Forever Young

I’ve been listening to a Nobel prize play-list of Bob Dylan—both his own voice and cover versions of his songs—while photographing and processing my White Phalaenopsis Orchid and Variegated Phalaenopsis Orchid images. In the versions here, the two plants of come together for photography on my light box. The orchids are shown first placed in Photoshop on a scanned paper background, next inverted via LAB color on a black background, and at the bottom on white they way they were photographed. There’s something wonderful and at the same time a little disorienting about Dylan receiving the Nobel prize in literature. Listening to the vast oeuvre of his work in this way, one thing that becomes a little clearer to me is the incredible variety in his poetics, and his long-term integrity as an artist—an integrity that is rare and probably was hard to maintain in face of the success he had so early.

Orchids in Love on Cream © Harold Davis

Orchids in Love on Cream © Harold Davis

Orchids in Love Inversion © Harold Davis

Orchids in Love Inversion © Harold Davis

Want to learn how to invert an image like this (and more!)? My Advanced LAB Seminar is coming up next weekend (Saturday, November 12, 2016). Note that the location has been moved (to the DoubleTree Berkeley Marina Hotel), and that we have a few places left. Click here for details.

Orchids in Love on White © Harold Davis

Orchids in Love on White © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, Workshops

Vida and Shopvida: Annals of Deceptive Business Models

Being a Professional Artist Means Business

As a successful professional artist and photographer—and, not entirely coincidentally, a business person—I am aware that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Sensible investment is after all the cornerstone of business life, and this is no different for a business as an artist than for any other kind of business. Although, as one art dealer I’ve worked with said, “Artists work twice as hard as anyone else, because they have the work of being an artist, and the entirely separate work of making a living as an artist.”

Et chorus sinit ire cum flores (white) © Harold Davis

Et chorus sinit ire cum flores (white) © Harold Davis

In the light of spending money to make money, I am not entirely opposed to upfront pay-for-play business models in the arts, such as paying fees to enter contests, paying to join an exhibit, or paying to be included in a directory of artists or photographers. There’s a slippery slope here, and I do advise casting a skeptical eye on these kinds of opportunities, particularly if they are regarded strictly as business opportunities. Which they are often not, of course: as an artist, one’s work is tightly bound up with one’s sense of self-worth, and any chance to have one’s work displayed or reproduced is an appeal to vanity, often over the common sense of the pocket book. (Pocket book discipline might be more rigorously applied in the context of a non-arts-based business, although a high percentage of new businesses of all sorts do fail, perhaps in part for lack of thrift.)

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

However, what I have little patience with is pay-for-play business models masquerading as something completely different, where the real intent is to take advantage of artists. This brings me to the subject of Vida, also called Shopvida, on the web at www.shopvida.com.

Vida

If you have almost any kind of presence as an artist or photographer on the Internet, you’ve likely received an initial email from Vida. The first email I received, from Erica who is a self-described “manager of artist relationships” at VIDA, went as follows:
I am writing today regarding your artwork, with the hope that you will consider collaborating with us. I am writing from VIDA, a Google Ventures backed company that brings artists and makers together from around the world to create original, inspiring apparel in a socially conscious way. We are looking for artists with amazing technical skill and truly original work.  We came across your artwork, and we’d love to work with you to translate your art into fashion.

By way of introduction, my name is Erica, and I manage Artist Relations here at VIDA. We specialize in converting 2D art into beautiful, quality apparel and accessories. Also, each of our artists receives a portion of net revenues shared back for each of their designs sold.

As part of our artists recruitment team, I would be thrilled if you would join us as a VIDA artist by submitting your artwork to …. In the meantime, if you have any questions at all, please reply to this email directly. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

We would be deeply honored to have the opportunity to work with you.

Much the same tale is told on the ShopVida website:

VIDA’S STORY IS THAT OF THE RICH, INTERCONNECTED WORLD WE LIVE IN — THE STORY OF CONTEMPORARY LIFE AND MINDFUL, GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP.

WE ARE A GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP OF CO-CREATORS, FROM A DESIGNER IN PARIS, TO A PRODUCER IN KARACHI, AND A CONSUMER IN SAN FRANCISCO.

We handle production and business, so [our artists] can pursue their passion and make a living.

ONE MAKER AT A TIME

LITERACY FOR LIFE

We provide literacy programs to our makers. They learn to read, write, and do basic math and build a better life for generations to come. [capitalization in the original]

So not only was Vida honored to have me, by joining I could make some money, support mindful global citizenship, and also literacy programs. Who was I to say no to this appeal to my artistic vanity and my desire to do good—with the potential to benefit my pocketbook. Surely, a potent brew of benefits. I hemmed and I hawed, and I decided to give this a shot. After all, no payment was requested upfront.

