Category Archives: Writing

Review copies available: “Achieving Your Potential”

My new Focal Press book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook will be shipping shortly. I have a few review copies available to my photographic community. I am looking for honest and thoughtful reviews (hopefully you can say good things about my book and the accompanying workbook!) on Amazon and other venues such as blogs and photography club and user group sites.

02-04-2015-Achieving-CoverTo apply for a review copy, please send me an email with your shipping address (within the US only please). Include a phone number (it will be used for shipping purposes only). I’d appreciate any information you can supply in your email as to why you’d be a good choice for a reviewer, e.g., previous reviews, and so on.

Here’s a book description from the back cover: Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer and the companion Photographer’s Workbook are here to help you be the best photographer that you can be—so you can achieve your potential as a photographer. You’ll find inspiration, ideas, and tools to use along the way, as you achieve new goals with your photography.

Harold Davis shows you inspirational examples and challenges you to take your work to the next level, as he guides you along the path to making real progress with your work. The pull-out Photographer’s Workbook that comes with Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer is like a “workshop in a box,” helping you apply what you learn so you can find your unique vision in photography.

An advance review in Rangefinder Magazine notes that Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer is “vintage Harold Davis: graphically lively, amply thought out, and informed by Davis’s unique sense of organization and creative vision. It is well worth checking this title out…”

Thanks for being part of my photography community, I hope to hear from you!

Language of Flowers © Harold Davis

Language of Flowers © Harold Davis

Pre-Publication Review of Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer by Harold Davis

I’m pleased to see a positive pre-publication review of my new book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook in the May issue of Rangefinder Magazine. The reviewer, Jim Cornfield, notes that that Achieving Your Potential is “vintage Harold Davis: graphically lively, amply thought out, and informed by Davis’s unique sense of organization and creative vision.” Thanks Jim! Read the complete review by clicking here (opens in a separate window).

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Translucency of Rosa on Black © Harold Davis

Translucency of Rosa on Black © Harold Davis

Hierarchy of Photographic Needs

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously wrote of a hierarchy of needs, with basic physiologic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy and self-actualization at the apex of the triangle of needs. Love, connection, and cathexis come somewhere in the middle of the Maslowvian hierarchy. A recent blog story of mine about a photo of a red onion seems to have brought up some issues related to a photographic hierarchy of needs, based on both what I wrote originally and on some comments.

Old-Fashioned Rose  © Harold Davis

Old-Fashioned Rose © Harold Davis

Many folks liked the story about the onion and everyday objects: “Your onion photograph, together with your comments, was an extraordinarily clear re-enforcement lesson.” One reader wanted to know why their personal inner world, or vision, should interest anyone else (you can read the full question and my lengthy response in the comments to the story). A comment on my Facebook timeline for this post suggests that “finding subject matter is no problem. It’s everywhere. Shooting it well, well….”

Which leads me back around to the hierarchy of photographic needs. The basic “physiologic” need is to be able to make a capture. Because without a capture you don’t have a photograph.

So many people starting photography assume that if they get a “better” camera they will make better photos because their captures are better, with more megapixels, or whatever.

So what happens when you get the more expensive gear and you discover that your photos are still not what you are looking for (or perhaps even seem banal)? The next category up the hierarchy of photographic needs is technique. If you are the kind of person who is not very self-reflexive you might assume that if only you could learn to be a better photographer technically, your images would get more interesting.

The disappointment here is that photos can be technically impeccable and still ultimately banal. So up the hierarchy some of us go one more time, with the realization that it is important to bring one’s own unique vision into the work.

Ultimately, any photo worth its salt is both about something external—this essentially comes in the definition of the photographic process—and a personal way of seeing that bespeaks the holistic person behind the vision. As I wrote in the comments to the Red Onion story, this necessitates a balance: “Work that is too preciously about oneself is ultimately shallow—Cindy Sherman comes to mind. On the other hand, work that is not self-revelatory to some degree is unlikely to have much real emotional power, and it is important to truly live and to imbue one’s art with one’s life.”

Ultimately, photographic gear is necessary, but very far from sufficient. Photographic technique is only the framework for exhibiting vision, and not the vision itself. Vision must come from a well-lived life—even when the image is of an object as ordinary as a red onion, or as apparently simple on the surface as the Old-Fashioned Rose photo shown above.

What do Harold Davis and Georgia O’Keeffe have in common on Pinterest, and how is Pinterest going to make money, anyway?

Actually, I don’t really care how Pinterest plans to make money, although in the light of the rest of this story it is worth noting that Pinterest has a private market value believed to be north of $10 Billion. Yes, that is Billion, as in a ten with nine zeros after it.

In case you’ve been doing your best to ignore social media on the Internet, the idea behind Pinterest is that users create virtual bulletin boards, and then “pin” images that are copied from a variety of sources onto these boards. I haven’t heard any cogent analysis of how this will make money, but I do know that plenty of my images are used this way without my permission…including one photo of a rose that is commonly mistaken for a Georgia O’Keeffe painting

A rose is a rose is a rose, except when it is not. A Harold Davis rose photo is apparently a Georgia O’Keeffe rose painting when you search Google Images for “Georgia O’Keeffe” (opens in a separate window, may be a number of rows down) except when it is actually Kiss from a Rose by Harold Davis (shown below). I’m really pretty flattered by the association, as Georgia O’Keeffe is certainly one of my great artistic heroes.

