is the president of photo agency Anarchy Images.
Prior to launching Anarchy, he was the former Special Projects Director
for Black Star. He
has also worked at the Bettmann
Archive and Corbis during his 13-year photography publishing career.
Jason says he pictures Anarchy as a place “where in-depth journalism is
nurtured and encouraged, and where the next generation of great
photographers will be created.” He is a graduate of the criminal
justice program at John Jay College.
Wayne: How did you go from studying Deviant Behavior and Social
Control to work in photography?
Some might argue it’s not that much of a leap. For my own part, while
studying at John Jay College there was a severe illness in my family.
My parents and sisters moved, and I decided to stay in New York to
continue my studies. Since I no longer had this family support
structure to rely on, I needed a way to pay living expenses and
continue college. A friend I had met at John Jay worked at the Bettmann Archive and told me that
they had an opening in their production department (read as “mail
time at the Bettmann
Archive rekindled a fascination I had with photography since I was a
child, though this wouldn’t be realized or even completely understood
until I arrived at Black Star. At Bettmann
I became intimately familiar with each of the 71 Black and White
collections. From the 11×14 glass negatives to the later UPI
images, I studied them all. By the time Corbis purchased the Bettmann
Archive I had abandoned any thoughts of behavior studies for
photography. I didn’t yet know where I was meant to be until I arrived
at Black Star.
one day my father arrived home with a box of old
that someone had given him or thrown out. In those pages I was
transported from our small East New York apartment to places I hadn’t
known existed. At Black Star I found many of the old Kodachromes that once adorned the
pages of my old National Geographics
and all of the walls of my childhood room. It was at Black Star that I
truly realized that I was meant to work in photography. Even then it
took a lot of prodding from photographers to get me to take the leap on
Wayne: What did you learn about the photojournalism market from
your time at Black Star?
Jason: I learned about pricing, sales, contract
negotiating. I learned it’s not smart to piss off Benjamin Chapnick.
But probably, most importantly I learned that the more things change
the more they stay the same. Quality should always be the deciding
factor on acceptance of an image or a photographer. For a small agency
to be successful it must be clearly defined and recognized. Not only
must the clients believe in the agency but the photographers and
employees must believe in it as well.
Wayne: Can you talk about how you became involved with Black
Star's internship program?
I guess my interest in the Internships came from speaking with Black
Star photographers and listening to their stories of the late Howard Chapnick
and how he had worked with them. I hoped that, in some small way, I
could use what I had learned to help these young photographers develop.
I had no pretense or assumption that I could possibly do anywhere near
as well as Howard Chapnick,
but I could do my best.
internship program at Black Star, I just changed the
focus. Portfolio reviews were mandatory—so were story submissions and
completion of stories by the time the internship was over. Interns
would work three days a week for three months and would shoot their
stories the rest of the time. I would do my best to work with the
interns on the days they came in to review their images and suggest
ways of improving. That’s not to say there wasn’t lots of grunt work,
but I like to think the interns really were able to get something out
of their internships instead of just a resume bullet point.
Wayne: What thoughts do you have on what the emerging
photographer should know about “professionalism” and becoming a
“Professionalism” isn’t just dressing up or speaking in the proper
tone. Professionalism is being able to deliver what you say you can,
being able to accept responsibility without excuses when you can’t, and
realizing that there are times that the client wants what they want,
how they want it.
then one occasion I have had interns come in and boldly state “I am a
photojournalist and I am never going to do… (insert type of photography
here….. celebrity, travel, spot news…).” Professionalism is knowing
that sometimes you have to do whatever you can to do the things that
are important to you.
Wayne: How do you define narrative photography?
Thank goodness you asked this question. There seems to have been so
much confusion over my press release statement. All good
photojournalism is narrative to some degree. When I say narrative, or
rather narrative voice, I mean it in the most literal sense. Narrative
photography is defined, for me, as usually a linear progression of
images that tell a story. The best examples of this would be the early
work of W. Eugene Smith (see "Country Doctor" and "Nurse Midwife"). The
“simplified” version of this is the Day-in-the-Life. Following an
individual or small group and following their lives during the course
of a day. This is usually presented in a chronological sequence. In a
wider sense, a narrative would be taking a small group of individuals
within a set of related circumstances and covering their lives over an
extended period of time. A larger project using this format would
require establishing shots, transition shots, and tertiary shots that
place the narrative images into a greater dynamic.
with the magazine feature photography, which is
normally a photographer shooting individual aspects of a much larger
subject. An example would be someone shooting “China Today.” There
would be almost no way to produce an in-depth narrative on the subject
unless you were shooting over several decades. In this case a “feature”
approach would be required. Covering aspects of modern China as, let's
say, technology, economy, religion, and culture, and even then the
coverage would have to be much more specific: medicine equals small
herbal remedy store and large modern pharmaceutical company; economy
equals street vendors and multinational CEOs; culture equals rural
farming and modern bustling city and night life. I used compare and
contrast examples, but I think you get the picture.
