Tim Soter… blog.

I'm much better in person.

Pride 2017

 

 

 

Sam Gross, New York cartoonist

Recently I was at a lecture at the New York Comic & Picture Symposium at The New School – small gathering, fifteen attendees at most. Waiting for it to begin I eavesdropped on a conversation near me, hearing a man introduce himself as Sam Gross. That name that sounded familiar. A quick Google image search brought up a seminal cartoon from my 70s childhood, a truly tasteless cartoon as they were often referred to, featuring a legless frog in a restaurant.

This was the guy who drew that!? Scrolling down through the other cartoons, I got even more excited. I approached him and introduced myself, asking him if he had ever worked with Mad magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman. “Oh yeah, I worked with Harvey at Esquire. Gloria Steinman was his secretary then.” He paused. “She was a real piece of ass.”

Sam Gross is a working New York based cartoonist, his cartoons have appeared in numerous magazines, including CosmopolitanEsquireGood HousekeepingHarvard Business Review and The New Yorker. He was cartoon editor for National Lampoon and Parents Magazine. He has had several books published of his work but perhaps the best title is “I Am Blind, and My Dog is Dead.”   The Comics Journal, in a wonderful interview with him says this, “While he claims to draw for no one other than himself, Sam Gross’s work in large part emerged from the men’s magazine milieu of the fifties and sixties. Much of the time he’s simply cute: A cat deposits a piece of garbage into a can marked “kitty litter”; a long dachshund chases a stretch limousine down the street, and so on. On the other side of the spectrum… Gross’s world is populated in large part by the handicapped, the homeless, and the slightly horrific, all of whom he humanizes with deft strokes and subtle halftones.

A week after the lecture I reached out to someone who might have a contact for Sam.  I hadn’t thought to get it that night, too awe struck.  It took some persistence but I eventually got in touch with Sam and made an appointment to go meet him at his studio where he works on Wednesday, the day of the week he dedicates to going in and cartooning.

He needed a “headshot” for a book jacket and I was happy for an excuse to come talk and ask a bunch of questions. He kept insisting that he pay me, though I didn’t want payment. I’m not sure who suggested a trade.

While in the studio, an actual studio apartment on the Upper East Side I tired to “stare in” all of the information I could. So many book spines and ephemera, I wanted a day in there just to browse. I asked Sam about the binders. Black binders numbered on the side, i.e. “21,601 to 28,000.” He pulled one down and opened it and inside with pages of original drawings, all three-hole punched, each unique.

“I have over thirty thousand original cartoons in those binders.”

The studio was like being inside a cartoonist’s brain. Credit for his organizational skills has been attributed to his upbringing by his father, a CPA.

We talked some more, I asked more questions some about specific cartoons I had remembered.

Then it came time for him to pick out a cartoon, a preliminary drawing as my payment. “I like your cat cartoons. And the really weird stuff.” He took about fifteen minutes and came back with two, specially chosen for me.

I looked at them both, but the choice was clear. The abstract take on the start of human life. I could not have picked out a better one, glad he had this one in mind for me. And as far as being a preliminary sketch, this looked pretty finished to me, drawn on nice archival paper as well. Money wouldn’t have made me anywhere near as excited as this wonderful barter.

Some other Sam Gross gems…

Olga eats a banana.

Carlisle can jump!

Peter Dorosch for Village Voice

“This bird doesn’t follow a regular clock,” Dorosh said. “He’s acting like a devilish teenager.”

Read the full story in Village Voice.

Two images selected for American Photography 33

Happy to be included in the American Photography 33 book this year with an image selected from a story I shot for Refinery 29.  The piece, titled, “How Going From a Woman to a Man Changed My Perspective” let’s Sal tell his transformation story.  It was a real pleasure meeting Sal who was extremely easy going regarding photographing his body and his daily rituals.

 

Also included in the AP33 selections was a photo from my ongoing series of vertical Environments.  Nice to see this get a wider audience, I love finding this situations.  Nothing makes me happier than a bit of beautiful dry humor.