Putting up a shop on Vida is relatively easy and also quite a bit of fun. You use low resolution Jpeg imagery to design items in a number of clothing categories (also bags and pillows).

harold-davis-vida-store

Harold Davis store on Vida (see text)

You can see the Vida collection that I designed at http://shopvida.com/collections/harold-davis, partly shown above. [Author’s note: I’ve requested Vida take down my store and purge my images, but as of publication date this link is still live.] Once the low resolution store front is in place, you need to upload high resolution versions of the image files, but this isn’t anything that anyone reasonably capable with Photoshop can’t handle.

Promoting One’s Vida Store—Part 1

It was clear as soon as my storefront was up on Vida that the next step would be self-promotion. As I was informed at the top of my new online store as soon as it was live, with ten sales I get “Slate” status—which means that ” Harold’s art will be promoted by VIDA.” Presumably, without the ten sales there would be no promotion of Harold’s art by Vida, sigh!

Just to be clear, I have nothing against involving family, friends, and collectors in social media campaigns that benefit me. In fact, Kickstarter is kind of built around this concept, and I have run two successful Kickstarter campaigns (see https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/472058814/botanique-a-hand-made-book-of-art-prints-by-harold and https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/472058814/monochromatic-visions). It is reasonable to expect family, friends, and social media involvement in the projects that are important to an artist. It becomes a problem if these channels are the sole support of a project, and largely are making money for a third-party who is not the artist.

The Vida Product

Kiss from a Rose Wrap

Kiss from a Rose Wrap

Before deploying my reputational capital on behalf of my Vida collection, I thought it would be a good idea to order an actual product from my shop as a matter of simple quality control. Under Phyllis’s name I bought a “Kiss from a Rose” cashmere silk scarf for $85.00 (it came to over $100 with tax and shipping). As a side note, this sale to myself was the only sale I made via my Vida store.

When the scarf eventually arrived, the reviews were mixed. Delivery took about five weeks, which seemed like a strangely long time. While the scarf seemed expensive to us for what it was, in fairness it was sized quite large. However, in our opinion the fabric didn’t seem as luxurious as the “silk-cashmere” description would seem to imply.

There was no lining. Hemming (on the short side) was adequate, but not particularly elegant or complicated. The long edges of the scarf were not sewn at all, but were simply the selvages of the fabric.

The process by which this was created clearly involved printing on fabric via an inkjet printer. There were some places where the dye didn’t reach the fabric, leaving white spots.

To be clear, I have nothing against printing on fabric with an inkjet printer, particularly when it is done well. But this isn’t exactly an artisanal process, and it is unlikely to be lifting third-world crafts people out of poverty. I’ve used an inkjet printer to print some of my images on canvas, but that doesn’t make these images “genuine oil paintings” any more than Vida’s inkjet products are legitimate third-world textile art.

Spring Wreath © Harold Davis

Spring Wreath © Harold Davis

Promoting One’s Vida Store—Part 2

As my welcome to Vida email noted, the “important tips that have helped Vida designers achieve success” were:

  1. Email your friends, fans, and customers
  2. Spread the word on social media
  3. Blog about your collection
  4. Purchase for yourself or loved ones
  5. (MOST POPULAR) Purchase Artist Wholesale

While I waited to evaluate the product sample, the upselling email fun began…often at the rate of several emails a day.

Repeating Flower Pattern © Harold Davis

Repeating Flower Pattern © Harold Davis

Emails from Vida

Cameron at Vida wrote me (many times) to say that if I spent $1,000 I could become “a featured designer with a curated collection. We are only offering curated collections to a small group of hand-picked artists. This is a private email.” Having a curated collection would result in having “[a]t least 1 product from your collection featured on the VIDA Shop All Page. Being Featured on the Shop All page will give you significantly more exposure.”

Jennifer wrote me (on several different days) to “personally reach out to send you a final reminder that today is THE VERY LAST DAY to claim your curated collection page on VIDA.”

Lesley suggested I might enjoy the Festival of Art event where “where art lovers and artists can join together in their admiration for the arts,” and where I would receive a 40% discount on purchases of $900 or more.

Alice sent me another invitation to become a featured designer with a curated collection: “We are only offering curated collections to a small group of hand-picked artists for 1 week only. We think your art is beautiful and we would love the opportunity to feature your work. This is a private, invitation-only email.

