Working For Free

Saturday, February 13th, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott

Photo via

I regularly check the craigslist job postings here in Paris to try and pick up the occasional web project and was recently struck by the following ad, which I would say characterizes most of the job postings I find on craigslist:

We are looking for assistants to help an artist with a variety of different tasks in [artist’s] atelier. This weekend we will need 3 to 4 enthusiastic and energetic people to help paint a large sky and walls of an imaginary village.
No experience necessary, simply the will to be creative over a weekend and perhaps longer if you happen to be looking for experience within an artistic environment.
Please apply immediately if you are able to help us.

And under the heading “Compensation”, it simply says “Experience”.

Now, forgive me for getting my knickers in a twist, but this strikes me as suspiciously close to Tom Sawyer painting a fence, and annoyingly typical for art and photo jobs in general.  If you don’t believe me, witness the flap over James Nachtwey‘s unpaid internships – here, here, and here.

I won’t get to into this particular instance as this was aeons ago in internet time, but, in Nachtwey’s defense, this behavior is industry standard.  Which is completely fucked up.  Yes, I realize you don’t have a budget to pay someone to paint your fence/spot tone your photoshop file/photocopy War and Peace/get coffee for everyone in the office, but assuming that your potential intern has nothing but time and can pay for him/herself for the duration of the work period is essentially asking them to subsidize your business.  And yes, I know it’s an educational experience, but how widespread unpaid internships are goes way beyond any pay-off in educational terms.

An internship is an opportunity to learn something significant about an industry, not an unlimited and free source of work to do all the things you don’t want to pay someone to do.  This is ethically indefensible, and to top it off is ruining the industry.  By ensuring that the only people who can build up experience are those who can afford to pay for it, you’re essentially closing the door to anyone who can’t afford to pay for it. So the only people who can become photographers/artists/creative types of any stripe are those whose parents can set them up with a budget to live off of while they work their way through an expensive college and then unpaid position after unpaid position.

I realize that this is not the typical case here in France: here, instead of doing an internship at university, all internships are paid (for a third of minimum wage which, you can imagine, is not enough to live on), though you do them after you graduate, repeatedly, until someone offers you a position, typical when you’re 27-30 years old.  Oh, and because of the payment, employers tend to altogether ignore the educational aspect of the process and you spend the time doing database entry or filing. So, yeah, Socialist France is the paragon of an enlightened economy in this case.

And though working an unpaid position is not something the typical freelance photographer will do, being asked to work for free, provide photos for free, shoot an entire project on your own money and time and then show it around until someone picks it up for a pittance, or being required to pay to be featured on the pages of an-unnamed-here-but-very-real-blog are all examples of the typical economics of this industry when people will not accept that yes, it’s a lot of work, and no, it’s not acceptable to foist the costs of that work on people farther down the employment ladder.

Paris Photo

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Timofey Parchikov
Timofey Parchikov
, from ‘Peripheral Vision Moscow’

Paris photo ended yesterday, as I’m sure you’ve probably realized if you read photo blogs.  I’ll be splitting observations and related matters over 3 posts as a few very distinct issues came up.  This first one will be on the topic of the fair itself, whilst the next one will be on the state of the photoblog world (a topic of a type of satellite blogger meeting organized by Laurence Vecten of LOZ), whilst I’ll address ‘The New Weird’ stuff that I’ve been mumbling about in the one after.

So, the fair.  First off, I’ll say that, of the 3 Paris Photos that I’ve been to, this one was the best.  That being said, the previous two didn’t set much of a high bar.  Which is not to say that the organizers habitually do a terrible job, but rather the very structure of the fair is really really hard to take.  For one, you have so many people there that you almost have to elbow spectators aside in order to see a piece.  Second, fairs are commercial affairs, so the only organizing principal is that the work displayed be sellable.  And finally, there’s just so much of it that the work blurs together:  In one of the booths there was a sculpture, which, by sheer fact that it wasn’t a photograph, made it instantly memorable.  Someone made the comment that some kind of ingenious gallerist would rent a Paris Photo booth and show nothing but sculpture and installations and sell out simply by sticking out.