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

I was alerted to my photo made in homage to O’Keeffe being mistaken for a literal O’Keeffe by a reader who wrote, “Hi Harold! Love your Rose Photography. I see on Google your work is confused with Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings!” While this case of mistaken artistic identity mostly involves Kiss from a Rose, some of my other images such as Eye of the Rose and even the book cover for my Photographing Flowers also occasionally show up categorized as O’Keeffe’s.

The conflation of Harold Davis photos with Georgia O’Keeffe paintings get even more pronounced on Pinterest, where a number of “boards” have “pinned” my image as a Georgia O’Keeffe’s. (See www.pinterest.com/terper1234/georgia-o-keeffe/ (my rose is called “a lush red O’Keeffe”), www.pinterest.com/nicolenotch/artist-o-keefe/ (once again my rose is ascribed to O’Keeffe) as examples, although this Pinterest Fakes and Mistakes board notes correctly that “NOT GEORGIA O’KEEFFE >>> this is a photo by Harold Davis”).

I am in fact of two minds about this issue. On the one hand, obviously it is good publicity for me that people like my work enough to pin it on their Pinterest boards. And, as I noted, I am certainly flattered to be compared with O’Keeffe.

On the other hand, it is hard enough to make money as a living artist these days when one is up against the common Internet dogma that information “wants to be free.” Ascribing to this theory across the board leads to a rush to the bottom. As a hint folks: ultimately this means no more quality visual art, literature, or music.

The TOS on Pinterest claims that each user (e.g., someone who creates a board) is responsible for obtaining permission to use work, but of course people just ignore this, and go ahead and scrape imagery off the sites where I post. I doubt anyone at Pinterest really believes that users are going to get permission, and posting this TOS is just el poo-poo del toro to try to ward off copyright lawsuits. Which someone should really do, and take Pinterest to the cleaners for the intellectual property scamsters they are.  Or, Pinterest could prove they care about artistic creation by setting up a financial pool to reward artists whose work is used on their site.

What do you think about this? I know that many of my readers are Pinterest users. Am I out to lunch on this one?

Digital paintings that use photographs as the medium

Harold Davis’ talent as a painter is evident in this beautifully rendered photograph of the Jamaa-el-Fnaa marketplace in Marakesh, Morocco.  © Harold Davis

Eileen Fritsch, a writer who often covers the visual arts, profiled me recently in relationship to digital printmaking. In her profile, Eileen notes that I regard my work as “digital paintings that use photographs as the medium.” She continues: “With his unique style, Davis is at the forefront of an emerging art movement in which creative photographers can do far more than capture an elusive moment in time. Thanks to Photoshop (which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary), photographic artists such as Harold Davis can now create images that depict almost any type of scene or subject they can envision in their mind’s eye.”

You can read the extensive full article on the Moab Paper blog.

In this multiple exposure image, Harold Davis envisions image “Hekatonkheires” the three mythical Greek gods of violent storms and hurricanes. The artisanal pigment print takes full advantage of the qualities of Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl 360 paper. Photo: © Harold Davis

Pages for the Kumano Kodo portfolio are printed on the roll and hand trimmed, scored, signed, and bound. Photo: © Harold Davis

Artist Harold Davis Uses Moab Paper for Artisanal Inkjet Prints

Renowned photographer-artist-author-teacher Harold Davis can’t imagine letting someone else print his images. Printing is how he fully realizes the image he envisions before he even snaps the camera shutter or opens Photoshop. Read more of this profile.

Harold Davis - Signing the first copy of botanique

Review: Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag

If you are like me—and most other professional photographers that I know—you will have acquired over time an extensive collection of camera bags. Some bags fit some gear, but not other gear. Some are backpacks—which means better ergonomics for trekking, but less access to gear on the fly—and others are shoulder bags. Still others are hybrids, or designed particularly with transiting through airports, or being able to submerge in water, in mind.

I am always looking for the perfect camera bag, and with my Domke Next Generation Chronicle I may have finally hit the jackpot.

The Domke bags were originally created by photojournalist Jim Domke, whose hobby was collecting camera bags. Started in 1976, the Domke company was acquired by Tiffen, a leading manufacturer of photo accessories, in 1999. You can visit the Domke page on the Tiffen website by clicking here (opens in a new window).

I carried my gear in a Domke Chronicle Bag on a recent workshop I lead across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco---Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

I used my Domke Chronicle Bag on a workshop I led across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco—Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

Over the years, many professional photographers have provided input into the design of the Domke camera bags, and they have received numerous professional accolades, such as being named the official bag of the White House News Photographer Association.

It’s clear that no one bag will ever fulfill all of my photographic needs, or hold all my camera gear—and, as Jim Domke would be the first to admit, it is highly unreasonable to have this as an expectation. Within the constraints of a soft-sided journalist-style shoulder bag, my Domke Chronicle Camera Bag is truly wonderful. This is not an inexpensive camera bag (the discounted retail price is probably about $300), but the old saw about getting what you pay for applies, and the materials, finish, and detailing are top-of-the-line throughout.

