"Young War Photographer seeking Mentorship"

"Dear Mr Aaron Ansarov,
I am a young freelance photographer, at the age of 29, seeking to open doors of global opportunity via war, international affairs, other.... ...I have found travels in London (uk), Australia, Costa Rica, six months of cultural politics in Argentina, and five years of career development in Los Angeles.  Actually, it took me five years in LA to learn what I did not want to do; in superficial film Hollywood. I found your contact via NPPA.org on list of mentorships. When you have time to respond, I would love to receive guidance of how I may find entry?  Internship?  Recommendations?...
...I have an inherited, inner military spirit, and training via Army ROTC but now find myself seeking ops before I turn 30."

Well, I think the first thing I will say to you is "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it."
I am reminded of that movie, Stand by Me. "You wanna see a dead body?"

I make no statements that I am a war photographer. I have served in the Navy for 14 years. During that time, I have been through Jungle survivial, Desert survival, hostage survivial Evasion and resistance (SERE), close quarters combat, specialized weapons training, expert in pistol and rifle and more. I was in many different places throughout the world in peacetime and war. Thailand, Korea, Japan (even Mt Suribachi on Iwo Jima), Many places in Europe and the US. But what you want to know is that I did three separate trips to the middle east. The first was before the war started doing various "Getting ready" assignments and various combat-missions that where pretty cool. Then at the beginning of the war. "Shock and Awe." I was crossing the lines from Kuwait into Iraq on the back of a truck. One of those wearing chem suit and no shower for 2 months before we took Baghdad. I went back a third time and primarily stayed south and mostly at the oil terminals watching that mess. It was at that time I hurt my back. I spent two years in physical therapy and limited duty before finally being forced retired. And all at the ripe young age of 33.

There are some who seem to think you have to be in the middle of the shit to get the good shots. Take a look at this month's (May2008) NPPA clip Contest winner (on the back of this months NPPA mag). It is very reminiscent of a war torn battle field moment. Got the fire, the blood and charred head. All with the emotion of two men helping another wounded. And it was taken in Nashville. 

I remember when I was stationed in San Diego. I actually was the only photographer allowed on the set of Pearl Harbor while filming in Mexico. Was on the set of a few other blockbuster movies as well so I know what you are talking about with the Hollywood life. It is a different life. I was about to get out of the military in San Diego and pursue another life with a magazine when 9/11 happened. I remember speaking to my professor from Syracuse and complaining to him why I couldn't be there and I should be there to document this. He then told me, "What do you think is happening in your own backyard? This affected everyone. Not just the people who live there, but their parents who live where you are too." It made sense. 
It is not where you want to be, but what you do where you are at (Sounds like something Yoda would say).

If it is carnage you seek, maybe try spending a week or so at your local Trauma center. That was my first experience when I was saying the same things you are and wanting to see the action. I spent two weeks with the fourth largest trauma center in the country (Ben Taub Memorial, Houston). Trust me, on a good weekend, you will see enough to really get a feel for things. Then I suggest spending a week with cops in an inner city. Wear the vest and gear and all that. Live with them, spend time on their teams. Go through the long hours and hot days on the streets, always practicing for a day you never want to have happen. 

There are people out there who are really blessed (or maybe they say cursed) with the challenge of telling the story that no one else wants to tell. They are people whose sole purpose in life is to tell the atrocities of war. No matter whose side you are on. War sucks. Look to James Natchwey's work. Watch his movie War Photographer. To me, he is the man we should all admire and feel sorry for at the same time. He has the gift. He is not what some call a bang bang photographer only out to get the cool shots of people's heads being blown off and bodies flying through the air after an IED blows.

Ever heard of PTSD? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That is sometimes a side affect to seeing this stuff. And that is if your lucky not to get hurt or die. The seemingly invincible Natchwey almost died when someone threw a grenade in his humvee. It was only because of instant bravery of Mike Weisskopf (another correspondent) who grabbed the grenade and tried to throw it away but not before it blew off his hand. They were lucky. Some of my friends were not. I have one in particular who will always be on my mind. He happens to be the first Navy combat photographer to loose his life when some stupid IED blew up next to his Humvee while on an op.