The reason for making art and possibly for simply “being.”

When I was out to dinner with Duane Michals one night a few years ago, I told him that I was really getting to the point where I was questioning why I should make photographs at all, considering that there were millions of photographs being created each day. “Why should I continue to add to that?’ I wondered. If it was just because the world didn’t have any “Tim Soter” photographs that justification wasn’t enough, it was just my ego. And then I confessed to having wondered what the point was of doing anything at all. I wasn’t depressed necessarily, I just was having a hard time seeing what my contribution might be in the connected digital world we live in now, having spent my creative start in the analog world.

Without hesitating he offered, “The significance is in the doing and the expression is the reward.” It didn’t come out as rehearsed and he said it as a scholar might announce something he had proven awhile back. “All we have is the doing, the act itself… “ Duane said and he reinforced the advice that he’s given out to so many. It hasn’t been done until it’s been done by you. “If you want to take photos of nudes but you don’t do it because you think ‘Helmut Newton has already done this or somebody else’ it really hasn’t been done until you’ve done it…“ “You are the event in the history of the universe, it hasn’t been done until it’s been done by you.” “And the expression is the reward.” he repeated. “The reward is you got to express yourself!’ The idea has been shared.

 

And I had to agree… that was it.

Granting creative permission.

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I’ve had my next book“ForTress” about photographer Arthur Tress laid out to about 85% completion, for most of this year, but I haven’t finished it because it seemed stiff and didn’t have a strong enough narrative direction.  Mostly because it was stiff.  I had been following my design layout from the previous book, which had worked fine for “TIM! GO AWAY!” but what I have to say about Arthur different and the book needs a design that reflects his looser style of thinking.

Over the years Arthur has offered me a lot of simple “outside of the box” ideas.  “Fumetti” was an book idea given to me by Arthur, a simple combination of my two loves – comic books and 4″ by 6″ prints.  He once showed an idea where he soaked a fine art book, a large Paul Strand monograph, in water for a week and then let it dry.  When the viewer looked through this “modified” book the pages would stick together, ripping in sections to reveal spontaneously created montages (see BELOW.)  He has an infinite amount of creative book ideas.

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In that spirit I forced myself into a breakthrough by making color laser prints of layouts and photos from “ForTress”  – and painted on them or added collage.  The battle for me was not wondering if the result was a success or not.  In one spread I had a black rain cloud speaking its way out of Arthur’s camera.  I had been emailing these collage/painting examples to him as I made them but for this one I felt compelled to add a disclaimer.

“The reigning black cloud coming out of your camera doesn’t in anyway accurately describe you, it’s just what came out of my head.”

What he responded with was permissive and generous but also an excellent lesson.  Not many photographers/artists/mentors would respond in this way.

 

“dear Tim

your right !

that is a great collage..of course it does..remember dont censor

it is alright to be critical and sharply cruel

forget the polite.

dont apologise for what comes or oozes out of your head

your not in small minded Kutztown anymore

insightful is never insulting..

dont ask for permission..

very perceptive of you

perhaps cut up some of my book plates!

and combine them with y our new color materials

try to explain through the collages what is my particular creative process and personal vision.?

i can replace the books for you..most anyway

I have moldering boxes of them in the basement.

illustrate you opinions about me that can be negative

 pitiful, sorrowful..

I wont mind I will respect it..

Arthur the Tress..enlightened master for hire”

Chuck Close and Duane Michals.

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When I first was looking for apartments in NYC having just graduated from a school in Pennsylvania, I spent a day in of 1994 wandering around downtown Manhattan which was the only part of the city I knew.  And by “knew” I mean I only really recognized the enormous exterior sculpture on the side of a building on Houston street, right off of Broadway.  (I now know it’s a piece from the early 70s called “The Wall” by artist Forrest Myers.)  From there I could get my bearings and take a right and just a block away was Keith Haring’s Pop Shop.  And that was where I went on every visit to New York.  Which in total was maybe four trips, some in High School, before settling here.

