Photography during a pandemic: Thursday, April 23

Join me as we talk about what Covid-19 has meant for our business and creative selves, tomorrow Thursday. Don’t forget to register, as it will enable you to ask questions.

Surprisingly, I’ve had assignments to help keep me busy. But staying safe and protecting others is always a concern, so we’ll be talking about that as well.

Look forward to having you join us!

How to Sustain Your Business as a Storyteller

Running a business will bring moments of truth. Mine came without warning after I voluntarily left my job 5 years ago as a staff photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune. A freelance opportunity had come up that seemed too good to be true. It would be years of regular work and position me well as a storyteller in advertising. I felt that I was ready, both creatively and business-wise, after years of freelance work in photography and video and many years on staff at the Tribune and the L.A. Times.

That opportunity was, indeed, too good to be true. In the rough-and-tumble worlds of mergers/acquisitions and advertising, what appeared to be a 3-year opportunity as a visual storyteller vaporized within a matter of months, to both my shock and that of the marketing director. Our carefully laid plans were thrown out the window and I found myself staring into an abyss, having cleared my schedule in preparation for this opportunity.

So where do you go from a moment like that? How do you survive and thrive in an industry of relentless competition where everyone claims to be a “storyteller”?

Join me and other speakers at the ASMP Chicago/Midwest Strictly Business Seminar this as we share our experiences, insights and much inspiration this January. Early bird pricing ends December 26.

I’m not in charge of the seminar, but I can almost guarantee that you will save a lot of money, and make more, by the advice that we give. Truly, I wish I could have shared these tips with my 2014 self. Someone get me a time machine for Christmas;-)

WGN Radio 720AM Interview

This week I had the opportunity to be on WGN 720AM with Andrea Darlas on her show, “Andrea and the Reporters”, where she interviewed former Tribune photojournalist Nancy Stone, photographer Will Byington and myself on a range of topics regarding our photography. Andrea (center, middle) is such a pro. Have you known someone so nice and so good at what they do that by the time you’re done with something that might stir some anxiety, you’re like, “Wow, that was too easy!”? We talked about storytelling, favorite pictures, why keeping your outtakes is so important, the kindness of strangers, and generally how our careers got started. It was a fun conversation. I hope you can put it on in the background this week sometime and give it a listen.

https://wgnradio.com/2019/09/09/andrea-and-the-reporters-journalistic-panel-will-byington-alex-garcia-and-nancy-stone/

Speaking at the Prism Photo Workshop

Just wanted to give a heads up that tomorrow, Saturday May 18, I’ll be speaking at the Prism Photo Workshop at Columbia College. If you can make it, I’d love to see you. I’ll be speaking at 11am for about an hour about how to take photojournalism and storytelling into other areas to expand your influence and business. I was added a few days ago to the keynote spot when my friend John White had to attend to a personal situation, hence the last minute notification.

For those interested, the Prism Photo Workshop was started by Michael Zajakowski, Alyssa Schuker and Michelle Kanaar with the mission to “provide resources and support for young photographers of diverse backgrounds to tell the stories of underrepresented people and communities with dignity.” We believe it is imperative that news organizations — and the journalists who represent them — are credible, diligent, and reflect our communities accurately and faithfully.”

​Over 100 people have already signed up online, and you can do so too. Or you can show up at the door. Hope you can join us!

Introducing Speakers on Immigration at Chicago Humanities Festival

Everyone has an opinion about border immigration, fewer people have a clear grasp of the facts, and even fewer have the up-close and personal experience to speak from. This Saturday, November 10th at 5 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church/Chicago Temple across from Daley Center Plaza, I’ll be introducing photographer John Moore and former Border Patrol agent and writer Francisco Cantú. Here is a description of the event from the Chicago Humanities Festival page:

Odds are, you’ve already seen one of John Moore’s photographs this year. Before it became a viral symbol of the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border, a photo with the caption: “A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained” was a real-time, real-life scene unfolding in front of Moore, a Getty Images special correspondent. “This one was tough for me,” he said. “As soon as it was over, they were put into a van. I had to stop and take deep breaths.” Moore, a Pulitzer-Prize winner, has focused on the issue of undocumented immigration and the militarization of the southern border. He has earned access to immigrants on all points of their journey, as well as to ICE and Border Patrol agents and USCIS officials. Moore will join us to discuss Undocumented. Former United States Border Agent and Whiting Award-winning author of The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Border, Francisco Cantú will join in conversation.