J-CHRON-RM_300-8wThe outer material is a durable, water repellent form of thick coated cotton duck, manufactured to military standards. Hardware, such as zippers and clips, are very high quality. One thing I like best is that the exterior, while attractive, is non-descript. If you remove the external Domke badge, which is easy to do, no one would ever know this was a camera bag. I carry thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars of camera gear through all kinds of environments, and an extremely important component of personal security is not giving away what I have with me unnecessarily (partly for this reason, I also replace the branded straps on my camera bodies with plain straps).

Inside, the bag is flexible and expandable, and also protects my gear. Did I mention that this is a softside bag that is lightweight? I’ve carried it happily with one camera body and two lenses, and I’ve also used it fully loaded with several bodies and five or six heavy lenses. The customizable divisors allow a great deal of flexibility about how much gear I carry, and how it is laid out.

Chronicle-OpenThe layout of pockets for things like filters, memory cards, extra batteries, iPad and iPhone, and so on is very well thought out. Two features I particularly like are the excellent and secure strap for placing the bag on a wheeled suitcase extension handle, and the closure of the main compartment. The main compartment is secured with heavy-duty steel clips, but if you forget to clip it and just throw the top over, velcro takes over, and your gear will still be safe.

My one complaint about the bag, and I have only one, has to do with waterproofing. The material the bag is made of is inherently highly water resistant, and the main compartment is designed with flaps that can be arranged so that water does not leak into the bag. This arrangement is probably more than sufficient for the intended primary users of the bag, who are photojournalists. If it starts to rain hard, the photojournalist probably stops into a handy cafe and interviews sources while sipping a Pernod or Ouzo, and maybe puffing on a cheroot.

In contrast, my way of working sometimes requires me to be out with my gear in extremely foul weather. My requirements for a bag include a completely waterproof (not water resistant) cover, either included as integral to the bag, or carried as an accessory in a pocket. Domke does not provide this, so Phyllis helped me sew a jury-rigged elasticized waterproof raincoat for the bag that I always carry in a pouch in one of the pockets.

Full disclosure: I was provided a Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag for the purposes of writing a review by the Tiffen Company, and tested it under many widely varying field conditions. While I didn’t pay for my Chronicle Bag, I never would have trusted my gear to it on several continents if I didn’t think it was a great, convenient, and well-made camera bag, and my opinions are always honest and outspoken.

As a matter of principle, and so I can stay objective, I do not carry advertising or affiliate marketing links on my blog. Domke Camera Bags can be purchased from most quality professional photo suppliers.

A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook

My new book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer ships with a Workbook, which is why the subtitle of the book is A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook. The Workbook is meant to be used along side the book, and the exercises in the book are cross-referenced to the book, so it is easy to get explanations for the reasoning behind the exercises, and how they relate to the world of creative photography.

Davis-Achieving Workbook-pp14

The Workbook is intended for readers to use as a kind of personal and creative journal. The pages are perforated, so you can easily pull them out and refer to them in a binder. As I note in the introduction to the Workbook, “It is your journal, not my journal, and completing the exercises helps make it personal to you. You will get out of it what you put into it.”

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There are 46 exercises in the Workbook. You’ll find exercises that help you clarify your goals and
how to plan in an organized way to achieve them, and also plenty of inspiration!

You will also find photography exercises, and exercises that are intended to enhance your creativity and conceptual abilities in a general way. In essence, the different kinds of exercises are intended to meld “left brain” and “right brain” approaches. As such, you may be more comfortable with one kind of exercise than another. But the key thing is to do them all. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more of your potential you will achieve.

To give you a sense of what these exercises are like, I’ve shown two pages from the Workbook in this story, Exercise 11 (“Practice! Practice! Practice!) and Exercise 12 (“Aesthetic and Pragmatic Domains”). You can download these two exercises as a PDF, print them out, and give them a try.

The Harold Davis Email Survey–Thanks Everyone!

I’ve had a pretty exciting and exhausting 18 months. I’ve been traveling, leading photo tours and workshops, and finishing my latest book. We’re so excited around here as it heads for the printer!

My experience is that I need to feel passionate about whatever I am doing to do it well. This goes for my artwork as well as writing books, emails, and this blog. Sure, I do things anyhow because life must go on—as we all do—but it is always so much better to be creative and passionate.

Recently, I designed a survey for subscribers to my email list (if you are interested in my email list, you can subscribe here). I wanted to find out what people liked about what I have been doing, what they didn’t like, and also maybe get some ideas about how to change things to make it more exciting for all of us.

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

I have never designed a survey before, and I’m not sure I did a very good job. I know one thing I personally hate when I take a survey is a radio-button list, where I must choose one, and somehow so much of the time none of the choices are right. So I designed my survey without radio buttons, and with only optional questions. There were only checkboxes to enter answers, and if none of the answers were right there was a text box for putting in one’s own answer. This textbox could also be used if the person filling out the survey wanted to elaborate on something they had checked, or just send me an observation.

Roughly 350 people completed my survey—thank you all very much!

My first question was “How did you find out about my email list?” The biggest category of response was from my website and/or blog (43.2%). The two other major categories, with about 20% each, were my books, and webinars/webcasts. There were 75 individual open-ended responses, including “Our kids went to school together,” “I think I may have first found you on Flickr,” “Got to know Harold on a photography trip to Cuba,” and “Took your class on Craftsy.”