This inundation of upselling emails from Vida continued for quite a while without letup. As one my of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, might have said, “So it goes.”

Summing Up My Sense of Vida

Let me try to sum my sense of Vida up. The claim [from an initial email from Erica at Vida] that

Vida is backed by Google Ventures, and artists who get discovered on VIDA are featured everywhere from national television to major press mentions like TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal….We’d love to work with you to build your artwork into a fashion brand

seems exaggerated—but certainly something that gets my attention as an artist, with its mention of Google and my artwork as a fashion brand, and no more exagerated than the spiel from many another tech startup. This is, however, also a well-crafted appeal to the vanity and optimism of any artist.

The actual business model seems to be more like a blunderbuss than a discovery mechanism for quality art that would work for textile designs. The goal seems to be to see how much product can be moved by the artists to friends and family of the artist. The only mechanism for discovery of great designs is to qualify by selling Vida product to friends and family, and it is far from clear that the promotion that might follow from said sales at Vida would result in any long-term gains in terms of the branding of an artist.

Dragonfly 4 © Harold Davis

Dragonfly 4 © Harold Davis

At best, this is a pay-for-play business model on Vida’s part. As I’ve noted, I have no problem with the notion of investing in the business of being an artist, provided this investment is made thoughtfully. I also have no issue with using friends and family as part of one’s social media constellation to jumpstart a career. I do have an issue with the lack of upfront clarity on Vida’s part about this being what a store on Vida will entail.

Pay-for-play can be okay, but then you should say right away, “For exposure you must pay!” Essentially, Vida is analagous to a multi-level marketing scheme, where participants only make money by selling the company product to others.

The Vida Product—Part 2

One other aspect of Vida’s workflow is troubling, and that is the production of the actual products. In point of fact, I have a natural outlet for products based on my work via my workshops and other events. Had we believed the merchandise was of a quality that worked with the quality of my work, and that we wouldn’t be ashamed to present to my audience, we could easily have taken advantage of one of the many offers I was pitched. For example, we could have bought $1,000 worth of products based my designs at a 40% discount, and sold these at retail at my workshops.

The problem here had to do with the quality of the printing, which we didn’t think was high enough to compare with my other work. In addition, a zebra doesn’t change its stripes to a leopard’s spots. The deceptive marketing to artists is one of a piece with the deceptive sense that Vida gives that its products, created using inkjet printing, are related to textile craft and somehow artisanal. There is quite a bit of markup in my $85 scarf, and I don’t think this money is going to a dye printing machine operator in India.

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Is Vida a Scam?

Is Vida an out-and-out scam? This depends upon your definition of “scam,” but probably not, in the sense that they do actually make and ship the products they advertise (even if these aren’t of great quality). Nothing illegal is going on as far as I can tell. Like Amway and Herbalife, there are probably folks who have done okay with Vida—but it wouldn’t be for me. 

While not an out-and-out scam, as a customer I would be disappointed in the quality of the work, particularly considering the price, and I would likely be disinclined to order more products from this company. (Would I have expressed my disappointment about the product quality to my sister-in-law-the-artist had I bought a Vida item of hers? Probably not.)

Is this a business model that treats artists ethically and morally? In my opinion, I don’t think so. As always, do research, draw your own conclusions, and caveat emptor.

I submitted a draft of this article to Umaimah Mendhro, the founder and CEO of Vida, and to the press email at Shopvida for comment, but as of publication time have received no response. 

Have you had an experience good or bad with Vida? I will happily approve for publication relevant comments related to this article.

More about the Business of Art and Photography

Other articles by Harold Davis pertaining to contemporary issues in the business of art and photography: Putting Paid to Purloining Picture Snatchers: Working with PixsyWhat do Harold Davis and Georgia O’Keeffe have in common on Pinterest, and how is Pinterest going to make money, anyway?; and Presentation Matters: Why Book Publishers Should Care About Quality.

About Harold Davis: HAROLD DAVIS is a professional photographer and digital artist whose work is widely collected. He is the author of many bestselling photography books, including Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer, Creating HDR Photos, Photographing Flowers, The Photoshop Darkroom, and The Way of the Digital Photographer.

Quince by Moon © Harold Davis

Quince by Moon © Harold Davis

Posted in Business of Art, Photography, Writing

Romantic Landscapes

There’s nothing I like better than to capture romantic landscapes. Of course, any landscape can be romantic in the right light, and almost any landscape can be grim in harsh light. Still, when I am in the heart of the mountains, my thoughts turn towards romantic imagery—and the same when there is a sweetly pictaresque tower or two, or maybe an ancient castle rampart.