But, with all of those caveats, I still found the fair pretty decent this year.  There was, of course, the greatest-hits-effect where most of the best work I saw I had seen a million times before, but a good portion was unknown to me, helped along by my relative ignorance on the subject of this year’s theme, Iranian and Arabic photography.

I made a concious decision this year not to dart around the fair and instantly note down the names of artists to blog about, but instead to let the work settle in before making a choice of my favorites. In retrospect, that was a stupid decision: On the last day I showed up to do one final look around before writing anything – I lasted about 15 minutes before deciding that after almost 5 consecutive days of drinking and socializing and, above all, looking and thinking about photography, I was done.

That was yesterday – so, today, you can check out the few highlights I have information for or just look around at other people’s round-ups, a list I’m collecting at the bottom of the post.

Bookshop M: Just inside the door of the fair was the relatively uncrowded booth of Bookshop M, a Japanese publishing venture with jaw-droppingly beautifully constructed books. 5b4 reviewed one of their Takashi Homma books (Trails) a little while ago if you want more info.

Olivier Cablat’s Etudes typologiques des effets de causalité observés
sur des individus exposés à des épreuves physiques à caractère podologique
: A hilarious but serious book – There’s a full preview available here.  Note that the English translations are on the left hand side, but only faintly.

Pobeda gallery: My favorite gallery find of the fair – a Russian space with really nice work, including that of…

Timofey Parchikov: Okay, yes, he has a way Flash site, which would normally disqualify him, but the two prints I saw at Paris photo were two moments of “Oh, wait, stop,  yeah, this is why I’m here…”  They were both, incidentally, from the series ‘Peripheral Vision Moscow,’ available on his site.

Arab Image Foundation: Their members seemed like they were everywhere and they presented the centerpiece show of the fair, which seemed somewhat thrown together, but it was enough to remind me what great work they do.

Anders Petersen’s Du Mich Auch:

Be wary of:
Nicely formulated principles and truths.
Useless feelings of guilt and sins
of the past or while we’re at it, a
photography resembling pretty adjectives.
On the other hand, I like private
diaries and family albums.

-Anders Petersen

Hans Peter Feldman’s Voyeur: They published a fourth edition of it and I got my hands on it.  Worth a look if you haven’t seen it before.

Round ups:
Hippolyte Bayard
Horses Think 1
Horses Think 2
The Year in Pictures
Lens Culture’s Preview
Eye Curious
More as I come across them or you leave them in the comments.

Le Bal

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Nicholas Calcott for Le Bal
Nicholas Calcott for Le Bal

So, it’s been quiet around here for the last week – going through the final stages of a website for a project I’ve been working on for the last few months:

Our dream is to transform an old Parisian dance hall, just minutes from Place de Clichy, into a venue for the documentary image (photography, video and film).

A place to present, compare and examine the many possible ways of addressing reality.

A place to question the issues involved in documentary creation; issues that span aesthetics and politics.

A place to debate the conditions in which documentary images are produced, published and seen.

A place to think about what a “document” really is:  part investigation, part experience, part recording and part creation.

A place to explore new visual forms that can convey reality in all its complexity.

Go check it out at

Iconic Photojournalism

Friday, June 19th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

The New York Times
The New York Times (uncredited photograph – a practice they go with when they believe publishing the name of the photographer puts him/her at especial risk)

Sorry, major major deadline Monday, keeping my posting light.  But check out Fred Ritchin‘s blog After Photography for more on the following. He brings to bear an unusually perceptive eye on what has become the rather tired discussion of citizen journalism:

Instead of seeing a few strong images, we will probably need to get used to seeing many dozens or even hundreds of photographs taken, perhaps of the same scene, without any editorial filter. It will demand more of the reader who will have to try and figure out what this mass of imagery is saying. This will also make it harder to wrongly accuse any images of being fakes because so many other photographs and videos will corroborate, to a significant extent, what any particular image shows.

Instead of a single iconic photograph we will often be looking at imagery made by people who, as amateurs, are not schooled in the history of photography–they will be making imagery for information, not to replicate or create new icons. As such, their imagery will probably often be both more original and more awkward, but it may also make it more difficult to find the telling metaphors. In this sense, the imagery will be more modest and probably more credible.

Too many good thoughts to adequately block quote it – you should really read through the original, here.