Next, I asked about interests in photography. Roughly 90% of the respondents checked each of the boxes to indicate that they had an interest in photographic technique, and creativity in photography. 50% of the responses indicated an interest in workshops, with a number of individual and specific interests indicated in the open-ended section, from iPhoneography to “using cameras with biological and stereoscopic microscopes” and “I am especially interested in learning how to take good photos in dark churches!”

Pyramide © Harold Davis

Pyramide © Harold Davis

“Do you follow my work elsewhere besides this email list?” came next. A whopping 82% of those who replied said that they read my books. 40% said that they read this blog, another 50% use my blog-to-email service, and roughly 20% were members of the Photography with Harold Davis meetup. 15% watch what I post on Flickr, and each of the conventional social media channels got between 5% and 10%. (Note to self: the overlap between the email list, my blog readership, and Meetup is troubling because I’ve been using the same content in each place. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that readers may think I am sending the same thing to them multiple times on purpose, when that is not my intention. Must work on doing this better!)

Generally, the answers to what people would like to see in my emails fall along the same lines as with their interests in photography: photographic technique and creativity are big, with some interest in learning about my books, workshops, web offerings, etc., with some significant interest in photography and business issues, and of course some individual interests.

Every kind of workshop I listed garnered some interest, with the most popular ones being Creativity and Photography (66%), Landscape photography (51%), Flowers, Night Photography, and Black & White (each at 47%), and Photoshop (43%). (Since people could check more than one, the total responses add up to more than 100%.)

Goodbye Morocco © Harold Davis

Goodbye Morocco © Harold Davis

A number of the responses to this question, and to the one about photographic destination tours understandably note that affordability is an issue for many; for example, “I’m very interested in your destination photography trips and would love to join you, but at the moment they are a bit out of my price range. I am not saying that your instruction isn’t worth it, and I do understand the costs involved, but they are unfortunately just at too high a price point to be affordable for me.” Fair enough.

I left space at the end of the survey for any general comments, and I am appreciative of everyone who took the time to leave me their thoughts. Clearly, there are some people who think I send out too many emails, and there are also some folks who think I try to sell too much. I am going to try to fix these issues (see below). Many people appreciate my emails, and what I do:

  • “Enjoy reading your emails and hearing what you are doing photographically. They help with the creative process.”
  • “Despite your incredible workload, you have kindly replied to my emails, with helpful information.”
  • “I think your work is beautiful!”
  • “Keep the emails coming. :=)”
  • “Harold Davis’ photography will always be a wonder for me to admire and study”

One person summed up both positions like this: “Frankly, while sometimes I feel I get a bit too much communication from you, when I think about it, it’s about right.”

So I do feel badly that some people feel they hear too much from me. If you get more communications from me than you’d like, there is something you can do, and something I can do to fix this.

What you can do is to make sure that you are only registered with one email address on the email list you are subscribed to. What I can do is try to be more organized about not overlapping content, and not sending the same email to each of the destinations that I write content for. Let’s give it a go!

Giverny © Harold Davis

Giverny © Harold Davis

I do have a busy life, with four kids, books to write, photos to make, workshops to teach, and so on. I made a decision awhile back not to accept advertising on my blog, because it is a labor of love.

Thanks to your input, I do expect to be regularly blogging, perhaps on a wider variety of topics than in the past. I will use both blog and emails to keep readers abreast of what I am up to, and I will plan to include links from the email to my blog so the emails can be more condensed. I want to include more content that is simply useful and exciting!

Many folks said in the survey that they had topics that they would like me to cover in webinars and workshops, as well as travel destinations that they would like to photograph with me. This survey has helped me hone my thoughts about my own creativity, and what I like to do to help folks learn more about photography and creativity.

I want to make better use of my creative capital and only do projects, give workshops, and go to photo travel destinations that I’m really excited about. I want to keep my travel groups very small–six or less. This way, I’ll have more time to spend with the folks who travel with me, and more time to take in the wonders of the destination. I also want to make sure that the folks I spend time with in workshops or on destination photographic travel are sincerely interested in improving the creative aspects of their photography, and appreciative of what I have to offer. It is clear that I’m not for everybody, nor do I want to be for everyone.

You are a great community of photographers and I’m really inspired that the internet lets us connect in this way. So thanks for your input, thanks for reading, and more soon!

—Harold Davis

Bend in the River © Harold Davis

Bend in the River © Harold Davis

Flickr and me, and stock photography: Adventures in photo licensing in the Internet Era

I have been a Flickr member for almost a decade (since 2005). According to Flickr’s dashboard, there have been more than 5,000,000 views of the 4,500+ images that I have uploaded to the site. It’s my general practice to upload a low resolution JPEG to Flickr with every important photo set I make, which accounts for my almost 5,000 images over ten years. On average, it amounts to about one uploaded image a week.

Statistically, I am probably somewhat unusual as a serious professional artist and photographer, and widely-read author, with an active and ongoing Flickr presence. One reason I maintain my Flickr persona is that over the years I’ve got a lot of photography business from my Flickr images, including prestige publications as well as assignments. This comes and goes, and is not something that can be counted on, but I find the best publicity one can do for one’s images—when one produces something unusual, unique, and striking—is to get them up on the Internet.