Wayne: Which photographers of the past have been its best
As far as literal narrative, I would say W. Eugene Smith was one of the
great practitioners. “Country Doctor," “Nurse Midwife" and “Minimata” are some of the best
examples. I would also have to say Joseph Rodriguez.
“East Side Stories," “Juvenile" and “Flesh Life” are the stories of
individuals and families placed in a wider context. To varying degrees,
I would also include Donna Ferrato ’s “Living with the Enemy," Susan
Meiselas ’ “Carnival Strippers” and Eugene
Richards' “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue."
is that, through Smith’s work you can draw almost
a straight line from his early work, through “Minimata," into the above mentioned works as an
evolution of the photo essay within a narrative context.
Wayne: Why did you see the need for a photo agency to refocus
on narrative photography?
Anarchy Images isn’t just focusing on narrative photography. Though
this is an area of my own specific interest, Anarchy Images focuses on
photography of greater depth whether several days, months or even
decades. There is so much more to the lives of people then can be
revealed in an afternoon; more to their emotion, more to their
humanity, and more to their existence. The need for this type of agency
comes from the editor that is not satisfied with a few hours coverage,
or perhaps the editor that has only a few hours but needs a
photographer that knows how to make the best of that time. The need
comes from the photographer who needs someone to believe in their work.
Perhaps most of all the need comes from me, as something I have to do.
Only time will tell what the true “need” really is, but I’m willing to
wait and see.
Wayne: What kind of
market do you see for it, and who are the logical buyers and consumers?
While documentary and in-depth photography are the focus of Anarchy
Images, we have no intention of ignoring traditional outlets like
editorial, corporate and advertising assignments. We are including
collector’s prints alongside of decorative prints. We are seeking to
work with NGOs as well as corporations to produce images of lasting
significance. The interest in Anarchy Images has been extreme. We are
even in talks for foreign distribution in a half dozen European
your call for submissions for Anarchy, you request images from
long-term projects. How similar or different are your ideas here to
Eugene Smith’s thoughts on the importance of immersion in the subject?
That’s a tricky question. Immersion in a project is great when you have
the ability and resources to carry you through. Personally, I feel the
most important type of immersion required for a project is the mental
kind. A fixation, obsession if you will, is required with the subject,
the images, and the need for the project. Physical and logistical
immersion is wonderful when you have it, but mental immersion will see
you through even if you have to go back time-and-time again to get the
story told. I would also place a huge emphasis on preparation. If a
photographer is not well researched and prepared with a thorough
concept and vision in place, no degree of immersion will help them.
Wayne: What kind of shortcomings are
you finding in the training of some photographers?
to younger or emerging photographers whose
skills are not up to the level you want?
I should start off by saying that there is no photographer so great
[that they cannot] benefit from having their work critically reviewed
periodically. That said, as part of the Anarchy Images standard
contract, photographers may be required to take courses provided by
Anarchy Images to remain affiliated with us. By including this clause
in our contract, we are not only able to maintain very high standards
but to constantly improve. In most cases an Anarchy Images photographer
will be teaching the course to his or her peers. These courses can
range from “Laying out an Essay” to “Working with Multimedia” to
“Finding a Fixer.” Some reasons for this requirement are to keep up
with changing trends and technology.
as shortcomings I have been finding with photographers—and what a
photographer can do about it—with the advent of digital photography
many formerly required skills have been “lost”—or at least become
rusty. This is in no way a tirade against digital photography, it’s
simply an observation. One of the problems I have been finding is the
lack of some intermediate and advanced skills. These skills include
editing images, arranging images, waiting for the shot, consistency. I
would consider basic skills your technical and camera operation (though
there are different levels of these). At minimum a photographer needs
to know how to get a sharp photo in most standard situations to fulfill
“basic skills.” Much of what I am going to mention here I addressed in
the internships I managed at Black Star.