And I know I went with the professional photography image for this post, but you should really check out the flickr streams coming out of Iran.  An especially good one is that of Mousavi1388.

Related: This youtube video which sends shivers up my spine in admiration.  They’re chanting “Allahu akbar” (God is great), the same thing that was chanted from rooftops during the ’79 revolution.


Monday, June 15th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Gilbert and George
Gilbert and George, 1974

A propos to the reports coming from Venice and Art Basel, check out this article on the professionalization of art that appeared in Frieze back in March:

Interviewed in Thornton’s book, the former Artforum editor Jack Bankowsky observes that ‘You have to understand the pieties […] Seriousness at Artforum and in the art world in general is a commodity. Certain kinds of gallerists may want the magazine to be serious even if they have no real co-ordinates for distinguishing a serious article from the empty signifier of seriousness abused.’ You have to understand the pieties: the weight of an artist’s monograph or how many times their name crops up on e-flux announcements; someone’s preference for reading October rather than frieze; the internationalism of the contemporary art world – some romantic residue of the idea that, if you travel regularly by plane, you must be high-powered because your business reaches far outside your locality; artist names exchanged as collateral by those jockeying for position in the marketplace of curating or criticism. These are the little curlicues that adorn the edifice of the professional arts establishment.

In many respects I appreciate being firmly wedged in the subculture that is the photo world as you encounter fewer self-important markers of seriousness, though as many people have pointed out, most recently Colin Pantall in his ‘How Not To Photograph‘ series, we have plenty of pieties of our own.

Saltz on art

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

Richard Prince
Richard Prince

Nyfa has a post by Hrag Vartanian on a lecture delivered by Jerry Saltz on where the art world is now.  It’s well worth checking out.  I especially liked the following point:

[Richard] Prince, he suggested, “invented a dangerous idea and packaged himself for the corporate boardroom.” He posited that the major premise of Prince’s art was appropriation, and that it was “the idea that ate the art world.”

Bad At Sports

Sunday, January 18th, 2009 - Nicholas Calcott

I’ve been really rocking the Bad At Sports podcast, a Chicago-centric podcast and blog. Its thought provoking, interesting, and covers a wide range of topics and interests. It’s not particularly photo focused, but I encourage a listen. One of my favorite recent podcasts was their interview with Edward Winkleman, of the Winkleman Gallery and Edward Winkleman blog, which contains thoughts on the current economy, the relationship between collectors, dealers, and artists, and advice for young artists. I transcribed some below, but it’s really worth listening to the entire thing.

Edward Winkleman: I think the explosion [of the art market, and specifically the emerging art market], quite frankly goes hand in hand with all the disposable income that the booking economy brought to folks. At a certain point after you’ve got three homes and four cars you wonder what else you might spend your money on. I’ll be honest, I don’t think there is anything as fun to spend your money on as art. I really believe that. Because it’s entire marketing overview is to provide a way for you to rise above the concerns of your day to day life. It’s for you to kind of see something beyond the sort of pettiness that may consume you and keep you awake at nights. Alot of collectors come in [to the Winkleman Gallery] and say, “This is how I relax. This is enjoying for me. This is fun for me.”

Duncan Mackenzie: Where else can you purchase something that you can touch and talk to the person who made it; that you have a very direct relationship with it; that you become a participant in a small community of people who are engaged in a cultural task that is providing an incredible value for them and the history and for that artist and… I feel that it’s really direct. You get to participate in somebody else’s world. But it’s different than buying a car.

Edward Winkleman: No, it totally is. Something my former business partner, Joshua Stern, who got his MFA at CalArts and is steeped in this conceptual approach to artmaking there… And I forget which of his instructors said it, but one of them said, “Really super-wealthy people love artists because artists are the only people in the world who will tell them to go fuck themselves…” And I think, to a large degree, that’s kind of the attraction…

Yay Dealers!

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Roger Ballen, from his ‘Shadow Chamber’ series

This was picked up elsewhere (A Photography Blog, Gawker, More Intelligent Life [who also recently had an article on how the average public is culturing up which is worth a look]) but I couldn’t help reposting this for the sheer bitchiness of the tone. The following is reprinted from a memo that super-gallerist Larry Gagosian sent out to his staff.