Towers of San Gimignano © Harold Davis

Towers of San Gimignano © Harold Davis

Fundamentally, this is an anti-post-modern aesthetic on my part. Maybe this is catchier as “post-post-modern” imagery (abbreviated as “post-squared modern”). In other words, I like the lushness of imagery that shows us a world that is partially fantasy. A world that takes a certain kind of eye to see, and the very real skills of a post-squared modern digital artist to capture without overdoing it. I am aware of the possibilities of irony, but prefer the policies of optimism.

Dolomite View © Harold Davis

Dolomite View © Harold Davis

About the images: (Top) With sunset coming on in a light rain, I hurried to find a high vantage point in the fabulous towered confection of San Gimignano, Italy. From the little tower on the Rocca I had a great view across to the towers, and to the rain passing in the sunset. (Above) View east from the mountains above Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. (Below) This sunset view of Castelo Marvao in Portugal reminds me of the feeling in the San Gimignano image at the beginning of this story.

Castelo Marvao © Harold Davis

Castelo Marvao © Harold Davis

Posted in Italy, Landscape, Photography, Portugal

Phalaenopsis Orchid

This one is more colorful than the white-on-white Phalaenopsis I photographed yesterday!

Phalaenopsis Orchid - Variegated © Harold Davis

Phalaenopsis Orchid – Variegated © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Phalaenopsis

Nice to be back to photographing flowers on my light box after so many adventures in the field…starting with this orchid blossom!

Phalaenopsis © Harold Davis

Phalaenopsis © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Hotel Room with a View

I like to photograph from my hotel room, and I make a point of requesting rooms with a view. Sometimes this works. There’s nothing particularly characteristic of Milan, Italy in these views from my hotel balcony in central Milan at the NH Milano President (basically a middle of the road business hotel), but it was fun photographing car light trails with the stationary trolley at night (bottom image), and when the rain made it too wet to go outside with the camera and tripod, the impressionistic iPhone image of Milan in the rain (upper image) was easy to make without getting too cold and wet!

Rainy Night © Harold Davis

Rainy Night © Harold Davis

Some other hotel rooms with a view: Positano Morning; Window in Bourges; Room with a View.

Via Verziere, Milan © Harold Davis

Via Verziere, Milan © Harold Davis

Posted in Digital Night, iPhone, Italy

Photographers! France! April!

We are looking for a (very) few good photographers (or a photographer and spouse) to join our small, exclusive group going to the southwest of France in April, 2017. Click here to download the day-by-day itinerary (PDF) if you are interested in the specifics (or just want to armchair travel!).

If you’d like to come, please drop us an email ASAP. The trip Prospectus can be found here, and the Reservation form is here.

Click here for our complete Workshops & Events listings.

Pont Neuf, Toulouse © Harold Davis

Pont Neuf, Toulouse © Harold Davis

Posted in Workshops

Morning Blue

The special characteristics of light at sunset—first the “golden hour,” followed by the “blue hour”—are well known to all serious landscape photographers. Indeed, the quality of the light and the emotional resonance of the views of this good earth as sunset commences, and for a while post-sunset, is clear to all romantic observers of every persuasion.

Morning Blue © Harold Davis

Morning Blue © Harold Davis

What is less well-known is that sunrise duplicates the same wonderful sequence, but in reverse. So shortly after dawn there is a blue period, followed by a time of golden lighting, and then daytime commences. For astronomical reasons, morning blues and golden hues tend to be shorter in duration than those in the evening—but they are no less potent and emotionally heart warming.

Click here for a related image, Dawn on Lake Como, and here for workshop opportunities to explore different and exotic sunrises and sunsets with your camera and me!

Posted in Italy, Landscape, Photography

Harold Davis Upcoming Workshops

I’m just back from a photographic trip to Italy. You can see a couple of the images I processed first by clicking Dawn on Lake Como, Tuscan Landscape, and Duomo di Pavia. Of course, there are many more images to follow—and I also scouted some very interesting places that give me ideas for future workshops!

In the meantime, I wanted to remind you about some of our upcoming workshop opportunities. I’ve pasted our workshop calendar through the first half of 2017 at the bottom of this post. I particularly want to call your attention to three upcoming workshops here in Berkeley, California: Advanced LAB Color Seminar (November 12); Black and White in San Francisco (weekend of November 19-20); and From iPhone to Art (weekend of January 28-29).

You can click on the links to learn more about the workshops, and to register (by RSVPing YES on Meetup after clicking through). Look forward to seeing you there for a creative and fun learning experience!