I did two tours as a combat cameraman. One in San Diego and half of one in Norfolk, Virginia. I never got shot at and didn't have to shoot at anybody and I thank God for that. I unfortunately saw a lot of stuff and don't care to remember some things or times. Now I am out and trying to make a life as a commercial photographer. Just like you. I guess the difference is that you are wanting to see if the grass is greener on my side and I know the answer for yours.

I am sure you weren't expecting a long ass email like this, but I guess that is why I label myself as a Passionate Photographer. 
As for your question to me on how you may find entry, Internship, Recommendations; I would say try out the ERs so you can get the feel for the nasty stuff, hang out with the cops to get the feel for the dangerous stuff, then hang out with the fire department to get the feel for the long hours and hot uncomfortable moments. All will give you an experience you will take with you for life.

Then, if you feel like it let me know and I'll give you more guidance.

One of the best things a photographer gets to say to justify why he has the coolest job in the world is this, "I get to see and experience the best (and sometimes worse) parts of people's lives and then leave when (or before) I get bored of it." One thing though. Sometimes you get to carry these things in your head forever.

Hope I didn't freak you out too much. I just want to say the things others may not because of silly things like politeness or political correctness


"I am headed to the DoD Military Photo Workshop"

I was emailed today by someone headed to the Department of Defense Military Photographers Workshop. She is very excited and wanted to know what advice I would give her. This is what I said.
My advice to you is the same as everybody that goes. Don't sleep. Soak up as much info as you can. If you aren't shooting you better be going to lunch with the mentors. You better be pounding on their hotel doors and asking to hang out. I want you to spend as much time with Chip Maury and Ken Hackman as you can. They are the Godfathers of military photojournalism and responsible for why you are there. Also Eli Reed is amazing to hang with. Research these names and know a little about them before ou go. You will be amazed as to their history. I don't think Mary Calvert is going to be there this year. She may be in Afghanistan which is a shame because she is such an inspiration not only to me, but to many women photographers. Gary Keifer is a dear friend. You make sure he doesn't let you drink any of that crap Russian Vodka. He brought some for me last year. Remind him of what he did to me last year and make sure he gives me a call.

I remember my first DoD workshop I had fought very hard to go to. My command didn't see the need in it and was meeting all kinds of negativity against it because I had 'only graduated Syracuse the year before' (you are never supposed to stop learning. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise). So I went and I remember one night I am in this hotel room with all the facilitators. I was the only student there. They gave me a beer and I was just sitting there immersed in them telling stories. I remember listening to Wally Mcnamee tell funny stories about his time with Ronald and Nancy Reagan when he stopped and looked at me with this intent expression and said, "Aaron, explain to me something. Why the hell are you the only student in this room?" I didn't know what to say. I do now. Unfortunately, in the military a majority of us never get passed that phase of "Keep your mouth shut, do what you are told" mentality. A prson only thinks that being a student happens in the classroom. It is a shame. There is so much to learn after hours that I can't emphasize it enough. AND you gain the respect of the leaders and will feel more than comfortable later to actually do what the suggest at the end of the workshop and KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THEM. Earnie Grafton normally keeps the 'gatherings' to his room. They get to be some good ones. Just don't drink much. It sometimes ruins the learning experience. Drinking or not, the only things discussed are always photography. Don't be affraid of Preston Keres. I know he is a big guy and actually looks like the devil, but he is just a teddie bear. If he gives you flack, just warn him that Aaron will tell you some stories about him. 
You are not going to this workshop just to spend a fast paced week with some of the greatest photographers around. You are going to meet your new family of passionate people who you will be family for the rest of your life. And just like there are those cousins you never hear from and those who are your best friends, the same applies to how much you get involved with these guys.
That's my advice. Shoot your ass off. Listen to their direction and spend every waking moment at their sides. And not just the one you are assigned to. All of them. YOU BETTER be bringing your portfolio and other images that you may not have in your portfolio. You better be showing it to every one of them. This is your opportunity to get as much information as you can handle FOR FREE.
Make sure you do one favor for me. Give each of them a hug and tell them it is from me. Especially Chip Maury, but be careful. He might get excited.