I’ve admired John Moore’s work for some time. He’s an accomplished Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist who, after traveling the world for Getty Images has been focusing on immigration and border issues for the last decade. It’s an honor to introduce them both.

There will be a book signing after the program.

Hope that we can see you there.

“I have never heard of you,” and the Realities of Getting Known

Keeping visible during a TEDx event presentation in Chicago.
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“I’ve been working in this town for 30 years and I’ve never heard of you”, the head of production at a Chicago ad agency said, impressed by my work but mystified about my perceived invisibility. A well-known commercial and editorial photographer who works for the same editor as I did as a staff photojournalist at the Tribune for years, had no idea who I was at a mixer.

This was shortly after leaving the Tribune. I knew then that things were going to be a little more uphill than expected.

The problem with working at one of the largest circulation news organizations in the country is that you assume people in your backyard creative community might know your name.

I didn’t think it unreasonable. I was one of the more public photographers at the paper before leaving three years ago. I had a Sunday column for years sharing photo tips. I was interviewed on radio and television numerous times, and presented work before thousands at events such as TEDx Midwest, Chicago Ideas Week and Chicago Lit Fest.

I had even worked large commercial jobs while freelancing during my free time from the Tribune, of course under the watchful eyes of that friendly person in Human Resources who would call me on Christmas Eve to make sure my freelance gig was approved by my supervisor.

So to any photojournalist looking to transition to the commercial world, that should be something to think about. You certainly shouldn’t wait until your buyout money starts to fade to get yourself going, because it can take a year of getting to know people before work starts coming your way. The one mistake I regret was not marketing right away after leaving, mostly because I was busy with a big client who helped make the leap possible.

One experienced commercial photographer seeing that I had prepared myself for freelance remarked, “It takes photographers normally 5 years to really get things going. It might take you 3.” I’m at 3 years now and finally things are jelling. I’m very grateful for the projects that come my way through relationships, many of them friends and colleagues who know and trust my work. It’s a lot of fun. It’s been a continuation of our relationships, in different stages of our lives.

So it doesn’t matter if you were a star in your industry. You might have a Pulitzer, put your life on the line in combat and worked in awful and dangerous conditions that would make a studio photographer crumble in fear and stress. You might have won awards in World Press Photo and been asked to mentor the next generation at some of the most prestigious workshops and universities in the world.

But once you leap into commercial or advertising worlds where you may not have as many contacts, prepare to prove yourself all over again to each and every new client. They may have heard of you. They likely haven’t. Either way, they assume you have set patterns and might not understand the sensibilities of project or client management or how to be guided by a creative brief, or more importantly, how to get along in their culture. I’ve written about the similarities of production between news and commercial work, but really, that’s all logic. In the end, we all make decisions based on gut and emotion.

The good news is that, if you ever learned to accept the editor phrase, “what you have done for me lately?” you’re well-prepared for future humility and the constant need for self-promotion.

There is another silver lining – proof you can have a career in photography without being known whatsoever. It’s not uncommon for me to stumble upon a commercial photographer or director I’ve never heard about, happily and successfully working for years in the city, oblivious to his need for a big reputation. He just knows the right dozen people to make a great career.

So I hope this is a great kick-in-the-pants about getting known before you hang out your shingle. One person’s “superstar”, which I was once called at a photo conference (true story), is another person’s unknown character lingering at an APA networking event (also true).

In the end what I’m discovering is a truism:

Being known helps create a relationship. Having a relationship brings trust. Trust brings work. And that process takes time.

Many photographers feel that social media fame is the way of the future. You see twenty-somethings getting offers of work from brands eager to connect to their audiences. Indeed, on assignment, I was impressed by the kitchen that McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook had devoted entirely to Instagram influencers. But I know a lot of very busy commercial photographers whose Instagram followings are abysmally low by superstar standards. It’s because they are proven talent – experienced, reliable and dependable. Your real life social network can be just as valuable as your online social network.

It all reminds me of a surprising conversation I had after a talk about storytelling I gave at the SoHo House here in Chicago. I was sitting with a group of photographers, talking about self-promotion. After I finished saying something about what it took to find new clients, a complete stranger across the table said to me, “You really disappoint me.” I stared at him, mystified.

Then he says, “If you, with all your experience and reputation, still have to work hard to find clients, how am I ever possibly going to make it? ”

I felt bad for him and didn’t know what to say. Honestly, I imagine it would be hard to start from scratch in today’s competitive photo world.

