Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Michael Rubenstein interview - Part B

© Michael Rubenstein

Please read Michael Rubenstein's biography and Part A of this interview. Please also see additional images on his blog and Web site .

Benjamin Rasmussen wrote,
Congratulations on the move Michael. I have loved seeing your stuff come over APAD and am excited to see your work from India.
Thanks Benjamin, I appreciate it.
What made you decide to go with Redux as your agency and what was the process like of getting representation?
I'd been working with a different agency for the past three years and felt that I wasn't getting the attention that I needed. I wanted an agency that would focus on building up a solid stable of customers, would help me build up my "brand" - if you can call it that - and would support the work that I want to do. Redux and specifically Marcel, Jasmine and Laura were great. They were frank about the state of the photography business, what I could expect and were honest about what they thought of my work.

We had a few meetings over the course of about six months, and - at some point during those discussions - we decided India would be a fine place to be based, and I started packing. I think getting representation is about the same as getting a magazine to hire you or a newspaper. You show your work; you have conversations; and if you fit, you fit. If you don't, then you move on. My style and my goals fit with Redux, and I was lucky enough to sign with them.
Now that you are in India, do you have clients contact you with editorial assignments or is most of your work self assigned and then marketed to different publications?
It's a bit of both. I've only been here for a month and with Thanksgiving and the holiday season coming up things are slow. Some of my clients have contacted me or Redux, and I've done some editorial work over here. Most of what I'm doing right now, however, is getting my life and office in order. Finding an apartment, negotiating a lease, and just getting your bearings in a city like Mumbai isn't the easiest thing in the world to do, so that's taken quite a bit of time.

I also am researching stories that I'm interested in photographing and - once I start them - I'll pitch them to Redux and to my editorial clients. I have to say being represented doesn't mean you sit back and let the assignments come in. If anything you have to work harder on your own projects to show everyone you're busting your ass and not resting on your laurels.
Before you left for India, did you spend time in New York showing your book and making contact with different photo editors or did Redux act as a go between.
I sure did, for three weeks in fact. I made contact with some editors myself, but in general, Redux set up most of my visiting schedule.
Mike Young in eastern NC wrote,
How did you get into a career as a photojournalist? From what I've read and heard from other journalists, photojournalism is not one of the most sought-after careers, due to several unfavorable qualities - low income, constant traveling, little or no benefits, etc. Is this true? What aspects of photojournalism drew you to it? What do you like most about your job? Any additional advice that you would give to an aspiring photojournalist?
Thanks Mike, that's quite the question! I got into photojournalism a bit late. My undergraduate degree is in Environmental Policy and Social Movement Theory. I worked with environmental NGOs for about eight years before I decided I wanted to be a photojournalist.

I loved the work that I was doing and I wanted to continue to make a difference in communities that needed help, but working with NGOs was getting very frustrating with Bush in office.

I'd known a few photojournalists in Portland and San Francisco, and I had an inkling that was the direction I wanted to go in; so I quit my job, bought a camera and started to learn as much as I could.

As far as PJ not being a sought after career, man, if you're doing this for the money, good luck to you. I'd say if you want to get rich quick, be a banker or a stock broker. This job is a calling, if you're not drawn to it, pulled to it, don't do it.

For me, I love the constant traveling, meeting new people everyday, working on my own schedule and eating Ramen Noodles. It's fabulous.

As for advice, go with your heart. If you are good at what you do, and you work on issues that are important to you, then you'll be fine. Take business classes if you're in school and intern a lot. If you think freelance is your path, assist a photographer you respect, for a year. Learn everything you can because as soon as you start working professionally, there will be 50,000 other photographers that you're competing with. Good luck!
James M. Martin wrote,
I started out apprenticing at a commercial studio five years ago and have slowly become a photojournalist. I have worked at newspapers and magazines, and more recently for CNET ad CNBC. I am at a point where I can grow more. I feel like now I am looking to take a next step... Should I be getting a photo rep to find work for me?
You should do whatever feels right to you James. Some people have a rep, some don't. I'm new to India and new to photography, and I like having other people to bounce ideas around with and to help me as a go between with my clients. Negotiating is a hard thing to do and then to have to work with the editors directly afterwards can be awkward. I prefer to let my Rep be the tough guy and for me to be the nice one. OK, all of you that know me, stop laughing.

In all seriousness though, having a Rep has been great for me - especially with Redux. They are like full-time networkers, and I often don't have the stomach for that kind of thing. I prefer to make pictures all day instead of being on the phone. For more sides to this question there are four blogs out there that have been going on and on lately about whether to have a Rep or not. Check them out and make your own decision:   Aphotoeditor, John Loomis, Andrew Hetherington and this person, who is a rep.

Good luck James!
How important is an education for a PJ? Why?
I think an education is important for everyone. Do I think it's important to get a degree in photojournalism as an undergrad? No. I think you should study history, anthropology, business, anything but photography. Pretty pictures anyone can do. Pictures with depth, with meaning, intelligent pictures that tell a real story and connect themes, those pictures you can do when you study something else.

Take some photography classes, take some J classes, take an ethics class, but as an undergrad, do you need a degree in photography? No. I went to graduate school for Visual Communications. It was a great experience. I met a ton of people and learned as much or more from classmates as I did from professors. It helped a lot, but without everything I had already done in my life it would have allowed me to make pretty pictures and that's about it.
How are access and legal issues different in Southeast Asia?
I'm a stranger in a strange land. I have to be VERY careful not to piss off the police or the government while at the same time covering issues that are important to me. In some ways, being a foreign journalist in India has helped me get access to places that local journalists couldn't; in other ways, I'm a total outsider; and it can be frustrating. I'm trying to learn the language, and that will help. Other than that, I can pretty much shoot what I want, when I want as long as I'm polite, and I follow the rules of the country I'm in.
What sources do you use to find and research stories?
I talk to people on the street. I use NGOs, local papers, the Internet. Same stuff I'd use in the States. It's no different here.
I'll guess you had the normal batch of shots before heading overseas. I'll also guess water processing and other basic sanitation isn't the same as in the U.S. What precautions do you suggest for Americans traveling overseas? Are these health issues for the local or just for foreigners?
HAHAHAHHAHA. Oh man, shots, did I ever have shots. Just be smart. The water will make you sh_t. Drink bottled water - always. Wash your hands - a lot. Keep your nails short. If you eat street food, be prepared to pay for it later. Bring toilet paper with you wherever you go. Don't bring drugs with you, buy them there; it's cheaper, and you don't need a script - plus doctors are cheap to go to here, if you really need one.
How do you travel there? Do you plan to buy an auto?
We take Auto Rickshaws and taxi's almost everywhere. [I take] the train sometimes - when it's not packed. We may buy a car, but the idea of driving here is absurd. Who knows what the future will bring once we get used to the place.
What kinds of insurance do you have?
We have general overseas health coverage and emergency-evac insurance. Just in case.
How are income and sales taxes handled?
No idea! Wish me luck with that one!!!
What do PJs need to know about embassies, governments and working overseas?
Register with your embassy when you arrive. They can't help you with visas; but if the country is evacuated, they can help you get out. Not that you'd want to get out, but they can help if you have to. I'd say get the proper visas if you can - especially if you're new; don't try to work on a tourist visa unless you've got a ton of experience and can get yourself out of trouble. Other than that, it's common sense. Be safe and make good friends.
What else should PJs know to help them survive in this field?
Mosquito repellent and Imodium. Learn to love them. That and patience and smiles will get you further than screaming and yelling every time.

Enough for now,

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