"How do you shoot a wedding?"

So the other day I received an email form someone I had been helping for a while. He has grown tremendously as a man and a photographer. He now has the bug in his belly and wants to be a photographer as a career. So the other day he asked me, "How do I become a wedding photographer?" He had only been to one wedding in his life and heard somewhere that he could make tons of money doing weddings. This is what I said...

You want to know how to be a millionaire, hang out with millionaires, If you want to be a mechanic, spend your off time with mechanics. If you want to be a wedding phootgrapher... well, you get the point. Find a local guy and ask if you can assist for them. Look online. Google has the answers to almost anything. read, research, watch, do. There is no way you should be charging tons of money for your first weddings because you have no portfolio to proove such. So you start off simple. Shooting friend's weddings, capturing moments, etc. A lot of people see shooting a wedding as some sort of secret formula. The key shots that the bride and groom are looking for. There are a lot of these. I sum them up like this;

Sound familiar. I used to pound this in your heads day in day out when I was in the Navy stationed with you. most of you thought of me as a pain in the ass about it. Shooting a wedding is telling the most incredible story in one's life sometimes in a matter of a few hours. Months of planning, thousands of dollars spent, lots of stress just to get to this one moment where a girl becomes a woman and weds. What do YOU think you should shoot? EVERYTHING. As for what others may say... get the bride getting ready, get the groom nervous, the little cute flower girl, the shot of them walking down the isle, the close up of the hands holding, the ring, the saying I do and kissing, them walking away from the isle, the people hugging, the bride and groom leaving. the redeption, the first dance, the groom dancing with mom-in-law, the cutting of the cake, the flower girl asleep in a corner, blah blah blah. 
You are a photojournalist. You are supposed to have the talent to tell stories with your images. If you were at any event and all of a sudden every body gathered around and someone took a garter off a woman and prepared to throw it to a group of men behind him, what would you do?
About 12 years ago or more, I went to a wedding convention in Va Beach. I was walking around looking to see what it was all about. Then I ran into a group of photographers in their 50s arguing. It was getting to the point where their voices where raising. The subject was about this new style of photojournalistic style weddings. They thought of it as a bunch of bullshit. "The wedding party doesn't want that." one said. "When it is all said and done, there is no way a guy can consistently capture moments all day long." said another. "A bride needs the 'key' shots that are set up and that's that." I was taken back as to why these guys were arguing over this. See, in the not so distant past it was "STANDARD" that a wedding photographer walk around with a medium format camera clicking one frame here and there and most of the time telling the people how to position. He had tons of lights and set up everywhere and cameras with that kind of quality where unaffordable. The 'money' shots where the groups and families, and because he could position people right he was everybody's hero. Then all of a sudden newspaper photographers started realizing they could make a few bucks extra by shooting photojournalistic style weddings on their days off. Bam! a standard was raped. 
Now people are raking in the money with weddings because they simply shoot on high speed with no lights and get great stuff. Look at what Nikon is focusing most of their marketing dollars on... The wedding community. Why? Because many times churches refuse to allow lights in the church. So a new D3 with super high ISO and no noise can cure all of this. People are doing things now that could never had been done before. The D3 is (to me) the camera to shift everything even further down the road where it won't take much to get the shot.
So when it is all said and done. You have the talents and capabilities to shoot weddings. You just don't know it yet. Shot any Navy retirements lately???
What I would suggest since I know you don't have any of your own gear is to shoot a couple for little money. Borrow someone's personal camera. Then with the money go and get yourself a D40 or used D200. Then shoot some more. With that money go and buy a bigger camera and so on and so forth. But remember one important thing...
It is NOT the camera, but the photographer that captures incredible moments in time. 
All the best,

