My Lecture at Speos Photography School

Last week, I gave a two hour lecture at Speos Photography School in Paris to their current students. As you may already know, I was a student there myself in the Creative Documentary and Photojournalism program with Magnum Photos from 2015 to 2016 so I was elated at the invitation. Did this mean I kind of made it?! Am I FINALLY famous?! Just kidding. 

When I was a student, I went to maybe two evening lectures even though attendance was mandatory. Most photographers who came to speak to us usually just boasted about their work and accomplishments which absolutely did nothing for me (not to mention the EGO! Just so much ego.). I've only been a "pro" for 1.5 years so I am in no way an expert but I wanted to genuinely help the students. I wanted to tell them what I wish I had known so I spent weeks brainstorming what topics to discuss.

If you know me in real life, you know I am blunt. I tell it like it is so I decided to apply this to my lecture--I wanted to be 100% honest about my career and the industry (I also curse like a sailor so there was a lot of cursing involved, désolé). Because the students received the lecture so well, I decided to do a quick blog post to highlight my main messages (link to the actual PowerPoint slides below)! I hope you find this post helpful because I haven't slept in almost three weeks but here I am writing this out for you.

(NOTE: this lecture was catered to Speos students, as you can see in the slides, but I have framed the blog post to be relevant to ALL photography students.)

*I started the lecture with a quick overview of all the different types of work I have to do to make a living as a young photographer in Paris, France.*

I think it's so so so important to take advantage of your education. I mean, you paid for it, right? I really wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for my teachers at Speos so if you are a student there now, befriend your teachers/school staff (Leonardo, Bernard, Claire, Elise, Philippe, Eva, Anne-Claire, Pierre-Yves--thank you for helping me get where I am). All my teachers helped me bridge the gap between being a student and a pro. As a student, you need to master how to: compose, use light, shoot manually, edit, sequence, speak AND write about your work, and print. Don't leave school until you nail this shit down. It's also really important to have a SUPERB website and to kill it when it comes to portfolio reviews (Hi, Claire (image management teacher)). Also, don't call yourself a "street photographer." Being a "photographer" is good and hard enough. 

Before you continue to the business module or graduate from Speos (depends on the program you are in), you have to do a round of portfolio reviews! First you have to figure out HOW you want to present. As a student, I decided to make borderless prints on my favorite "fine art" paper (Harman by Hahnemühle 300g). I found this paper after spending hours with Philippe's (printing teacher) little booklet of sample prints from Picto. Choose the paper that speaks to you. EVERYONE I show my prints to ask what paper I use since it works so well with my aesthetic. I personally print with Picto in Paris because they are fast (and up until recently, I had a pretty sweet discount) but there are a lot of boutique printers out there (for example, I plan to work with Diamantino Quintas of Diamantino Labo Photo next!). 

I literally roll my eyes when people show me prints and ask to wear gloves but if that's the style you want to present in, you do you! When did photography get so pretentious? I also find plastic sleeves extremely tacky. There are creative ways to present your work without boring the viewer to death. My graduation portfolio was 20 borderless prints presented in a box decorated with stickers (few from Supreme, others from my sticker collection). I wanted it to be completely mine. I wanted my prints to be touched, the way childhood photos were touched. I wanted people to question, "can I really touch these nice prints?" I wanted to start a conversation with the viewer. I wanted my prints to get fingerprints the more people looked at them. BE CREATIVE, don't conform to the norm!

(SIDE NOTE: As a pro, you are expected to show 1-2 series MAX, each series being 15-20 photos. As a student, I showed 1 series.)

Les Rencontres d'Arles Opening Week is the best fucking week of the year. When I am depressed, my partner Anthony will bring up Arles and I will perk up. It's that good. There are two festivals taking place simultaneously, Voies Off and Les Rencontres d'Arles. It's just a week of nonstop photography love. The city itself is also fucking beautiful, I mean Van Gogh lived there (where he cut off his ear!). Basically if you are in photography, you need to be there. There are literally hundreds of exhibitions, Cosmos Arles Books (the best photography book event ever), and every photographer and photo editor you dreamed of meeting. I hear Martin Parr's voice on the streets when I am walking around, trying to digest the eggplant lasagna I ate at La Mama, and I turn into a fan girl. I even bought Harry Gruyaert ice cream once in Arles. *SIGH* Arles is a place.

Let me shut up and tell you what to do in Arles: Go to exhibitions (if you don't see every exhibition in Les Rencontres d'Arles, shame on you), visit your exhibition at the Speos house and stay there to present your work, buy books, explore, take photos, meet strangers and talk humbly about your work, have fun, eat at La Mama (reservations required), find me and say "Hi" to make me feel famous. It was during my Speos student exhibition at Voies Off that I befriended a lot of editors, photographers, and even got my work in Modern Blocks.