Dawn on Lake Como © Harold Davis

Dawn on Lake Como © Harold Davis

2016

2017

Castel Saint Angelo (iPhone image) © Harold Davis

Castel Saint Angelo (iPhone image) © Harold Davis

Posted in Workshops

Bramante Stairs

The Bramante Stairs is a double helix staircase, meaning it consists of two independent helical stairs in the same vertical space, allowing one person to ascend and another to descend, without ever meeting if they choose different helices. This spectacular staircase is found when leaving the Vatican Museum—the day I visited one of the helical stairs was closed to traffic, and the other was pretty busy.

Bramante Stairs (Looking Up) © Harold Davis

Bramante Stairs (Looking Up) © Harold Davis

Bramante Stair (Looking Down) © Harold Davis

Bramante Stairs (Looking Down) © Harold Davis

Related story: Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

Posted in Italy, Monochrome, Photography

Tuscan Field

This field has been plowed. It is autumn, and the land is bare, waiting in lengthy passivity for the new crops of spring to begin to show. The patterns in the furrows as rendered by the reflected light from sky and clouds make an austere composition, possibly with more depth than is apparent on the initial glance.

Tuscan Field © Harold Davis

Tuscan Field © Harold Davis

Posted in Italy, Monochrome, Photography

View from a San Gimignano Tower

I’ve just got home and am recovering from a 26-hour day of travel, and the nine hours of jet lag between the Bay area and Italy. That said, it was a great trip, and I am anticipating much fun as I begin to process my images from Italy. This one is another view from high up a San Gimignano tower as a storm gathered.

View from a San Gimignano Tower © Harold Davis

View from a San Gimignano Tower © Harold Davis

Posted in Italy

Rescued from the Mud

It’s my personality for my “eyes to be bigger than my stomach,” my artistic ego to be large, and my ability to say no to a possible photo nil regardless of potential consequences. In other words, one’s reach should be bigger than one’s grasp, or else what is a metaphor?

In any case, driving along a small Tuscan road in the late afternoon I saw a crumbling abandoned farmhouse in a bare field of Tuscan mud, down a long dirt and rock driveway. It would have been a long walk, and the drive way looked passable. So I turned my small rental car down the track.

Before long, it became clear that this might not be such a good idea. The track was deeply rutted, filled with running water, and muddy. I finally got to a place where it looked like I might turn around with care. I edged up the side of a bank, it turned out to be mud, and I was stuck. I could not rock my way out.

What to do? I called the emergency number that the rental car agency provided (although I had no idea how I’d describe where I was if they really could send assistance). It took a while to make my way through the menu system (I pressed 1 to indicate it was a roadside emergency!). Finally I got through to someone, who said an English speaker would call me back. I waited.

In the distance I saw two couples on motorcycles. I waved my hands, jumped up and down, and yelled for help. They cycled out to me, cursing the mud and water. Two of them helped me rock the car back and forth, and got me unstuck. I backed up all the way to the country road.

They spoke no English, and were obviously not pleased with getting their kit muddy, but they rescued me and were kind and gracious about it, and were true good Samaritans. For this I am grateful.

The Rescuers © Harold Davis

The Rescuers © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Visiting the Vatican Museum is an affair of moving with and through crowds. Most are in densely packed “schools of fish” (in tour groups). Others lumber slowly, couples or small family groups, perhaps with a grandparent and a toddler with stroller in tow.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling © Harold Davis

Sistine Chapel Ceiling © Harold Davis

My friend remarked that the Sistine Chapel—packed wall-to-wall with people—seemed more like a Turkish Bath than a holy place of worship. As I snaked my way through the packed masses and towards the Uscita, I held my camera flat on the top of my head, and snapped the image you see.

Posted in Italy, Photography

Il Campo, Siena

Il Campo is the central square in Siena, Italy—famous for its horse races, as a hang-out spot, and as a demonstration of the civic power of the historic republic of Siena. I visited Il Campo many years ago when I was a college kid to hang out, and not much has changed in all the intervening years. The surrounding restaurants and shops are louder and glitzier, and the crowds larger and more prosperous, but of course the architecture doesn’t change.

Il Campo, Siena © Harold Davis

Il Campo, Siena © Harold Davis

Speaking of architecture, I climbed the campanile tower above Il Campo to make this photo, all 330 stairs, no tripod or camera bag allowed. My fisheye lens was in my pocket, and when I reached the top and caught my breath I switched it on the camera, and held it out as over the brink as I could to make the image.

Posted in Italy