When the student is ready the master appears

Received an email today from one of my protegés (what else do you call them?). He just got his paperwork telling him he is going to Syracuse University as one of four in the Navy to obtain the honor. I am so very proud of him and his success in the past 2 years or so. Especially when I remember the first experience I had with him was in my workshop where he literally did not know what the 'P' stood for on the camera. He could blame/credit everybody in the world as to why or how he got to where he is today, but it is really all him and his passion. 
I believe in many principles in life. One of them being the fact that the choices we made led us to where we are today and the choices we make from this point on will take us to where we want to be or not want to be. They are all deliberate and on purpose. Those who know me have heard this line many times. Including Matt, I would love to say I had something to do with his success, but I won't for one reason. What information I gave him, I gave to countless others. I mentor and teach to whoever wants as much and whenever I can, but it really all comes to the person to want it and go with it. In today's "information age" there isn't much information anymore that is not obtainable.
example: someone asked me what a blimp camera is. I said, "watch this." I typed blimp camera on google and up comes a youtube video by John Harrington showing a blimp camera, how to use it and who makes it.
What it all comes down to now is how bad do you want to know. Knowledge is everything. and everything is at your fingertips. There are various ways of gaining knowledge. I refer to a mentor who told me that three main ways we communicate to each other; audible, visual and tactile.
Listen to a podcast, watch a video or workshop or actually pick up the camera and learn from your mistakes. I suggest all three. But what it all really comes down to is the Chinese proverb, "When the student is ready the master appears."

A lot is happening at Livebooks

I try to keep up with my blog, but have been just so busy lately. My new LiveBooks website is up and running and I love it. The ease of use, ability to upload and change images according to my mood is seamless. I had similar experience with my last website, but the big difference is that this site seems to have the magic secret to making the site not only look great to viewers BUT looks great for the robots and web crawlers. When I first saw livebooks I was one of those people that saw the price and immediately freaked. It is easy to get shocked when there are companies out there that offer the same style websites for a fraction of this, but if I were to only have looked deeper at the differences in quality. Of what Livebooks does that the others don't. I would have purchased their site a long time ago. In a sense I just did what people do to me. They look at my prices and fees and freak. "Why on earth should I pay that price when the schmuck down the street charges a fraction of the price. A photo is a photo right? The other guy is even going to GIVE me the photos without legal paperwork, licensing and usage fee crap." Then when the images look terrible, the quality sucks and the guy is nowhere to be found, they are stuck with a CD of images they can't use. Sometimes (not always) you actually DO get what you pay for. Just do a little research and find something that a lot of us are loosing these days, TRUST in quality. When it is all said and done, the other company will care none and I will not get my money back nor the lost marketing, impressions, relationships, possible business.


Leslie Burns-Dell'Acqua rocks

If you aren't signed up to Leslie's newsletters then I strongly suggest you do so. Go to her website at www.burnsautoparts.com to see more. Leslie is a very passionate consultant that is all about helping photographers make it big. I have listened to her podcasts, read her blogs, manuals, etc for some time. I now find myself now with habits that she teaches. ALL GOOD!!!

It is because of her that I recently came up with a really cool marketing plan. I just shared it with her today and she loves it. She actually said it is "Brilliant." Way cool. I can't wait to use it and see what happens. More to come.


testing testing testes

Here is my blog. I am so excited to create this blog because it will soon be linked to my new cool Livebooks website. I can't wait to finally be a part of something big like livebooks. The last few days of talking with Corey Miller have been great. He was very helpful and made things very easy to understand. When it is all said and done I really feel like the investment made in this site will be the best I could ever make. It is simply a waste of time to go anywhere else.