Jon Feingersh Interview
John interviews leading photographers about the future of stock photography and other important issues.
Jon Feingersh Interview:
John: Jon, I think you are a great example of a photographer who combines creativity, technical excellence, and business acumen. I see you as a pillar of the stock community. Over the years you have generously shared your wealth of experience to other photographers, experienced gained in shooting for numerous agencies and as a founding member of Blend Images. I am grateful that you are again sharing, this time with this interview.
Jon: John, thank you for your kind comments. I wouldn’t do this for too many other people other than you. I feel the same way about you as you described about me.
John: Can you give us a brief history of how you got into photography and stock photography?
Jon: I fell into photography in my early 30’s. Being a product of the 1960’s and 70’s, I never completed university, and needed a good scam to get through life. Photography is one of those crafts where you sink or swim on your own merits, and I was finally ready to work hard at something.
I was fortunate to share a studio with Jim Pickerell, one of the real founding fathers of stock. I was constantly banging my head against the wall, trying to get assignment work, while Jim distributed his pictures and got checks from all around the world. The lightbulb eventually came on.
John: Do you do any assignment work?
Jon: I rarely do assignment work, and if so, it’s only as a trade-off to get access for a location for a stock shoot we’re doing.
John: What agencies are you currently contributing to?
Jon: I am a partner in Blend, so most of my efforts go there. I contribute a particular style of imagery to Getty which I feel needs their worldwide distribution. I had a large quantity of legacy Stock Market and Zefa material which until recently had been at Corbis. All of that has been withdrawn and re-positioned to Superstock. I also work with Masterfile and Image Source.
John: I know you shoot both RM and RF. Are you contributing now, or do you plan to contribute to Micro?
Jon: I would rather pull my eyeballs out with rusted corkscrews than have anything to do with Micro.
John: Do you have a strategy for contributing to the different categories (RM, RF, Micro) of stock?
Jon: I shoot for both RM and RF. But my style, production values, and investment in the shoot lean more toward the RM side, so more of my work still goes there.
John: Do you have any opinions you can share with us about the long-term viability of Micro?
Jon: I don’t think there is any long-term viability for Micro. It seems that Micro has cannibalized the industry, the industry leader (Getty), and destroyed the incomes of most of the truly accomplished professional stock producers. Prices for Micro will increase marginally for the next few seasons, but poor return will force most Micro shooters out. Poor quality imagery that is not being refreshed will bore clients and lead to stagnation at this price point.
John: Do you have a favorite thing, style or subject to shoot?
Jon: What I love about shooting stock is that I can shoot whatever I want, if I shoot it in a way that is commercially viable. Since I enjoy studying trends, history, societal and demographic changes, I apply these mostly to shooting people. For the past 4 years, I’ve combined quite a bit of computer manipulation and compositing in these shoots. I shoot so many different subjects!
John: You have been a top shooter for so many years. That speaks to your adaptability. What kind of “adaptations” have you undergone over the years to continue to excel in this business?
Jon: Change in the business world is so fast these days. What was normal at breakfast is cold coffee at lunch.
Artists have to feel and change and think and relate to the world in new ways every day. It seems that I adapt constantly.
John: What is the biggest challenge you see facing stock photographers today?
Jon: Stock is an idealized vision of the world and has to be positive in nature. Stock photographers have to stay positive while trying to figure out how to do more with less.
John: How are you dealing with that challenge?
Jon: Good meds….? No, seriously, you have to be optimistic in this life. It becomes its’ own reward. Pessimism becomes a horrible energy-sapping vortex that won’t allow you to produce any work at all, let alone good stock.
The other way to meet today’s challenge is to seriously look at the huge, gaping holes in your agents’ collections. Talk to your agency art directors about what are their largest earning picture groups that turn over the quickest, and therefore need to be replenished. Those are what you should shoot.
I say this in all honesty: There is still a great need for excellent stock photography in certain areas, shot in the correct manner.
John: Do you sell any of your stock directly?
Jon: Only if a client contacts me directly. I really should, but I’m too busy producing to concentrate on it. It takes greater infrastructure, more employees, etc. I get bored easily, and have a hard time even finishing up yesterday’s shoot. I would rather think up and move on to tomorrow’s production. So I never seem to get around to laying that foundation.
John: If not, do you have any plans to do so?
John: Do you use your web presence to enhance your stock business? If so, how?
Jon: The only way I use my web site is to establish my bonafides for models or with a potential location.
John: Are you utilizing social media in your business? If so, how?
Jon: takes up too much personal time and steals a person’s energy. In my opinion, when you’re tweeting and MySpacing and Facebooking and Linkedining, you’re not thinking or taking pictures. It’s just bubble gum for the brain. If twitter is so important, let’s see how many people will be doing it in 5 years. I’m willing to take a bet…..
Just one man’s opinion. I could be wrong.
John: Where do you get your ideas from?
Jon: Jeez, I don’t know…. Everywhere. The more you look and see and read (especially read tons of differing magazines) and watch TV and travel, the more you make those synaptic connections that become ideas. It’s also really good to get away from the computer and TV and phone and just think for a while, too.
John: Do you have any stock “heroes”?
Jon: Besides you, John? That’s an interesting question. I suppose Tom Grill would have to be pretty much up there at the top, because he’s been doing it since the first days of modern stock, has been so wildly successful, has made so many excellent images, has been so sharing with his expertise and information, and constantly thinks about his craft. I have a number of others, too.
John: Do you have a favorite image of your own (and the story behind it), that you can share with us?
Jon: Too many to list. Meet me in a good dive and we’ll have a scotch or five and we’ll tell all the stories.
John: I am fortunate that I still wake up in the morning and am eager to get to work. Are you still eager and can you elaborate?
Jon: I am so very fortunate to do what I do. I love it and look forward to each day. It’s rare that I want a day off because when I’m off, I’m still “on”. I think about it at night, on weekends, it drives my family crazy. I just wish I could take pictures with my brain, because I don’t carry a camera around with me all the time. In addition, it’s great to go to a party with all my doctor and lawyer and accountant friends and hear them tell about how bored they are with their choice of professions. Especially after coming home from shooting beautiful girls on a tropical beach.
John: Are you shooting any video, or have any plans to include motion, in your stock business?
Jon: No, I don’t have any plans currently. I’m not sure that the investment is worth the return.
John: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Blend Images?
Jon: I firmly believe in photographers banding together to control their own destinies. It’s just not possible to trust the large agencies to look out for our best interests. They will continue to ratchet the photographer percentage down further and further.
Blend has been an absolute godsend for both professional and personal reasons. I trust the management (full disclosure—I also serve as a board member) to keep the photographers’ interests paramount. We provide a level of artistic support and creative input second to none. Most of my best friends in the industry are Blenders.
John: Do you see the consumer as a realistic market? If so, how do you think that market can be addressed?
Jon: I don’t see myself interacting with that market.
John: Looking ahead, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the world of stock photography?
Jon: As answered in the “Challenge” question above, I feel that you have to optimistic in life. Fortunately for me, I am nearing the end of my career as an active full-time stock producer. Hopefully my revenues will continue to pay out for the rest of my life. I feel that as we come out of this recession period, and many of the marginal producers have been shaken out of the industry, we’ll see a rebound in the earnings of the “true” stock producers as prices increase.
John: What advice would you give someone just starting out in stock?
John: Any advice for us jaded veterans?
Jon: Hold on, keep your chins up, find those holes in the files and fill them with great imagery.
John: And, any last words of wisdom?
Jon: Enjoy life. It’s a one-lap race.