CD: Seth thanks for agreeing to be a part of the FUSEVISUAL project. Our history goes way back to the late eighties when you were shooting corporate annual reports and editorials. Lets start with the early days. Tell me a bit about how you started and what excited you about photography way back in the Kodachrome days.
Seth Resnick: Back in the Kodachrome days I was just starting my career as a newspaper photojournalist in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse, according to the Farmers Almanac, ranks fourth among the rainiest cities in the U.S. and cloudy 212 days annually. One might think that I would be unhappy in Syracuse but gray is a wonderful background for color and images standout against a dark sky.
My career has changed dramatically over time based on what inspires me. My inspiration in Syracuse was photojournalism and I completed what is still one of my most rewarding stories ever in Syracuse. The story was about a little girl who was burned and it ran on the cover of Empire Magazine. I continued photographing Renee and photographed her college graduation and even her wedding 20 plus years after working on that story. Finishing that story also made me realize that I had accomplished what I wanted to do with journalism and the publishing of that story led to my conclusion that it was time to move on.
When I finished the burn story I had grandeur ideas of changing journalism. My first assignment when I went back on the street after that story was an assignment photographing a woman with a very large cucumber in Baldwinsville, NY. It was great to get that assignment because I realized that it was time to move into my next phase. Sometimes we can get very comfortable in an uncomfortable place and we need a kick in the pants to move forward.
The moving on led to magazine journalism and eventually onto corporate annual reports and then to teaching and self generated assignments and fine art. Each phase of my life has come naturally but I would have never guessed that I would be teaching and traveling the world while I was in Syracuse. If I had to do it all over again I would take the exact same path. Working at the Syracuse Newspapers provided an excellent foundation for my future and I cherish that experience to this day.
CD: You took a strong leadership position within EP (Editorial Photographers) that helped make a difference in the photo industry. When you look back at those headstrong days, what do you see that has survived and in what areas can photographers do better to protect themselves.
Seth Resnick: The best part of EP is that we were able to show photographers that they had power in numbers and could stand up, voice an opinion and create change. In creating change we raised the bar for everyone and raised the bar even higher for ourselves. In some ways we have come a long way since the early days of EP but in other ways we have made relatively little progress. Most of the major magazines currently pay almost the same that they did when I was active in EP yet their advertising rates have gone through the roof. As an example, a leading newsweekly charges $353,000 for a full page ad in 2014 up from $320,100 for a full page ad in 2012 and $301,900 in 2011. Back in the days of EP this rate was under $187,000 and yet photographers are still paid the same or less. It is not all the publishers fault. Photographers still need to learn the value of saying no and standing up for their rights. Fees themselves are actually not the biggest issue. The biggest issue and the area where we need a uniform and collective voice is the issue of ownership of our intellectual property.
The current state of visual journalism is both sad and exciting at the same time. On a sad note I guess one could say that there is tension between quality and velocity. I deplore that the incentive to create has diminished because of pricing. Copyright is the very basis of our existence. As a freelancer, we exist only by the value of the intellectual property we produce. Further our copyright is our soul and it should not be for sale. Losing your copyright would minimize the ability to earn a living from your work and at the worst it removes the incentive to create. Clients are very aware of copyright and the value of intellectual property. I license mine, I don't sell it.
CD: You have shifted your career to teaching and leading workshops. What are the joys, and I guess sorrows, of this change?
Seth Resnick: No Sorrows. Teaching is part of the growth process for me and I love it. Being able to spread knowledge isn’t that different from my days at EP. The big difference is that now I have the ability to work one on one with students and watch them grow. We tend to have many repeat clients and there is an immense amount of joy is witnessing the growth that takes place when you have the opportunity to work with someone over and over again. As a teacher I strive to engage, challenge, and inspire growth in my students. It is my hope that every student is capable of the same passion that I feel for photography and with that philosophy in mind, I teach within a structure which I believe fosters critical thinking both creatively as well as technically.
My teaching philosophy revolves around the idea of being as well-balanced of a photographer as possible. Technical skills must be mastered as well as conceptual skills but it must start with a solid image. No matter how accomplished you are technically, if your ideas are weak, then your images simply won’t work, and, conversely, no matter how good your ideas are, if your technical skills are lacking your images can’t work. No matter how innovative the idea is, it is not worth showing if it is done poorly.
My teaching philosophy is to enable each photographer to create their own vision—to see things others would not see if they were standing right next to them. In this way, you learn how to see the subject matter that you might otherwise overlook.
We all see color, but no two of us experience it exactly the same way; my shade of red is not what you’re seeing. Yet as a photographer, I want you to see what's in my mind's eye, which is where the challenge lies to capture and render a particular vision.