I like to say that when it comes to image licensing “the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh.” Against a background of racing to the bottom with things like microstock sales, and the pronouncement by Marisa Mayers—the head of Yahoo, the owner of Flickr—that “with cameras as pervasive as they are [today] there’s no such thing really as professional photographers,” I have been contacted by legitimate upper-end image acquirers from around the world because of my presence on Flickr. Of course, you have to have a unique and compelling offering, but these companies never would have found me in the past.

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

I do find there is a certain amount of image “appropriation” based on what I’ve uploaded. I combat this by being careful to only upload low resolution, small files—so my potential losses are limited, and tends to be things like individual wedding invitation usage, or for personal notecards. When these people do the right thing and contact me, I grant permission, and request a small donation to a charity that benefits children. I usually see this as a teachable moment, to help educate people out there about issues of copyright and image ownership.

Probably the most unusual licensing request I’ve ever had via Flickr was to use one of my cherry branch images as the basis for a tattoo extending pretty much the entire length of a woman’s back and up onto her neck. Since the request was made after the fact, there wasn’t much I could do about it (although scenarios resembling Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice do tend to come to mind). But I asked for some photos and was pleased by the beautiful tattoo—my cherry blossoms had become living art.

Cherry Blossoms on Skin

But I look at the issue as “spoilage”: if you don’t put your work out there, no one will see it, and no one will license it. But I also need to be nuanced, and take some care, which is why I am careful about releasing high resolution files “into the wild.”

I also do select the “All rights reserved” setting within Flickr, and include my copyright notice beneath each of my images. Some people who contact me need to be educated about what this means, but for the most part, contemporary art directors regard Flickr as just another image pool—perhaps the world’s largest database of imagery—and understand that they need to contact me to get permission to license or use my work (or to obtain a high-resolution version, if they need it for their usage).

So Flickr is part of my business strategy. An important part, but not a vital part—not as important to me as, say, my blog. I’d hate to lose my Flickr presence, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me, and it is perpetually irritating to be working within a hierarchy of people running Flickr who seem to be most interested in amateurizing and dumbing down the interface and patronizing the serious photographers who do use the site.

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Now a word about stock photography. First, let’s consider the way stock photography is licensed. Stock photos are licensed under two general schemes: royalty-free, and rights-managed. When you license a royalty-free image, you can use it for anything you want (except, usually, for reselling it as part of a stock collection). Often, royalty-free stock photos are sold for pennies, or as part of a downloadable collection where the end-user can download a certain number of photos per subscription period.

Obviously, an individual royalty-free stock photo is not worth very much, and the hope, of course, is to make it up on the volume: either in the number of purchasers or (from the viewpoint of the photographer) from the sheer volume of photos that an individual has licensed as royalty-free stock. If you have 100,000 photos that are royalty-free licensed, even if you only average $1.00 per photo per year, obviously it adds up.

In contrast to royalty-free, rights-managed licensing demands a higher price, and often includes exclusivity for a given usage, sometimes limited by time. Generally, if you had a distinctive and special collection of images, you’d want to employ rights-managed licensing as opposed to royalty-free licensing, since the best royalty-free images tend to be a bit generic so as to be more ubiquitous. Distinctive collections of work also tend to be concerned with branding, may want to avoid certain kinds of usages, and can be involved with furthering the career of the artist involved.

In fact, leaving licensing aside, it is a truism that the images that are shot for stock, and those that do well as stock, tend to be bland and generic. There’s a contradiction in terms between saying that an image is striking and creative and unique, and at the same time is likely to be widely in use as a stock image.

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Personally, over time, and as the stock photo industry has transformed, I’ve become increasingly skeptical whether my work as a place in it. I’m happy to consider rights-managed licensing of my work for appropriate usages, and in some cases have worked with industry-specific agents. I’m not opposed to paying commissions, and have had a long and fruitful career with my book agent over many years.

Speyer Cathedral © Harold Davis

Speyer Cathedral © Harold Davis

But I’m just not that interested in licensing away the control and rights to my own work. I’ve sweated hard enough to create it, and risked enough to create my body of work, why should I lose control of it now? As the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it, giving up the rights to my work is like giving up the skin on my eyeballs.

This is not to say that this anti-stock stance is right for everybody. I have at least one pro-photographer buddy who makes a very good living via stock photography sales made by a number of prominent agencies. And speaking of stock photography agencies, it’s become apparent over the years that I’ve been posting to Flickr that stock photography is increasingly being managed with business efficiencies in mind. The stock industry has consolidated, with many smaller agencies now being subsumed by Getty Images, the incumbent behemoth in the stock photography business.

This brings me somewhat indirectly back to the topic of Flickr and stock photography. Maybe three or four years ago, some brainiac at Yahoo-Flickr looked at the fact that they had this huge image repository, and figured they could make some money on it via stock sales. Of course, this imagery didn’t belong to Flickr (it belongs to the individual contributors) so Flickr would only be making a commission. The other problem was that recognizing that some Flickr contributors were of marketable or publishable quality opposes the no-nothing pseudo-populist spirit of Flickr’s ideology that “there are no professional photographers” anymore (which implicitly flatters the amateurs).