The first thought that occurred to me, sitting at an exclusive club of creatives from various industries, reflects a reality any self-employed person can relate to:

“Welcome to the club.”

Come to Cuba with me and the New York Times!

Cuba-Travel-New-York-Times

As an independent photographer, little did I realize that you don’t actually have to be on staff at the New York Times to be a guide for a Times Journey. A friend there recommended that I reach out to be one of the “experts” for their educational trips to Cuba. To my delight, based on my background and experience, they accepted. I will be on the Feb 19-27 trip, giving short talks about various topics of Cuba while we make our way to various destinations. I say “our” because you’ll be there, right?

A Times Journey is very cool. The excursion brings you to a locale based on their institutional knowledge and contacts of the location. In Cuba, it’s 9 days and 8 nights. On the link above it takes you through what will likely be the itinerary, day-to-day, in Cuba. I looked through the itinerary and was impressed. I’ve lived in Cuba for some ten months starting since 1995 and was intrigued with some of the places that they’ve arranged.

For example, I don’t know how you could possibly get a tour of Granma, the party newspaper, without an organization like the New York Times arranging that kind of meeting. We’ll also visit the beautiful and eerily prehistoric Viñales Valley, as well as visiting Las Terrazas, a sustainable community in the mountains of Sierra del Rosario and a Unesco‐designated Biosphere Reserve. We will be busy meeting interesting people, including tobacco farmers, a world-class artist, Afro-Cuban dancers, a famous chef, an art historian, gender rights activist, architect and planner. In between we’ll be seeing the colonial architecture, the lush countryside and above all the people. I’ll see if my cousins and uncle can stop by… Once you get a flavor of Cuba, I think you’ll be planning your next trip.

If you’re a photographer, not only will you be getting an education from a New York Times tour, but photo advice from me in a small group setting. It’s not a photo trip per se, but we’ll have lots of time together, as I’ll be with the group throughout the trip, except when people want to go out on their own.

Obviously, above are the plans but they can change since there’s some time between now and then. That’s part of the adventure, right?

If you’re thinking about it, don’t take too much time to decide. The January trip is already sold out. One of my former editors at the Tribune already signed up, and I imagine Cuba is in everyone’s mind to visit, especially during the winter. (I don’t get paid anything for recruiting students, or by how many sign up – I’m only letting you know as a courtesy)

If I can answer any questions, shoot me an email!

TedX Midwest Youth – Of Story and Hope

TedX Midwest Youth – Of Story and Hope from Alex Garcia on Vimeo.

I have a heart for high schoolers and the decisions they have to make, especially on the cusp of graduation. It’s a little disorienting all the freedoms coming their way. Especially with the power to drive, teenagers can make decisions that shape their lives for years to come. When you’re a teenager you may not realize the implications of all your choices, but you do in hindsight. At this particular talk, we were asked to impart advice to hundreds of top students gathered from high schools around the Chicago area. I settled on some of the most important lessons for young people based upon my experiences as a photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune (I’ve since left the newspaper to pursue a freelance career). I was joined by MIR Space Station owner Chirinjeev Kathuria, Entrepreneur Emerson Spartz, top Google engineer Brian Fitzpatrick, and serial mountain climber Samantha Larson. I reference some of them in my talk. (There are a few spots of rough audio that were outside my control).
My highly subjective guiding principles came down to these:
1. Pitch and Practice
2. Create a Visual Buzz
3. Polish to Excellence
4. Calculate Risk
5. Dream and Plan
6. Don’t Drop Trou (not what you think)
7. Blink Your Eye
I talk about the power of story in shaping a life, but ultimately the greater theme is hope. Thank you for giving it a listen and sharing it with those who might appreciate it.

Speaking at Casa Central

Casa-Central-Week-of-Hope

 

For 60 years, Casa Central, the largest social service agency in the Midwest,  has been transforming lives in Chicago – with a special emphasis on the Hispanic community. The organization is on the front lines of providing education for children, health services for seniors and help for families struggling to be self-sufficient. With the finances of Illinois in deep trouble, cuts to social services and those in need are just around the corner. Organizations like Casa Central deserve all our support. On June 1st, there will be a reception for its annual Week of Hope. Please consider attending the reception and learning more about this organization. More information can be found on its website. I’ll be presenting images about healthcare in Cuba and famous chef Carlos Gaytan will be working his culinary masterpieces. Hope to see you there!