IN-DEPTH

with a SaaS-enabled, Data-driven Marketplace

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The Business of Photography is Broken

Introduction

Have photographs lost their economic value? One might make that case by connecting the dots, starting with the consolidation of photo agencies, then the transition from film to digital image capture, followed by the conjunction of crowd-sourcing with the World Wide Web and social media, which ultimately led to underserved publishers (particularly those looking for stock photos) and the sorry circumstances that challenge photographers who try to earn a living today. The good news is that photography (both still & video) remains vital to every aspect of commerce. Business needs photography. Its demand is both enduring and universal. Living, breathing photographers are in no danger of being replaced by artificial intelligence or computer-generated imagery because, if it were even plausible to supplant cameras and lenses entirely with algorithms, the mind’s eye of a photographer would still have to invent — and code — those algorithms: what would be seen as a photograph. …


PHOTOGRAPHY

Watching the Balloon Roll Away

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Kitty Hawk at Dawn Over the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the Outset of the First Transcontinental Balloon Flight / ©1980 Tom Zimberoff

Part One

A Time magazine assignment took me to Sausalito to cover the outset of an historic journey: the first non-stop, trans-continental flight over North America in a balloon. It would be a milestone achievement in aviation history. Kitty Hawk, referencing the most singular aviation milestone of all, was the name of the craft (the gondola, actually), co-piloted by Maxie Anderson, a businessman and gubernatorial prospect from New Mexico, and his son Kristian. Maxie helped pioneer Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta, an annual mass ascent of hot air balloons, arguably the most photographed event in the world: five hundred gargantuan confections arrayed willy-nilly on terra firma then loosed from gravity by igniting an open flame underneath each one. …


My Portrait of Alexander Haig

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A powerful black sedan sped through the capital chasing two American flags whipping above the hood. A short motorcade kept up behind in single file. The streets were essentially empty of other automobiles; a smattering of Russian jalopies, rows of miasmatic buses. This was typical on any given day in 1981. Traffic was bicycles, thousands and thousands of them pedaled by uniformly-costumed commuters; men and women buttoned up to their chins in ill-fitting tunics; green ones and just-as-baggy blue ones. Many of them wore caps adorned with a red plastic star in front.

Daylight spilled inside the Hongqi limousine from a turbid sky through windows that framed what looked like a newsreel streaming by. I sat on a jump-seat facing the secretary of state; the two of us alone in back. He was in shirtsleeves, shuffling loose-leaf documents on his lap and casting glances through half-readers raked down the bridge of his nose at a newspaper laid out beside him on top of his jacket. He seemed distracted: a sigh, a deep breath, a backhanded brushing-away of his tie. …


My Portrait of Gore Vidal

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Portrait of Gore Vidal with Basket of Tomatoes / ©1982 Tom Zimberoff

Gore Vidal, that perspicacious paladin of the pen, wielded a sharp nib and was keen to skewer his opponents with it. Those who were foolhardy enough to joust with him orally were soon exsanguinated by a tongue-lashing and should have known better than to engage in a battle of wits only half-prepared. He had a mean streak and was unapologetic about it. “Beneath my cold exterior,” he claimed, “once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. rounded off his well-connected name as he thought would befit an aspiring author. As Gore Vidal, and no longer merely aspiring in 1960, he made his political debut in an unsuccessful bid for a Democratic congressional seat from his home in New York. It’s worth mentioning that his maternal grandfather, Thomas P. Gore, was one of the first two United States Senators from Oklahoma at statehood in 1907. Much later, having established himself in California, Vidal tried politics again, pitting himself against the state’s erstwhile “Governor Moonbeam,” Jerry Brown, in a race for the Senate. Moonbeam wasn’t Vidal’s invention; it was Chicago newspaperman Mike Royko. But the moniker was useful to Vidal in the Democratic primary, given that “Piccolo Pete” Wilson and Maureen “Big Mo” Reagan, the president’s daughter, were his challengers on the Republican side. …


The Mile High Club Takes a Dive

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© 1973 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved

My friends Tim and Penelope invited me to meet them at their house and drive to a bar in Oakland. It was our first visit to Eli’s Mile High Club. A “dive” was how they pitched it. Not a dive bar because that would have been redundant. Everybody knew dive meant lowlife saloon, or a honky-tonk if there was live music. And it was taken for granted to be blues music, if not R&B, unless it was country; but a crude joint in any case. Eli’s fit that mold, rough around the edges. The neighborhood that is; but not so rough you’d expect to see a fight break out inside. Well, not unless you count Eli getting murdered by his girlfriend. Knifed or gunshot, I don’t know. It happened. But other than that, simply speaking, a dive is where you check your conceits at the door and enjoy some cheap liquor. Maybe plunge into a pity party. Often alone. Once in a while with friends. …


A Personal Reflection

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Is anyone else reminded of Yeats’s “The Second Coming” — the widening gyre . . . the center cannot hold . . .? Forget the next verse with its biblical overtones because, before one reads that far, you’ve already got, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. That’s enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone.

The human species is locked in a cage fight with an indifferent foe. It has no fists, no fangs or claws but it is a cunning conniver of the healthy and optimistic who would doom the vulnerable. Darkly droll, abetted by the insidious curse of narcissism, it could be the Boomer Doomer slouching toward Bethlehem. “It’s one person coming in from China,” snuffled our Narcissist-in-Chief. “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” …


STORYTELLERS IN FOCUS

My Portrait of Pat Morita

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Noriyuki “Pat” Morita / ©1980 Tom Zimberoff

He was indeed “The Hip Nip.” That’s how Pat Morita introduced himself. So, don’t be offended. It was his shtick.

Stand-up comedy aside, he was famous for playing Matsuo Takahashi — Arnold, that is — on TV’s “Happy Days” and, of course, Mister Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” on the big screen, for which he earned an Oscar nomination. He also added a footnote to American cultural history with his heuristic approach to car care, a lesson in being resolute: “Wax on, wax off.” Every teenage boy since 1984 has milked that line for laughs. Of course, Morita played many other roles; but just for the sake of one character’s name, my favorite was Ah Chu on the TV series “Sanford and Son.” Making his own professional name in show business was a remarkable achievement, considering how he beat spinal tuberculosis as a child. …


ART

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Imagine motorcycles unlike any others you’ve seen before; ornate mechanical confections; Fabergé eggs with engines, exquisite but hard-boiled — and big; resplendent in the variety of their design and spectacular enough to be arrayed on pedestals in a museum. In fact, they were.


PHOTOGRAPHY

I am lucky to live in a city filled with world-class music and dance, including its namesake San Francisco Ballet. I attend performances as often as I can. When the opportunity came along, in 1990, to hang out with some of the elite dancers in this ensemble, photograph them, and pretend to be their choreographer of sorts for a day, I didn’t hesitate.

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Principal Dancers of the San Francisco Ballet in 1990 / L to R: Shannon Lilly, Jennifer Karius, Galina Alexandrova, Elizabeth Loscavio; Bottom: Alaina Albertson © 1990 Tom Zimberoff

Early that year, I got a call from a Southern California boutique agency, John Creel Advertising, representing the French eyewear manufacturer Vuarnet. It was an inquiry about bidding on a shoot for their Ziari brand of sunglasses to appear in the British fashion magazine Harpers & Queen. …


If fetal alcohol syndrome could invent a marketplace, it would look like Getty Images.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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Well, there’s nothing wrong with the photograph itself (albeit it is “flopped.”) Great shot. Kudos to the photographer. As for the two banking institutions that published it, and the licensor who offered it to both of them, yeah, everyone should learn, grow, and focus on what matters!

The picture on the left is a screen shot from the CapitalOne website, its splash screen in fact. I see it regularly because that’s where I bank.

I came across the picture on the right, having stepped inside a Wells Fargo branch office with an acquaintance. …

About

Tom Zimberoff

ARTREPRENEUR, PHOTOGRAPHER, CLARINETIST, MOTORCYCLIST Fate follows the path of least resistance. Success follows the path of maximum persistence.

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