When you come back to Les Rencontres d'Arles after a few years of working, you can THEN start doing portfolio reviews. Doing portfolio reviews as a student in Arles is the biggest mistake you can make. I thought I was ready and I am so glad Pierre-Yves (Director of Speos) told me to chill. Also, get to know Pierre-Yves. He's a very successful photographer and he will buy you beer. 

The industry is fucked because there's someone with a camera willing to work for free (aka "exposure"). A French editor I admire asked me why I was still in Paris, "The French Press is dying if not already dead." The market here (and basically everywhere) is extremely saturated that editors/clients know there is someone out there who will do it for free. Do you ask your lawyer or doctor for free services? Do you go into Chanel and ask for a free wallet on chains? We also have bills to pay, rent due every month, taxes to pay, etc. If you are good, people will pay. You will work towards a point where you can turn away work and be selective. Trust me, I didn't see it at first but I am slowly getting to that point now. I recently saw a book titled, "Real Artists Don't Starve." Keep telling yourself that.

If you start getting a reputation in the industry for working for free, people will never pay you for your work. The photography world is surprisingly very, very small. We can fix what's broken as long as we stand together--DON'T FUCKING WORK FOR FREE. 

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Even I find myself asking myself if I should finally invest in a Leica M10. Why? I have so many cameras, both analog and digital. My Sony A7 works great. It's like we are told by society to have the most expensive and newest gear. 

Honestly, it doesn't matter what the fuck you shoot with. Whether it's a Ricoh GRII, a Canon 5D Mark whatever, a disposable camera, your dad's vintage Pentax, or your iPhone. It's your eye that matters. It's not the camera, it's your fucking eye. I personally use kit lenses even though I have Sygma fine art glass (you try getting attacked by a crazy person in Paris and having super expensive gear on you). I also actually love shooting with my cropped sensor Canon EOS 7D (full frame is great but don't hate others for using cropped sensors). Other photographers don't take me seriously when I'm backstage at fashion weeks and they see my kit lens but let's let the photos speak for themselves ;) 

Brand yourself. Figure out how you want to die (what do you want to be remembered for?). Calculate your rates. Build your portfolio. Take workshops every now and then. Go to portfolio reviews. Enter free contests. Meet people. Know the media (read the newspaper everyday, buy magazines). Meet with editors via informational interviews (Figure this out! Don't just email them, try to meet them in person but be good enough that they actually want to meet you). Learn how to write a fucking email (I cannot stress this enough, I got emails from Speos students after this lecture that had me cringing). Figure out your niche. Stay inspired by going to exhibitions, reading books, looking at photo books, watching movies. 

What I did won't work for you. But I will tell you how I built my network. I try to do lunch with a stranger every single day. I genuinely love meeting new people and this has helped my career immensely. I also kept in touch with almost everyone Speos has introduced me to, including my teachers. Facebook groups are a great way to meet people (I have one with 600 members called Creatives in Paris), I also message people randomly on Instagram. Moreover, I visit exhibitions religiously and have a huge photography book collection of my own. I'll leave you with a list of my favorite books, museums and book shops in Paris, and films to help get you started!

Films: Il Sorpasso, anything by Federico Fellini, La Grande Belleza

Books: (First three* taught me composition, the last two I always go to for reference)
The Decisive Moment* by Henri Cartier Bresson
Roma* by Joseph Koudelka
Sergio Larrain* 
Photographer's Playbook
Read This if you Want to Take Great Photographs by Henry Caroll (PLEASE BUY THIS!!)

Bookshops: 0fr, Le Bal, 7L by Karl Lagerfeld, Mona Lisait (discount store but I ALWAYS find treasure), Artazart

Museums: Jeu de Paume, The Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Le Bal, Palais de Tokyo, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson,Polka Galerie, in)(between gallery, Centre Pompidou, Magnum Photos Paris Gallery

BONUS! BEST KEPT SECRETMagnum Photos Archive (just fucking look, it's free!)

My three favorite quotes that keep me going:
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”--Oprah

“Get a good pair of walking shoes and...fall in love.”--Abbas

"Be so good they can't ignore you."--Steve Martin

Hustle but have fun. Have faith in your work. Be human first, photographer second. 

If you are interested, you can check out my lecture slides here.

Magnum Photos Workshop: Visual Storytelling with Emin Özmen & Cloé Kerhoas

I just completed a weekend workshop at Magnum Photos and felt the need to share my experience. So here is my first workshop review!

I am where I am today as a photographer and human because of the Magnum Photos x Speos Creative Documentary and Photojournalism program. I learned how to see and tell the best stories through Magnum Photographers. (Not to mention, we were part of the 2015-2016 inaugural program so we felt super special!)