Well on this day as I crossed Houston I saw a face that I recognized from magazines and books coming towards me.  As he passed by I said in a chipper voice, “Hey Chuck!”  and he responded with an appropriate and polite wave without slowing down.  Now I was so excited because this confirmed that once I moved here I would run into everyone who I had ever admired.  It would be reality Disneyland with the Big Apple fully stocked with all of the characters that I had read about in Interview and ArtNews.

Well I moved here and it was some time before I ran into someone like that again.  I would see Willem Defoe in SoHo all the time, but so did everyone else.  A year after the move I got a ticket to go to an opening at the Guggenheim where I ran into him again. Probably fueled by liquid courage I told him the story of how he “wrecked” my NY fantasy.  Not sure that it went over well but I managed to dig out a bad scan of a photo from that night.

And twenty years later I was helping another creative legend make a portrait of Chuck Close.

Duane Michals was shooting him for an upcoming portrait book, surprising that he hadn’t before. Both had collected each other’s work. Chuck offered, “I have more of your photos than of any other photographers.” Quite a compliment.

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Two pictures of Chuck Close that I made, twenty years apart.

 

 

Contracts and the Freelance Isn’t Free Act.

Just last week the Freelance Isn’t Free Act passed here in NYC which certainly is a step towards helping those who are freelance gain some leverage in getting payments that they are owed.  I want to spend just a minute to think about a part of it, which is the language in the bill that states that clients will also be required to provide a written contract to freelancers working on projects for which they will be paid $800 or more.

I can see how this would help many freelancers but I can also envision how it’s going to hurt professional photographers.  I’ve often benefitted from a lack of a contract when I’m shooting.  I’m guessing if you surveyed my fellow shooters they would feel the same.

There is a trend in new contracts offered by clients, editorial and otherwise, to want to grab all of the rights to one’s photographs for a one-time fee.  It’s becoming more and more common.  Photographers can try and push back but in my experience they don’t have the leverage to get these contracts modified.  (Ironically or coincidentally because they is no “photographer’s union.”)  There is always another photographer willing to sign the contract, usually someone who is unaware of the concept of Usage in photography.  Usage refers quite simply to how the client plans on utilizing the images and the price is set accordingly.  There is a different price for using an image on social media versus a print advertisement.  Or using a photo for one time editorial use or being able to use that images in an unlimited capacity in perpetuity (the end of all time and space.)  When I send clients an estimate for every job I am sure to include the terms of Usage.  It lets everyone know exactly what they are getting for the service they are paying for.

So who drafts contracts?  A lawyer who wants to get the most for the company.  Rather than negotiating specific Usage per job it’s much easier (via a lawyer) to say:

1.              Vendor grants Agency, Client, and their subsidiaries, affiliates, agents, representatives, assigns, successors in interest and licensees an exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual license to use, modify, copy, print, publish, display, distribute and prepare derivative works of all or any part of the materials (the “Materials”) created pursuant to this Agreement on media attendee social media channels, internal client recap and Client owned social media properties/networking sites (i.e. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest).”

 

This is taken from an actual current photography contract.  This grab to own freelance-created work is

like paying one month’s rent and expecting to own the apartment.

 

Often times the language allows for the reselling of the photograph by the client.  Or retaining the copyright which means the photographer may not even receive a credit of his/her name with the work and may not even use the image they shot for promotional use.  Now obviously every circumstance is different and needs to be evaluated accordingly but there must be a compensatory value for the photographer to agree to sign off on the transfer of copyright.

So how does this tie in to the Freelance Isn’t Free Act?  If clients and companies are going to be forced to create a standard contract for almost all freelancers, there are strong odds given the current climate that those standard contracts will include owning all of the rights.  Photography has been devalued by a number of factors; proliferation of photographers in a saturated market, incredibly inexpensive stock photography prices and shrinking budgets.  Contracts that require the signing away of rights and photographers willing to sign that contract blindly are an additional threat.

You can read a summary of what’s covered in the bill HERE.

You can read the actual bill HERE.