Into the Vortex of the Universe © Harold Davis

Into the Vortex of the Universe © Harold Davis

A concrete manifestation of the prevailing lack of respect for professionalism and image ownership at Flickr was the encouragement of uploading imagery with the default Creative Commons license—which allows usage without permission if certain conditions such as attribution are met. (One form of the Creative Commons license only allows non-commercial usage, but that is a side discussion.) As I’ve noted, I’ve always eschewed the Creative Commons license, and uploaded images to Flickr as “All rights reserved”—which is what I generally recommend.

In any case, the first iteration of the attempt to monetize Flickr’s image library was an arrangement that allowed Getty Images to troll the Flickr user base. Getty could enroll the Flickr photographers by invitation in a Getty library (this library always seemed something of a second-class citizen compared to the more orthodox Getty libraries). In addition, Flickr photographers could be invited by Getty to enroll in a program that added an icon to the images in their Flickr stream. Viewers could then request a license to specific photos, and Getty and Flickr would then intermediate to make sure the paperwork was in order, and to deliver a file to the license purchaser. Both schemes primarily involved royalty-free licenses. Presumably, Getty paid Flickr some share of the proceeds, but the exact terms of this arrangement were never to my knowledge published. As you’ll see, the business probably didn’t work very well for either party, as Flickr canceled the arrangement at what was their first opportunity, two years into it.

Getty Images in fact asked me to join their Flickr program, and for a brief while I did, mostly out of curiosity. Apparently, one of my images—a fisheye photo of the great Hoover Dam—was quickly requested by a client, so to see what would happen I opted it into the Flickr/Getty royalty-free program. I don’t know how my image was used, but I do know that my share came to a grand total of roughly $80. Following this experiment, I left the program, and continued to use Flickr the way I always have.

Hoover Dam

In mid-2014 Flickr announced that they were ending the relationship with Getty, and starting a new in-house stock program called at first Curated Connections, then termed the Flickr Marketplace (more info about the program here).

The idea behind this program was that Flickr’s curators would get everyday members of Flickr “discovered.” Flickr would handle the paperwork and business details, and place images with prestige outlets including the New York Times, and (somewhat curiously) Getty Images. Beyond licensing opportunities with photo agencies, other opportunities were held out: “We will look for ways to showcase your photos on the Flickr blog and across other Yahoo properties like News and Travel. We’ll also try to connect you with original photo assignments!”

In mid-February 2015, I received a communication via the internal Flickr mail system:

We love your photos! Your beautiful and genuine photos could be in high demand in today’s global photo marketplace. We want to work with you to increase the visibility of your photos across multiple platforms such as wall art, photo agencies, editorial placements on Flickr and Yahoo, and other media outlets.

If your photos are selected and sold in the marketplace, we will share 51% of the net sales with you through your PayPal account. There is no fee to join and you control your level of participation.…

Once we receive notification that you have enrolled, our curatorial team will select photos from your photostream and be in touch to see which ones you would like to approve for inclusion in the new Flickr Marketplace!

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

In the interests of science, I took care of the formalities involved in program enrollment, and waited to see what would happen next. I didn’t have long to wait. I did note that I would only be interested in the rights-managed program (as opposed to Flickr’s royalty-free offering).

The Flickr curators sent me an extensive list of my floral imagery—almost all flowers photographed using my transparency technique—that they wanted to add to the collection.

I wrote back to the curators noting that many of these were already subject to licenses for art reproduction, and that I needed to be able to use my images for my books and the prints that I make. Would this be okay? (The program FAQ allows artist “limited edition” prints, but this isn’t a term that specifically covers what I do, since many of my editions are not, in fact, explicitly limited.)

Castle Made of Sand © Harold Davis

Castle Made of Sand © Harold Davis

In response to whether I could carve-out rights already granted, I got a boilerplate negative:

Because you requested that your photos only be included in the Rights-Managed exclusive collection, we would need you to opt out anything that is licensed elsewhere. For photos accepted into the rights managed collection, exclusivity is required due to the type of rights that may be granted to a buyer.

Since higher royalties are often generated from this type of sale, the photographer is not allowed to (1) license the same photo to any other source (past, present or future) and (2) license a “similar” photo.

I never really received an answer as whether “limited edition” prints included the prints I make in my studio that are not in fact limited, or whether use in my books constituted a permissible promotional use: “You are still allowed to use the photos enrolled in the rights managed collection for self-promotion and as limited edition prints, so long as the prints are not sold exclusively. For the other two parts of your question, I am still waiting to hear confirmation and will get back to you.”

Often, as a freelance artist in business for myself, and supporting my rather large family essentially by my wits, I am struck by how hard it can be to decide if something that comes along is an opportunity or a pitfall. The opportunity is all the nice things that these Flickr curator people were saying they were going to do for me. The pitfall would be to tie up some of my best work for years. I like to tell a story about a cleric caught in a great flood. The religious gentleman ends up on the roof of his house. A helicopter comes along and offers to rescue him, but “No, no, God will rescue me.”

The question, of course, is whether God sent the helicopter.

