October 2010

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I recently asked subscribers to the 9GiantSteps email group to fill me in on the projects they are working on so that I would have the opportunity to both learn more about this amazing group of people, and also present a small profile of them and their work on 9GS.

To say the response has been overwhelming and humbling would be an understatement.

The amount, quality, and diversity of high-level, purpose-driven, discourse-raising work that subscribers are engaged in is to me, and will hopefully be to readers of the 9GS, motivating. It pushes me to work harder, have a greater impact. If you’d like your work featured here, please sign up to the 9GS Email Group, and, after doing so, shoot me a description of your work.

Shine A Light: Tanya Braganti
It’s fitting that the first subject of the Shine A Light series is Tanya Braganti. Tanya and I met in college in Boston, became fast/best friends, and started making music together. To my ears, Tanya is one of the finest songwriters out there (check out her music: HERE).

Tanya’s music isn’t the focus of this piece, however. Rather, it’s her work as a photographer, and the opportunity to inform readers of her current gallery exhibit: A Shot of Caffeine to the Heart.

The show runs daily thru November 15th at Joe -The art of Coffee, which is on 405 West 23rd St. between 9th and 10th Aves in New York.

Tanya has graciously allowed me to post a few images from the show (all (c) Tanya Braganti):

Crescent City



You can see more images from the show: HERE.

I asked Tanya to give me some insight into her work. She supplied me with two things.

This from a Robert Creeley poem:

I began wanting a sense
of melody, e.g., following
the tune, became somehow
an image, then several,
and I was watching those things
becoming in front of me.

And this Artist’s Statement (emphasis mine):

About me and my work.
Tanya Braganti

I’ve gotten most of what I wanted, photographic career wise, by just walking in, quite literally. The coveted Magnum Photos’ internship I was hired for in 1994 was offered to me after I simply walked into their offices on Spring Street, introduced myself, gave the director an earnest look and voiced my aspirations.

The hard part for me has often been deciding what I want to do, and with whom I want to work. Once this is aligned in my head, I go for it.

My mom often bemused “I wish you spent as much energy on your school work as you do figuring out how to get into the front row at a sold out concert.”

To this day musicians, directors, and authors are my main motivators. In portraiture I aspire to find the place where my creativity meets another’s, and shape a visual where reality and romance reveal themselves in one frame. Many of the photographs that stir me emotionally are ones created with few bells and whistles, lighting heroics, or which require four assistants. I’m a purist: a fan of intimate, noble portraiture.

Sally Mann remains my favorite photographer to this day. Never before had I seen such sheer beauty burst from the diurnal. Her work, for me, taps into some kind of archetypal memory, a childhood when “work was your play” and even if you had a fever of 104 you were still in the safety net of your childhood, safety, and home.

Bruce Davidson and Donna Ferrato have always been my main inspirations for the work I create on a daily basis. Their spirits are carried in every photo they take — they are able to wield themselves and their cameras to tap into everyone’s spark; a spark often that their subjects might not even know they had. Bruce Davidson is able to evoke the sentiment of an entire era, with portraits, alone.

My landscapes are, honestly, the romance a northern girl has for the South. Perhaps not based in reality, but of an interpreted notion stemming from literature or song, then projected visually. I want to make pictures of the way a Lucinda Williams song makes me feel. In so many ways, that is redundant, as she paints pictures herself.

Oddly, I always found a strange comfort in “southern tragedy,” from Faulkner to Lucinda Williams to Mary Karr. My interpretative images may not be true or honest, but they unabashedly turn me on.

Spending a month in Nashville opened my eyes to how easy it is to work with kindred spirits (link to your “our people” blog!). When the connection is right and you work with those whose work you truly connect with, things become astoundingly easy. “Down to earth” I guess is how I want to roll.

Some of my favorite challenges while working for the Daily News were when I was given ten minutes in a drab hotel room to photograph some actor.

The challenges have always been to negotiate making money from art. So I finally created a situation (living wise) that enabled me to jump into just shooting what I wanted to (month in Nashville, for example). Of course, pouring energy and heart and hard work into what I loved, actually made me money I’d never anticipated. But without the backbone of my previous “working ant” photography, this would not have been as beneficial.

My time working as a freelance photographer for a newspaper is one of the most valuable jobs I’ve ever had. Having to work in variety of often poorly lit situations, quickly and efficiently, made me the technically good photographer I am today. This sort of work is a passport in to many worlds, and though it can be physically draining and stressful, is in my opinion, one of the life’s greatest possible jobs.

Surround yourself with generously creative, and inspiring people. Accept that which turns you on, and head down the road in that direction.

I have currently started a book, incorporating my writing with my photography.

You can learn more about Tanya’s work: HERE.

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I think every parent has faced the frustration of trying to cook a nice meal for their young kids, having said young kids not eat bite one, cleaning up the uneaten food/cooking mess, and then averring never to cook for them again.

Last night we had half that situation. Annabelle, age 6, who has shown an interest in cooking from an early age, helped me cook. Henry, age 4, who has shown an interest in knives from an early age, did not.

Annabelle ate a good deal of what was cooked. Henry did not.

I expressed my frustration about the half-eaten meal to Marci later in the evening. She wisely said, “You have to just keep cooking with them. Keep showing them that this is something important.”

She pointed out that Annabelle, who had been the fussiest of eaters as a toddler, actually did eat. She noted that the fact that Annabelle was engaged in the cooking process likely had something to do with her being willing to try food she ordinarily wouldn’t have.

She suggested I work harder to engage Henry in the process. I told her I was worried about being stabbed, but said I’d try.

My wife is smart.

I thought about this process later and it made me think of a phrase I’ve been overusing recently: “condition your customer.”

Right now in many businesses, but particularly in arts-related businesses, customers are confused. They’ve been spoon fed for so many years by content providers who have attempted to package the creations of artists into neat, easily-digestible servings of art.

As these content provider institutions are crumbling, and as content creators are increasingly bypassing these middlemen and going direct to their constituents, there is confusion.

The customers are not used to things like: pay-what-you-will, subscription, bundles, free-mium, or any of the other direct-to-fan presentations that artists are serving up. Of course, artists are also confused about how to approach customers.

It’s not that these customers are necessarily opposed to these types of offerings, it’s just that right now, like an unfamiliar food does to a child, they just taste sort of funny.

As customers become increasingly conditioned these offerings will soon go from exotic to de rigueur, and customers will (sorry) eat them up.

The best way to condition customers is to do just what we’ve tried to do with the kids: show them how the (veggie) sausage is made. In other words, bring them into the process.

This process is something that got severely distended in the post-industrial/assembly line era, where companies “packaged” and customers “consumed,” and the customer was intentionally kept none-the-wiser with respect to how the “thing” was made.

What was lost during this time, of course, is the fact that markets are conversations. MARKETS ARE CONVERSATIONS.

In order to condition (and I’m not really comfortable with the subtext of that word; it seems manipulative, but that’s not the intent) a customer, talk to them.

Explain to them, for instance why you are presenting your offering the way you are. Bring them into the kitchen. Let them stir the pot. Create an architecture of participation.

When you do this not only will your offerings become more familiar and less “strange” to your customers, but the customers will take pride in the fact that they were part of the process.

When that happens, they go from customers to evangelists. They have inside information, and will do what everyone with inside information does: share it with others.


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