If you would like to continue working for Gagosian I suggest you start to sell some art. Everything is going to be evaluated in this new climate based on performances. I basically put in eighteen hours a day, which any number of people could verify. If you are not willing to make that kind of commitment please let me know. The general economy and also the art economy is clearly headed for some choppy waters; I want to make sure that we are the best swimmers on the block. The luxury of carrying under-performing employees is now a thing of the past. [emphasis mine]

Yay recession!

The Gagosian Gallery, btw, shows Roger Ballen, Gregory Crewdson, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and plenty of other non-photography related art stars I couldn’t be bothered to mention.

Paris Photo

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Onaka Koji, from ‘Slow Boat

At this point it was a week ago, but I promised a Paris Photo round up, so here it is:

I spent most of Paris Photo helping out at the booth, which was a good a view point as any. The usual crowd was hanging around – Olivier Cablat, S√©bastien Girard, Thekla Ehling, Oliver Sieber, and Katja Stuke all made appearances and there was quite a few signings there as well. Jeff Ladd, of 5b4 publicly debuted his ‘books on books‘ reprint of Sophie Ristelhueber‘s ‘Fait‘ (which I picked up a copy of and which is excellent) which she was on hand to sign, and Onaka Koji, Guy Tillim, and a bunch of others stopped by to sign many and sundry books. Besides helping with that, the secretive project I’ve been working on (and which I’ll publicize as soon as I’m able) had it’s debut for Paris Photo VIPs, so through it all I was kept pretty busy.

Which is not to say that I didn’t have time to walk around and get my own view of the fair. All in all, the general consensus of this year was that it was a pretty solid show – there was alot of great work up, both contemporary and historical, and well worth the time it took to see it all (I spread my visit out over two days – these fairs are fucking exhausting). Still, though, the consensus also seemed to be that there wasn’t alot of new and great work to see. For my part, I saw alot of repeats – great projects, but nothing I hadn’t seen elsewhere at other venues or at Paris Photo last year: For example, Versluis and Uyttenbroek’s ‘Exactitudes,’ tons and tons of Araki work, Polidori’s Versaille stuff, S√∏ndergaard and Howalt’s ‘Tree zone,’ and Asako Narahashi’s ‘Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water,’ all played big parts in the fair, in some cases taking up entire gallery booths.

Attendance wise the fair seemed to be a big success – lines to buy tickets seemed to stretch the entire length of the Carousel du Louvre – but I wonder how things were selling? Certainly the fact that there was so much proven stuff up on the walls as opposed to new and emerging projects shows the fact that the galleries are buckling down for what they expect to be a rough market over the next few months/years.

Follow Ups

Thursday, November 6th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Walker Evans. Shorpy’s, btw, is a great resource for depression photos

William Eggleston’s Whitney retrospective opens tomorrow. Hence, the publicity blitz. In addition to the W article I nitpicked with earlier, Time‘s Richard Lacayo conducted a much meatier interview with him (split over several posts; here, here, and here) as well as a review. From the review:

Eggleston also doesn’t like the term snapshot aesthetic, but from early on, just like Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, he’s been making pictures that are brilliantly open to the flotsam of the visible world, the little accidents of vision and oddball details that snapshots automatically gather up. He is fascinated by American junk-space, the banal stretches of tract housing and strip malls. But there’s nothing camp or ironic about Eggleston’s work. The power of his pictures rests on their casual but absolute sincerity, their conviction that small is beautiful. There’s something very American about this, a valorization of the commonplace, carried to a level of intensity that can curl your toes. Looking at his picture of a soda bottle simply perched on the hood of a car, you can’t help thinking of what Henry James once wrote about Nathaniel Hawthorne: “The minuteness of the things that attract his attention, and that he deems worthy of being commemorated, is frequently extreme.”

Also, I’m going to promise from now on not to crow over the continuing dismal news from the auction houses. I know, I know, it’s a bad sign, but I view art as rather inevitable, so I don’t see any real harm in the deflating of this speculative bubble… Still, though, I can’t help linking one last thing: AFC has a round up of recent news and speculation.

Also, I’m gonna be on vacay for a few days. Updates next week, as well as the beginning of Paris Photo.