Abbas taught me how to edit and has given me enough inspiration for a lifetime, Patrick Zachmann taught me how to use light, Richard Kalvar taught me how to enjoy photography, Moises Saman taught me how to be free in my expression, Stuart Franklin taught me composition and how to use color (if you haven't, go read his book The Documentary Impulse. It will make you think!).

Editing session with Abbas. Abbas instilled in us the importance of cheap prints to edit and sequence!

Editing session with Abbas. Abbas instilled in us the importance of cheap prints to edit and sequence!

I remember how in the first month of the program, Abbas met up with us, new fresh-eyed students in Paris, to go to the Philippe Halsman exhibition opening at the Jeu de Paume. It might not have meant that much to him but it meant the world to us. Moreover, the Magnum Photos Paris staff members made us feel like family. Enrico, Joanna, Candice, Andrea...I could go on forever. 

When I heard that there would be a Magnum Photos Visual Storytelling workshop in Paris with Emin Özmen and Cloé Kerhoas of Agence Le Journal, I was super excited! Having had worked as a professional photographer since October 2016, I was in need of some inspiration. I have worked extensively on assignments (if it pays, I'm there!) but I am now at a turning point in my career where I want to tell something of my own. If you are stuck, the best way to free yourself is to do a workshop. 

This workshop was two and a half days long and consisted of 17 students from all over the world. On the first night, Emin shared his work. You can tell a lot about a photographer based off how they speak about their work; Emin was super humble and honest (a great sign!). The thing that differentiates Magnum photographers to me is that their photos make me feel as if I've been punched in the stomach. It's like magic. (If you don't believe me, Google Josef Koudelka olive tree.) Through Emin's photos, I felt compelled to care. Afterwards, we all had drinks in the office to break the ice. 

DAY 2 SATURDAY: We learned how to pitch our own stories--everything from how to correctly write an email to how to connect with editors. Cloé is a well known editor so getting her perspective was invaluable. It was very insightful to hear how even Emin, who I consider one of the world's best storytellers of our time, struggled at times to get stories seen. Emin shared that to create a story, we need vision, motivation, and communication which ties all back to ethics. 

Emin (left) and Cloé (center) going through the photo editing process with prints. Abbas would have been proud!

Emin (left) and Cloé (center) going through the photo editing process with prints. Abbas would have been proud!

We even got to see one of Emin's soon to be published Magnum assignments which helped illustrate his vision-motivation-communication-ethics theory. Hearing about Emin's process, from being on assignment to editing at home, helped us understand how it works. Using the prints, we were able to come up with an edit of 20 photos. I had to sadly step out for a few hours to shoot the March for Our Lives Paris protest but I ran into Richard Kalvar there so it was okay! Coline, the Magnum Photos Education Manager for Europe, was nice enough to catch me up on what I missed.

Richard Kalvar shooting at March for Our Lives in Paris, France.

Richard Kalvar shooting at March for Our Lives in Paris, France.

DAY 3 SUNDAY: We had a packed day of portfolio reviews and seeing one of Emin's films. As a photographer, it is very scary to venture into video. I can shoot videos fine, they are just moving images, but when you add in editing and sound, I am lost. Emin was the first photographer who shared with me how he works with a team to come up with a final product. He even said, "...sitting behind the computer is not my favorite thing." I left feeling more confident and eager to work with video if needed. 

Group portfolios scare the shit out of me. I've done many portfolio reviews but group ones really kill me. I almost had a panic attack and Emin, a conflict photographer, could feel my uneasiness that he asked me if I was okay! Cloé and Emin gave us honest (tough love) feedback so we left knowing exactly what we needed to work on next. Cloé stressed the importance of listening and not talking too much during a portfolio review. Those who had prints were able to learn how to edit. Through this exercise, we also learned a lot about ethics in photography (DO NOT CROP!).

Emin also shared with students, names of photographers we should be following and looking at. He also stressed the importance of watching movies, looking at books, and going to exhibitions. I truly believe this is key! By studying the work of the greats, we learn about composition, light, and how to see. As a student, my peers and I spent hours in the Magnum Photos bookshelves, looking for inspiration and to learn. 

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Another reason it is so important to refresh with a workshop is because you can meet some amazing people! I met some local artists and photographers who I would love to help and collaborate with one day, a really accomplished architect from Prague, and a cinematographer from Canada who I am already planning a project with. Emin stressed the importance of community and I left with new friends and new photographers to follow. 

Not all photographers are teachers but Magnum Photos goes the extra mile to ensure that students in their workshops leave with new insights, resources, and inspiration. Check out their workshops here!

A huge thank you to Coline, Magnum Photos Education Manager for Europe, and to Emin and Cloé for their time and knowledge.