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

In the case of the Curated Connections program—or Flickr Marketplace, as it has been called more recently—I decided that the risks clearly outweighed the potential rewards. The underlying problem was the inflexibility of the program in regard to work that already had a licensing history, and also the attitude that Flickr’s curators would be “discovering” me. This seems a little unreasonable if they had taken the trouble to research me even a tad, and not what my work needs. An offer to co-market my work as a unique collection with some understanding of how best to brand it would, of course, have intrigued me. Here’s what I wrote back to Flickr, declining to enroll any of my images in the program:

“I am really saddened, because like most professional photographers I can always use an additional revenue stream, but based on your response I will not be able to work with your program.

Of course, I do understand what a rights-managed program means and implies. Of my images that the curator selected, about half are subject to prior licenses of some kind, as I noted most existing licenses have to do with art reproduction or wall decor. With an organization that understood the value of my offerings, I could probably enroll these in a rights-managed program, but of course both sides would need to exclude the rights that have already been granted. Note that my existing licenses would absolutely prevent me from licensing on a royalty free basis (and I also don’t believe in this kind of licensing as a matter of principle because it degrades the value of the art licensed).

While I could probably select a few images from the list that the curator put together that don’t have any licenses outstanding, I do need to retain future art and book publishing rights to all my work (I see that you’re still researching these areas for me). But this hardly seems worthwhile for either me or Flickr/Yahoo, considering the few number of images that I could put into your program, and the fact that I would need to retain these future abilities.

I do hope you understand, but for now I will have to pass. Should you be willing to reconsider and negotiate an arrangement that meets my needs, considering the licenses that are outstanding and my future likely uses, I think that reasonable parties could reach such an agreement, and I would certainly be willing to discuss it. By the way, my images are available in extremely high resolution versions.

But without a customized business relationship that meets the needs of a distinguished educator, professional, and artist of my caliber, I shall have to decline, and remain the sole legitimate source for rights-managed licenses to my work (if there is a specific image of mine and a use you and/or a client of yours wish to discuss I am happy to quote a licensing fee, of course).

My very best wishes, and good luck with your venture.

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

The devil, of course, is always in the details, particularly in anything as complex as licensing imagery that involves several intermediary organizations. I do feel that the Flickr image repository is a very real asset that Yahoo and Flickr could monetize, at the same time helping the participating photographs earn some extra cash. But I don’t think this can be done with a patronizing stance about discovering people, and the underlying attitude that Flickr’s members have full-time IT jobs and are just happy to be noticed. Nor can it be done with a “stock photography as usual” one-size-fits-all business model.

Overall, the stock photography business is if anything oversupplied, and in a dismal race to the bottom. Only those with truly unique offerings will thrive, and probably they will thrive best if they use the tools the Internet provides to dis-intermediate parasitic organizations like traditional stock vendors, and those like the Curated Connections program that would try to emulate this clearly broken model.

Here’s what Flickr should do: They should give up on the idea of curating (not their area of expertise in any case) and on “discovering” Flickr members who may already be well-known. Flickr is never going to successfully compete on the same turf as a conventional stock source like Getty. So it’s time to innovate. Create an efficient and transparent market mechanism for willing buyers and sellers of licenses, and facilitate these transactions, taking a small cut of the fees. It’s foolish for Flickr to try to be another Getty, instead they should aim to be the eBay of image licensing transactions.

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Pre-order Achieving Your Potential as a Photographer

You can now pre-order my new Focal Press book, Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook. This book is one part inspiration, one part an organized plan for jump starting your creative photography, and one part a distillation of the key things I have learned in my work as an artist and photographer. Exercises and workbook pages are bound into the book, to be used as part of your creative photographic process.

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Here’s the book description on Amazon:

Coming from the perspective that true inspiration and great image making are at the core of any high-level photographic endeavor, Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer presents an organized and cohesive plan for kick-starting creativity, and then taking the resulting work into the real world. The ideas presented have been formulated by Harold Davis over many years working as a creative artist and award-wining photographer, and in the celebrated workshops he has developed and led all around the world. These concepts are presented with accompanying exercises so that readers can put them into everyday practice as well as workbook pages bound into the book for note taking and journaling.

Related story: Focal Press sponsored webcast (on YouTube): Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer with Harold Davis.

Serendipity and photography

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Click here to download a PDF version of this e-Card, here for Workshops & Events, and here for Harold’s blog.

Drowning in a Plethora of Stuff

As the father of four kids with ages from six to seventeen it is not hard for me to feel like I am drowning in a plethora of stuff. Each child brings home tons of things that are often on that borderline between something one really doesn’t want to curate long term, but too cute to toss.

Leaving my kids out of it, there’s simply too much stuff around.

This is particularly egregious when the stuff is “mall junk” made in China: things we don’t really need, created with no concern for the environment, using slave labor.

Leather Dye Pits, Fez © Harold Davis

Leather Dye Pits, Fez © Harold Davis

To inveigle against cheaply made plastic junk that is essentially a by-product of our thoughtless petroleum-based society is easy. This stuff will come to rest in a landfill somewhere, and will not enhance our spirituality, nor give us meaning in our lives, nor add beauty to our lives, nor increase our connection with other people.