My second goal is to hone in on a students personal aesthetic point of view. We examine the choices that we make when producing a photograph, the choices that differentiate a great photograph with a lasting impression from a mere snapshot. I want to enhance their vision into the world of reflections, patterns, gestures, tone, abstractions, movement, and texture to name a few. I want to extract their personal creativity and bring it to a new level.
I believe that photography is best learned by immersion. To challenge and be challenged by my students is my third goal. I begin with the belief that every student possesses unique capabilities that can be shared with others if given the appropriate supports. I challenge my students to share opinions with and to mentor one another. I also expect to be challenged by my students. I encourage my students to ask questions, and I am straightforward about not having all of the answers. When I become “stuck” I seek the input of my colleagues. Above all else, I challenge my students to understand that I am open to their thoughts, eager to hear their opinions, and thrilled to learn with and through them.
Finally, I attempt to inspire growth in my students.
For myself, teaching provides an opportunity for continual learning and growth. One of my hopes as an educator is to instill a love of learning in my students, as I share my own passion for learning with them. Teaching is never stagnant and it is a constant process of learning about new philosophies and new strategies, learning from fellow photographers and colleagues.
I believe in a flexible manner of instruction, responsive to the unique atmosphere of a given class. I am aware of students’ different experiences and temperaments in hopes of developing their strengths while ameliorating their weaknesses. Every student, regardless of background, can improve his or her abilities and be emboldened to push beyond their own experience expanding their skills and their vision.
CD: What are your thoughts on shooting personal projects and trying to stretch your expertise?
Seth Resnick: I guess we have to start with what is the definition of personal project. I say this because one thing I learned long ago from Jay Maisel, one of my mentors is that you can’t take a picture without a camera and therefore I always carry a camera. I think to many people a personal project suggests that it is self generated and not an assignment.
Whatever your definition of personal is, ultimately it means shooting and I would encourage everyone to shoot every day. I equate shooting like going to the gym and if I miss a day I feel off so I really do try and shoot something everyday.
I am always working on collections of ideas and try to formulate them into a body of work. For example I shot a few images which resembled parts of the human body. As individual images they were good but they would be much more powerful and effective if I had enough of them to formulate a real body of work. Working on personal ideas or projects is a great way to challenge yourself and invigorate your passion and I would suggest that trying new things will help broaden your expertise. I would encourage folks to fail because through multiple failures we find success.
CD: What advice would you give to a young professional about to embark into this career?
Seth Resnick: As photographers, it is critical to develop your own visually voice. We're constantly being told to "be ourselves" and do what sets us apart, but that can be an incredibly intimidating, and it can actual smother us. For an endeavor that's supposed to be liberating, where's the fun in locking yourself into some pre defined box known as yourvoice. I'm typically a pretty logical, analytical kind of person. Concepts like "style" and "voice" are nebulous and would typically make me run in the other direction. Reality is that the truth in that finding your voice is a crucial step in the enrichment process and journey of a photographer or any creative. As difficult as it was for me to accept this, I now understand that my happiness in my work is directly correlated to how much I see my own personal perspective reflected in it. How do you find your voice? First off, recognize that it already exists; this isn't something you have to conjure up out of thin air, you just have to do some digging around to understand it better. It is critical to find your voice and make sure that others know your visual voice. Once you have a visual voice that is recognized by others it is easier to get hired based on that vision. So many photographers want to be generalists and the problem with that is you are now like most of the competition. Finding and developing your voice separates you from the competition.
Like anything in life practice helps to make perfection and photography requires practice, which brings me to the most important exercise of all which is simply to make sure you are carrying a camera.
Without the camera there can be no perfection and carrying the camera can exercise not only the mind but it also qualifies as physical exercise. Exercise is not only smart for your heart it can also make you a better photographer. We all know that without exercise we get out of shape and our bodies change and not in a positive way. In much the same way that our bodies get out of shape without using our muscles, as a photographer my cognitive and visual capabilities decrease if I don't shoot images almost every day. As a professional photographer I have the luxury of being able to carry a camera every day and thus always tweaking my skills but many folks don't have this luxury and if they haven't shot pictures in a while they feel visually about the same as not exercising.
Our creative abilities will cycle with ups and down. We all go through these highs and lows. In the lows it is important to find a way to revitalize. A few months back I was in the Atacama Desert in a very remote part of Argentina. I was photographing in a place known as the Stone Pumice Field. It is a place like no other on Earth and the sheer sense of a scale is beyond imagination. On my second day of shooting I was having a difficult time finding my voice. After getting very frustrated I went back to my vehicle and played a mindless game on my iphone. The game allowed me to relax and then I was able to refocus and I got out of the vehicle and made my two best images of the trip. I don't think I would have made either of the images I made without frustration and without a way of relaxing and refocusing my vision.