presidents since JFK; except for Jimmy Carter who – perhaps unsurprisingly, given his well-known lack of airs – decided against one specific appointment. Some of the work of these photographers, tasked with recording fragments of events both intimate and literally world-changing, has been gathered in a fascinating photo book: The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office.” , companion to the National Geographic Television Special: The President’s Photographer ( Part 2 is here: ).


As a whole, it forms a fascinating mosaic, stitching eras together; shifting from black-and-white to color, from film to digital. The bulk of the book is dedicated the White House’s current incumbent, President Barack Obama (and there is an extensive foreword by his photographer, Pete Souza), who has more photographs in this volume than the other presidents combined (depending on your politics, this may be either a plus or a minus).

Perhaps also unsurprisingly, Richard Nixon was one of the opaquer of presidents, and there seems to be little behind-the-scenes material. Most of the work that Ollie Atkins recorded seems pre-programmed, with Nixon’s smile a consistent fixture for specific photo opportunities. Like the man’s term itself, he seems full of secrets, and an unwillingness to allow more relaxed behind-the-scenes material to be shown to the public gaze.

The rest of the material is a real treasure trove. Ronald Reagan hugging and helping his wife off of a horse in a moment of affection (by Michael Evans); the Bushes, father and son (numbers 41 and 43, respectively) in an unguarded moment with Barbara Bush on the White House lawn (by Eric Draper); and a strangely lyrical image of LBJ, incongruously, laying down in a field of wildflowers (by Yoichi Yokamoto).

What is also engaging is how these images have changed in purpose over the decades. All of them are, of course, vetted to a major extent; and this accounts for a blurring between the lines of documentary and PR opportunity; neither one nor the other, but, rather, a strange mix of the two. A couple of years back, the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) took issue with the White House releasing an official photograph of President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama today, an event that was “closed” to the press.

The WHNPA issued a press release: “A government photographer is no substitute for an independent, experienced photojournalist. We are disappointed the White House has reverted to their old strategy of announcing a closed press event and then later releasing their own photo. The WHNPA also urges news organizations to refrain from publishing and circulating this handout photo, which is a visual press release of a news worthy event.”

As Pete Souza explains, in the Obama era, he became pretty much the first generation of White House photographers wherein the delay between record and dissemination became instantaneous; distributed via social media platforms such as Instagram and twitter. Just as the news cycle has changed vastly since the JFK era, so does the pressure on both photographer and president to manage a presidential narrative in a matter of seconds rather than weeks.

As of writing this, the latest election is finished; and we will have a new president installed this coming January; and it will be interesting to see if and how the dynamic will change between Donald J. Trump and his choice of photographer. A President-Elect who has made very public statements about his willingness to curtail press freedoms – especially those that may be critical of his administration – it is not hard to speculate that he might revert to a more secretive, Nixonian approach; with a focus on a very staged and self-serving narrative? Regardless, we will all still be interested in portraits of the most powerful individual in the world; and that fascinating interstice between public office and private life.