Writers and thinkers such as Thoreau and Tolstoy have, to a greater or lesser extent, used the fruits of a stuff-based civilization to warn that stuff doesn’t bring happiness. Even comedians get into the act, with an entire George Carlin shtick based on the premise that stuff pervades our lives, simultaneously attracting and imprisoning us.

But does this knowledge help us avoid over-accumulation of things, make us wise, or tell us how to build a better life? Not really. There are no easy answers.

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

First, the world may be drowning in stuff, but some parts of this interconnected world are “a lot more equal than others” (in the words of George Orwell). People without shelter or food want more stuff, not less stuff, and are often subsisting on stuff discarded by others.

What happens when “stuff” goes online and becomes virtual?

The race to build virtual stuff, and to provide easier virtual access to this stuff, is a race to the bottom. Everyone can be a “published” writer on Amazon. There are more than 700,000 images in the virtual inventory at Art.com; this imagery ranges from stock photography to reproductions of van Gogh paintings, all available as inexpensive reproductions.

Gerbera Sideways  © Harold Davis

Gerbera Sideways © Harold Davis

How do you navigate through the dross? What is the point of creating more words, or more imagery, to compete with this mélange of cheap stuff?

Do we want to spend our lives making things that are “just stuff”?

I think not.

White on white © Harold Davis

White on white © Harold Davis

Whatever you do, however you do it, however much stuff is involved, be thoughtful and keep things simple. We don’t need more junk in this beautiful world of ours. We do need more work that is thoughtful, creates beauty, adds to our spiritual values, and fosters connections between people.

Eschewing hypocrisy and the hive mind that encourages rapacious consumption solely for the sake of consumption are good goals as well.

Why must people be so mean and greedy? If we did it right, there would be enough for all, without all the junk, and with beauty to spare.

Story of O © Harold Davis

Story of O © Harold Davis

Terra Incognita

It is the job of the artist to plunge into Terra Incognita. This means exploring unknown country both literally and figuratively. When artistic territory seizes to be unknown and verges on the repetitious, then the work ceases to be exploration and becomes an exercise in marketing the known “trademark look.” It’s a sad fact that this artistic truth diverges with conventional advice for making a living as an artist—which is to find an iconic style, and to stick to it.

Burning off the Fog, Marin Headlands, CA © Harold Davis

Burning off the Fog, Marin Headlands, CA © Harold Davis

For me, plunging into the artistic unknown is like swinging on a rope high above deep water. When the leap begins it is both exhilarating and frightening, and part of what makes life worth living. I will not be shoe-horned into a narrow category. I will go “under, over and through” to discover the lands beyond, returning enriched with experiences and insights that I can bring into genres I have plumbed before.

Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan © Harold Davis

Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan © Harold Davis

On the eve of literal travel, these thoughts come to mind. This journey is a bit of a wild adventure as well, with stops in New York, Spain, Morocco and Portugal. The point, of course, is always the journey and not the destination—and it is a truism that neither I nor my imagery will return unchanged. My plan is to blog my photos, stories and adventures, so please “stay tuned.”

Saint-Roman, Dordogne, France © Harold Davis

Saint-Roman, Dordogne, France © Harold Davis

Children’s book author E. Nesbit got this right for art and for travel in one of my all-time favorites The Enchanted Castle, when she put these words in a character’s mouth: “‘I don’t understand,’ says Gerald, alone in his third-class carriage, ‘how railway trains and magic can go on at the same time.’ And yet they do.”

Today we have airplanes rather than Victorian carriages—but the concepts of escape from the mundane details of class structure and the struggle to make a living via art and magic remains the same.

Photographer as Poet

When people learn that I am a professional photographer, it is not unusual for them to ask me next what kind of photographer I am. The answer is trickier than it might seem. According to Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, there is no such thing anymore as a professional photographer (because everyone has a DSLR). If you are primarily a wedding photographer you have a specialty (although it is less lucrative than it used to be). It’s possible to specialize in landscape and nature photography, but not too many photographers make a good living from it.

Peonies mon amour (with inken) © Harold Davis

Peonies (with inken) on washi © Harold Davis

But what about me?

I like to say that I am a “Photographer as Poet.” I photograph what I am interested in, and I figure out a way to market my work after I’ve made it. “What I am interested in” could mean just about anything or anyone. Photography is just the first step in my image making.

My images are more like poems than short stories—they have an internal cadence and structure.

I feel strongly enough about this “Photographer as Poet” thing that I’ve had a Japanese inken made for me (it’s a stamp, like a Chinese chop) that says “Photographer as Poet.” Here it is:

Harold Davis - Poet as Photographer

My inken is used as a decorative element and signature on some of the prints that I make.

Which brings me back to what I do. One of my collectors put it this way (and I think it rings true): I am an artist using techniques including digital painting, with digital photos my as my raw material (pun intended). The results usually don’t look like traditional photography. I like to use new technologies to refer to art of the past, and to mix-and-match genres. One example is the botanical image of peonies above, printed on a high-end inkjet printer on Awagami washi.

This could almost be traditional art, but it is not quite, of course. Nor is it so self-referential as to be coy. I want my poems to be enjoyable on their own, without any comprehension of the complex traditions that relate to their making, and without any need to notice the genres I’ve mixed and the conventions I’ve bent or broken in the process of creation and composition.

Related story: Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe.