Critics will always exist, that is a hard truth that most people don’t like accepting but when does criticism cross the line from being constructive to rudeness and how should you handle it? You cannot be in this industry and have a thin skin because everyone will critique you. Don’t believe me? Just wait until you shoot a model with body dysmorphia. I caught you smiling because you know I’m right. I had an amazing mentor, Jim Johnson. We came together 8 years ago and I was insanely green with an ego the size of my 700-400 lens that I didn’t know how to use. Over those early years, Jim was consistently kind and offered suggestions for improvement. It was never harsh, it never made me feel bad, I always felt encouraged to try different things and to improve my knowledge. Eight years later and I am gratefully still a student of my craft and will continue to be. I was involved in a shoot in August of 2018 in Phoenix Arizona. I hired the model and designer, I went over the theme, I approved everything and I supervised an amateur on his first big shoot. I encouraged him, I applauded him, I offered tiny suggestions for framing then I stepped back and let him learn and grow from that experience. Since it was a Kate Doster Media sanctioned shoot, the original photographer released the photos back to us and they have belonged to me since. Jim and I worked on the edit together because it was pretty complicated. It was one model playing two different characters, multiple empty chairs and several looks that had to be digitally combined to create one photo. That’s right, one photo, only one and in my eyes, it is perfect. It absolutely encompasses what I set forth in the theme, the lighting was perfect, the facial expressions were perfect and the stars aligned the night that it was officially completed. I don’t title all my work but I did on this one, The Oppression of Woman. I know what it means to me, I know what it meant the weeks I themed it out and I know how I feel when I look at it, but that doesn’t mean that everyone shares my vision AND THAT’S OKAY. I got my first harsh criticism on The Oppression of Woman the other day. Someone called it junk, they laughed at it and left a vomit emoji. I responded politely, looking for some depth and asked if he could share why he felt that way about it. It went from there to ultimately calling me a no talent hack or wannabe photographer or something like that and then told me to “hop along pudgy”. I think that is where I had to tell myself, “this has crossed the line from criticism to name calling and rude” and I had to really stop and check myself and see how much of this I was willing to carry. I can appreciate someone not liking a photo, I can appreciate that I may not be your particular vibe, but my body size has nothing to do with your critique of art. I’ve been reading a fascinating book by my friend JS Park called The Voices We Carry. It has a very poignant paragraph where he says “you have to know that self-awareness is only and fully found in the awareness of others. It can’t happen with only flattery and yes-men. You need brave people to step in and point out the things you’ve avoided. Without the people who are willing to confront you with the surgical truth, you will never be liberated from the lies you believe.” In that awkward silence where I felt personally called out, I realized that’s why I’m okay with a complete stranger criticizing work that I inflated in my mind. It wasn’t his cup of tea and that is absolutely fine. It does me absolutely no good to have anyone stroke my ego and tell me what I want to hear, I can look in the mirror for that. Kate Doster Media will never censor any critique on their work. We accept your truth, even if we struggle with hearing it. One thing I am seeing through my friends book is challenging whose voice is playing in my head. That guy calling me pudgy, am I upset about that or is it some deeply wounded part of me that is taking that comment and spinning it into how worthless I felt growing up? Be grateful for those that love you enough to surgically extrapolate your ego from yourself but be discerning about criticisms that don’t really offer anything constructive.

 

Cheers,
Kate

 

 

These are uncertain times we are in folks, there is no denying it. With the onset of the Covid 19 virus becoming a global pandemic, it has left heartbreak and devastation in its wake. People have lost jobs, businesses have closed, entire cities have shut down and sadly, thousands of people have died due to this horrific disease. We have certainly seen the ugly side of people with the selfishness of hoarding cleaning supplies and people insisting on being in public places with no regard for others. However, one positive thing that has happened is that people are really in touch with their creativity. Whether it is a tik tok video, a neighborhood flash mob while respecting social distancing or an online karaoke community on social media, people are using their imaginations to help stave off the enemy of isolation, boredom.  Change to a routine can be stressful for a lot of people, this creative especially. I applaud anyone out there setting your imagination and your creativity free. Get your dance, your drawing, your photography, and your poetry, whatever it is, get your groove on. Take this opportunity to look around you and see how the earth is healing itself and recognize that we each have something to do with minimizing our carbon footprint. My grandmother lived through the Depression and carried those lessons that she learned from those difficult times throughout her entire life. May we not waste this chance we’ve been given to learn from what we have been doing. We can live with less, we can find other ways to entertain ourselves, we can look for the helpers as Mr. Rogers mother once told him or we can become the helpers. Carry on weary friend and know that we at Kate Doster Media see you; we hear you and we are praying for relief for all.

 

~Kate

I have restarted this blog several times because the words feel hollow, probably because that is what I feel. Two days ago, April 9, 2020, I got a late night call that my mentor and one of my closest friends had died. Even now, it doesn’t feel real. I had just talked to Jim Sunday and we had a wedding to shoot in two weeks except the Covid 19 virus fixed that for us. I met Jim 8 years ago when there was a model/photographer call at a local studio. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was curious so I packed my gear and off I went. I’m pretty sure I put the remote trigger on my camera backwards and felt completely out of my element, but I made connections that night and I made friends. We just sort of fell into this relationship of mentor/mentoree. He taught and I took notes, he pulled out his whiteboard and I took pictures. We watched videos, read books and talked every possible topic about photography. We worked with professionally trained runway models, we worked with amateurs who wanted to become models, we worked with amazing hair and makeup artists and we set theme after theme after theme for years. Jim was an original member of the Doster Roster which was a term fondly given by our production assistant for the teams I would take on location. We’ve gone a lot of places together, including Hollywood but the happiest was when we met in the studio enjoying our tacos and listening to music. We edited together, we laughed together, and we learned from each other. His death has hit me hard but I wanted to share something he told me. He told me once when I was struggling to retain information about the technical side of photography and he said that I had a gift that couldn’t be learned on YouTube. He said that anything technical could be learned but that no-one could direct a set like I could. He said “I can’t even do that as long as I have been shooting”. I’ve never forgotten that. Jim was never one to offer a harsh criticism, even when it was perhaps warranted. He would just say to learn from your mistakes and move on. I started a program about mentorship in honor of Jim two years ago called Send the Elevator Back for Me. I wanted to pay it forward somehow. To the love of his life who he never tired talking about, Donna, his children and grandchildren…thank you for sharing Jim with all of us for these years. We grieve with you and are grateful for the precious time we had. Rip Jim Johnson, I will never forget you.

I have always had a dream of adventure where my life would unfold like the books I read in my grandmother’s attic. I was a dreamer, a writer, a storyteller from a young age. I have been behind the lens in some capacity since I was about 15 so 37 years give or take. It was when I moved into the digital age and picked up my first DSLR seven years ago that I wanted to combine photography and my love of stories and become a photojournalist. Of course, I wanted to be in the trenches in a far away land where I could produce work like Kevin Carter’s starving child and vulture. Last year when President Trump came to Phoenix, I grabbed my gear and went downtown and instead of getting into the area high rise parking structures, I found myself at ground zero. Two sides angrily shouting at each other with me in the middle wanting the story that the photographs would reveal. It got me thinking about how far we have come historically with photojournalism. The Kent State massacre happened on May 4th 1970 where unarmed college students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio to protest the bombing of Cambodia by U.S. military forces. The image of a student crying out over a deceased body can put the viewer into a place where the heartbreaking aftermath is felt over 40 years later. You can’t and shouldn’t erase ugly history, if we are allowed to forget, we are doomed to repeat. There are some photos like Kevin Carter’s starving child and the vulture that spurred anger and hatred for the photographer. Carter photographed the emaciated baby who collapsed crawling to a feeding center. As the toddler collapsed, a vulture landed nearby and to say the photo is haunting is a huge understatement. He had been warned not to touch the victims because of disease, he waited to ensure the vulture did not open its wings and it did not. He scared the bird away and watched as the child continued to crawl to the center. That child did survive to age 14 but died from malarial fever. Carter went on to win a Pulitzer for the photo but took his own life one year later saying “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain”. It became difficult for me at one point shooting glamour and celebrities because I wanted to shoot the stories, I wanted to find that one magic shot that would be seen around the world, the one that would change people at their core. In the current times we live in when so much centers around political correctedness, I feel it takes courage to shoot not just the pleasing or the good side, but the reality. My goal is to shoot the truth, no matter how ugly it looks. We cannot sugarcoat what is happening in and out of our beautiful country. It is time to document, to leave a photographic trail for future generations that reveal what our struggles were. It isn’t necessarily the glamour that sells the photos, it’s the raw, it’s the edgy, it’s the uncomfortable. It’s meant to make you think, it’s meant to bring you to action. Be bold and be courageous. The magic shots await.

 

Kent State Massacre – photo is a stock photo and not the property of KDM

You will be hearing a lot about “sending the elevator back down” here at Kate Doster Media. It came from a discussion with a friend and colleague when we were discussing working with a make-up student. My friend said “that’s why we do what we do, send the elevator back down.” I became obsessed with the idea of exactly how to do that. We started with that make-up artist and it has expanded to my former assistant and now photographer Kimmi and photographer Gabe. I had lunch recently with award winning hair stylist Brynne Dubin of Brynne Nicole Beauty and Sola Salon Studios and she was excited about this campaign, wanting to follow suit in the world of hair to send the elevator back down. When people ask me what it means, I just tell them that when you know, you show; that is the long and short of it. I personally believe that there is enough glory for all of us and it is selfish to horde knowledge just like it is selfish to withhold locations from other photographers because you think it’s a prime spot. I met my mentor Jim years ago and he has never criticized my work in any way but constructively. He has always tempered those early rough shoots with encouragement and that is why I do what I do, because somebody did it for me first. I strongly believe that encouragement and positive affirmations are game changers in someone’s life. What are you doing to send the elevator back down for people in your life? Think about who in your life encouraged you and lifted you up? I can tell you without a doubt who it was for me and when it was. Picture it, 1986, home from college and I was wearing big hoop earrings (trust me, it was a thing.) My mother was having coffee with a younger friend and I came home for the weekend. My mom immediately criticized my earrings saying they were too big and tacky and I looked dumb. Well, let me tell you, my mom’s friend saw the look in my eyes and how my face fell, but I was trying to not cry and show that I wasn’t bothered by my mother’s words. Her friend shut her down like a steel trap and told her how those earrings were the style and very cool and I looked amazing and then she winked at me. My mother was left speechless and she apologized and I felt validated and heard and I never forgot that day. That friend died last weekend and I still remember all the times that beautiful soul validated this creative soul. Take the time to look at who is listening to you, share some encouraging words. Lift them up, drop some knowledge, send the elevator back down and watch your craft, your expertise carry on to the next generation. #sendtheelevatorbackdown

 

It is inevitable that at some point when asked to do a shoot with someone, I am also asked to fix a myriad of perceived problems. The biggest request is can I make them look smaller. I hear all the time, I want to work with you, I love your work, but I’m too fat to be shot professionally. Since I’ve been that women many times before, let me answer you as plainly as I can. Yes, I can make you look smaller, will I? No baby, I won’t, and let me tell you why. I am not a graphic artist, I am a professional photographer, so I’m not going to completely change what I see in my lens. I can’t do that level of disservice to you. What I can do is clean up tiny imperfections like blemishes,lighting, fixing stray hairs and accentuate the natural beauty you were blessed with. Photographers understand tricks like hair and makeup artists do. We understand how certain lighting can make you look older, harsher and how to soften that and how extending your neck like a turtle can straighten out those extra chins you think you have. We also understand that angles are everything! If you are anything like me, seeing photos that friends tag you in can cause massive panic leaving you wondering how many people saw it before you could untag it, then reduces you to this anxiety laden hot mess doubting your value in everything. You are the person I look for to shoot, the one who doesn’t want to look me in the eye, the one who is lacking in confidence, because in the right hands, with the right encouragement, you will blossom like never before. Have you ever looked at an old picture and thought that you wish you could be as fat as you thought you were in that picture? That’s why I say don’t wait, the time to capture the essence of who you are is right now. In a year, you might get some weight off, but you might develop other problems that photoshop can’t fix such as a broken heart. It’s funny how most people can find something beautiful in just about every person they see, but they are struck down with blindness when it comes to their own image. You do understand that your biggest critic is who is looking back at you in the mirror, right? Here is a harsh truth for you beautiful person, life will not wait for you to get thin enough and honestly, you will never get thin enough. I lost almost 200 pounds and still wasn’t thin enough and wouldn’t have felt thin enough until I erased myself. It is a terrible tragedy to think that if something happens to me, the only thing that my loved ones will have to remember me by is pictures I took of other people. Back in the 1990’s I lived in Europe and I traveled all over Germany and spent time in Paris France. I did some pretty amazing things and on those days when I just feel too fat to exist, I remind myself that I hiked the longest waterfalls in Germany, these legs that I criticize every day have wandered every inch of The Louvre in Paris. These hands that I think are turning into my mother’s have been raised in worship in Notre Dame Cathedral. These eyes that hide behind glasses watched the sun set in the Alps on a winter’s night. Don’t hate your body, it’s just the vessel you were born in to travel this amazing planet you inhabit. What you should love, what I love is the look in your eye that tells me you have a story, the smile that enters the room before you do, the laughter I will get when I turn on disco music and dance with you, twirling you around in my studio reminding you that you are brilliance personnified. You are magnificent, you are worthy, you are valued. That is what I will capture in my lens, that is what your loved ones will see. Your body doesn’t define you, it only helps you wander this earth discovering the beauty that is out there. The magic is waiting, just outside of your comfort zone, get moving darlin’ – Kate

I will occasionally get messages from models who have been contacted by other photographers to do a photoshoot and they will want to know if I know them or if I have ever worked with them. This isn’t uncommon in our industry. Photographer’s and models as well as hair and make-up artists have what they call a black list and it is not something you want to be on.  There are certain things that can land you on a blacklist where you are not recommended or referred and one of those is acting inappropriate with models.

Lately, there have been several posts on social media where a photographer is improper with models asking them to do nudes or implieds when they do not list it in their portfolio or even worse, demanding that they not bring an escort to a shoot.

My advice is to not work with a photographer that absolutely refuses to allow you to bring an escort if you want one. It doesn’t matter what the shoot is, if the model isn’t comfortable it won’t translate well in the lens anyway. I believe that it covers all bases by comforting the model, it protects the photographer and as the photographer, you won’t gain anything by making unnecessary demands like that.

Photography is a collaborative effort of creativity be it between many people or between the photographer and the model. It can be magical and affirming to everyone. If you have a bad shoot, don’t let it deter you from finding someone who is a better fit for you personally.

Remember that there are people in this industry referred to as GWC’s, which stands for guys with cameras. These are the people to avoid. Anyone can take a couple of paychecks and go buy a camera, print out cheap business cards and call themselves a professional.

Do your due diligence models, look up portfolios, ask questions, ask for a meet and greet, speak with other photographers and most importantly, go with your gut. The same goes to photographer’s, do your homework, make sure that the model is someone with not just the look you want but the attitude you want to work with.