1. Basic technical skills. Take courses, read books.
Learn every aspect of your camera, every button, every light, everything! Then shoot! shoot! shoot! And don’t stop until you can recreate any shot you want or
least have a very good idea how.
2. Framing shots / waiting for a shot. Now is the time
to stop shooting. Study photography books, I mean really
study. Was the photographer kneeling? Sitting? Or face down in the mud
when a certain shot was taken? What is the quality of light, angle? Now
shoot incredibly sparingly. Limit yourself to one to three rolls (or
their equivalent per self assignment), no more. When these are shot, no more! Even if
you are only half done.
Go home and review what you have shot. Did you miss anything because
you had to go home? Good! Next time you will be more conscious of how
much you are shooting. Try doing the same shots over from different
angles: kneeling, standing, lying down, hell, standing on your head if
you have to! Understand what effects these changes have on your images.
During this whole process, no cropping, no altering,
use only one format.
shoot in multiple formats before having
mastered a single format. My response to this is usually, “So you want
to suck in multiple formats now?” Inevitably, there is the “but
so-and-so does it,” and of course the referred to photographer has
usually been shooting for 40 years. My advice to young photographers is
to master one thing at a time.
I have known many great photographers that were lousy editors. It’s a
separate skill set. The biggest problem I find is “JGL Syndrome.” This
is when photographers describe the importance of an image in terms of
the larger social impact of the issue, or their personal emotions or
how they had “Just Got Laid” and were really happy when they took the
photo. Images should primarily be included in a selection for what was
captured in the frame.
4. Arranging images.
Images must flow together to expand on the story or event—not to
showcase a photographer’s pretty pictures unless it is a portfolio
group of singles. There are opening, detail, transitional, portrait,
situational and closing shots. Learn how to use them and organize them.
my own personal pet peeves: consistency and
horizontals. I will explain. Within the context of a single story or
essay avoid mixing formats: black and white with color, digital with
film, 6x6 with 35MM or panoramic. This can be very visually jarring and
distracting from the content from the images, which should be the
primary focus. Yes, lots of photographers mix formats, but incredibly
few of them do it well. Images can be inconsistent even when shot in a
single format. A story or essay should have a natural flow, not jump
back and forth between random situations and tonal levels (see Problem
No. 1). My other major pet peeve is “horizontals.” Yes, I said
“horizontals”—rather, any full story or essay that is all horizontals.
This is a pretty sure sign that the photographer that shot the story is
either a hack or lazy. Yes, I said it! Common excuses:
“I didn’t have any verticals I liked.” Then you did not shoot enough.
“My slide show is not set up for verticals.” Then change your slide
* “Someone can just crop it.” You lazy bastard!
directors and photo editors need verticals for layout purposes. It
shouldn’t be their job to correct something by cropping when you should
have framed the shot in your viewfinder. In addition, whether hanging
on a wall, in an exhibit, in the pages of a publication, or even a web
slide show, verticals provide a simple visual cue to pause by breaking
up the linear progression of images. Simple test: place 20 horizontal
images in a slideshow and place 16 horizontal images and four vertical
images spaced roughly evenly throughout in a different slideshow.
Notice how much more easily it is to zoom through the 20 horizontals.
only problems I ran into, I would say these were the
biggest I have run into and the most common in terms of photographers
having multiple of these problems and not having a clue that these were
a few schmucks that talk about “vision” and
“style” without any concept of what these are. In response to a photographer only shooting 18MM: “18MM
is a lens not a style!” And “Vision” is much more then a loose
concept, it is complete, it is
done before the first shot is taken.
seem I am being overly harsh, and perhaps I am, but someone should be.
I would like to add that working with the photographers is the greatest
joy in what I have chosen to do, and when photographers take the time
and effort to show the work they have labored so hard to create, I feel
a responsibility to provide feedback that is constructive and useful.
Too often, just giving out praise without critical observations can be
more detrimental than the harshest criticism. When a portfolio is
submitted to me I feel I owe the photographer the respect of real
feedback, which many times can slow the portfolio review process. Anyone submitting a
portfolio to me should expect real feedback, and if they can’t accept
it they shouldn’t submit.
Wayne: You clearly want photography that stands best in a
series, but how important is it that a
stand alone in its power over the viewer?
The quality of the individual image need not be sacrificed in the
essay. While the single image may be the test of quality for the
photograph, the essay is a test of quality for the photographer. Now
would I turn down a modern day Weegee
should he or she appear to me? Of course not, but there are so terribly
few Weegees in the world