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Author Topic: Annie Leibowitz  (Read 43077 times)
Yoram from Berlin
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« on: January 24, 2009, 02:46:32 AM »
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OMG, I thought I was so over Annie Leibowitz. I have no use for celebrity photos beyond admiring them from a technical point of view, but I have really come around in terms of how I perceive her work.

I really admire her work now, no question, but it got to a point where all I ever saw were those (wonderful) Vanity Fair spreads.

Then someone gave me her book "A Photographer's Life" and I was taken by how naturally she interweaves her professional work, her personal images, and her own creative discoveries.

My wife and I watch a lot of documentaries, and films about photographers are obviously a favorite topic. A couple of weeks ago we watched "Life Through a Lens", a fabulous summary of her life and work thus far.

Now I just got a belated Hanukkah present, a copy of her newest book "At Work."

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. She takes one or two of her images, and spends a few paragraphs or pages discusses them with us (the reader). Sometimes it's just about the subject, or the setting, but also the image: composition, gear (digital and film, btw), or lighting. There's even a kind of FAQ as well. The book is really targeted at fellow photographers.

I will be meeting her here in Berlin in February, can't wait!
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Rob C
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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2009, 04:28:48 AM »
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I imagine that the documentary of which you speak is the one conducted in a car by her sister? That itīs easy to become a photographer when your early life is already trained to perceive the world in a frame because you have seen it already mainly through the frame of a car window?

Well yes, I enjoyed it very much too - I have it on DVD now - and it revealed a woman/a work that I hadnīt known much about. Itīs funny, though, how photographers do things with their lives; funny how for some it goes as they sort of plan, for others it just happens in a certain way despite what they really intended and for yet others, it just doesnīt happen at all.

Enjoy your meeting and make a list of questions!

Rob C
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Rob C
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« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2009, 06:39:41 AM »
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Just remembered: there was a thread running here somewhere a while ago about portraiture and character. I also seem to remember that there was a lot of flak sent my way when I offered the thought that character and its representation in portraiture is more dream than reality.

Well now, on the basis that St Annie is accepted as one of the worldīs most successful  portrait shooters, I chose my words with care, and perhaps if we are speaking about the same documentary, Iron Flatline might be able to confirm that both Annie and another lady of moment stated fairly plainly that photography does not show character, that it shows what the person you are shooting wants you to see.

As the photographer has spent most of her life shooting people, and as I too spent mine in the same profession  also shooting people, perhaps my opinion might actually have had a little weight. Itīs always helpful when your mouth is where much of your life has been.

I do hope it was the same documentary...

Rob C
« Last Edit: January 24, 2009, 10:50:27 AM by Rob C » Logged

Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2009, 09:48:46 AM »
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"itīs easy to become a photographer when your early life is already trained to perceive the world in a frame because you have seen it already mainly through the frame of a car window?"

Interesting idea. However it won't make you a great or even a good photographer without some innate talent.
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Kirk

Kirk Gittings
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Rob C
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« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2009, 10:54:39 AM »
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Quote from: Kirk Gittings
"itīs easy to become a photographer when your early life is already trained to perceive the world in a frame because you have seen it already mainly through the frame of a car window?"

Interesting idea. However it won't make you a great or even a good photographer without some innate talent.

Just to make it clear: I was paraphrasing/quoting Annie here, as closely as memory allows; her opinion not mine.

Innate talent. Yes, I think it sure helps, but then so do so many other things that happen to you on the journey, things which you can never arrange to happen  nor, perhaps, avoid happening. It cuts in both ways.

Rob C
« Last Edit: January 24, 2009, 10:55:41 AM by Rob C » Logged

blansky
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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2009, 11:43:32 AM »
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Personally I'm kind of neutral on her work. A great deal of it was planned by committee and executed by a large crew.

As for the whole celebrity aspect, it's just basically pictures of actors, who have a built in following of silly people who some how think that they're special and any picture of them will leave them swooning.

My take on celebrity photography is that it's only interesting to me if has would have the same impact if the subject had been someone not famous. Then if it sings, it's a great picture.

I also don't really revere the work of photographers with ACCESS. Just because you have been allowed access, doesn't make the work great. Just because you're allowed an hour with Johnny Depp does not make the pictures special.  Any more than an hour photographing the crew of a landed UFO does not make you a great photographer, it just means you got access. The pictures might be interesting buy that does not elevate you to the status of a great photographer.

To me Annie is a competent photographer, with the backing of a marketing machine that in turn promotes her and gives her incredible access.  Stay tuned for her next book due out Christmas of 2009.


Michael

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Rob C
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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2009, 02:31:42 PM »
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[quote name='blansky' date='Jan 24 2009, 06:43 PM' post='254232']



"My take on celebrity photography is that it's only interesting to me if has would have the same impact if the subject had been someone not famous. Then if it sings, it's a great picture."

Thatīs true, but itīs a measure of celebrity that Joe Soap is never as interesting as the celeb.

"I also don't really revere the work of photographers with ACCESS. Just because you have been allowed access, doesn't make the work great. Just because you're allowed an hour with Johnny Depp does not make the pictures special.  Any more than an hour photographing the crew of a landed UFO does not make you a great photographer, it just means you got access. The pictures might be interesting buy that does not elevate you to the status of a great photographer."

But isnīt access granted on the strength, reputation, of the photographerīs work? Catch 22 perhaps, but you gotta start the circle somewhere. Once it was started by the photographic agency: Magnum, Globe Photos for example; today it runs on the "educated" whim of the celebīs press agent, a different type of cat altogether, far more concerned with his/her own survival.

"To me Annie is a competent photographer, with the backing of a marketing machine that in turn promotes her and gives her incredible access.  Stay tuned for her next book due out Christmas of 2009."

Yep, certainly competent but as with several star photographers, there seems to be an Achilles heel when it comes to being their turn to shoot a Pirelli Calendar. I have no idea why this should be, whether by too much art direction, whether because of too little; whatever the reason, it often seems to me that the photographer has simply been overwhelmed. I wonder if itīs because of the understanding that the product will be so scrutinised by hordes of other shooters, possibly more so than any other campaign?

Rob C


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blansky
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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2009, 03:08:24 PM »
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I wrote this a few years ago for a post in APUG about this type of photography. I'm obviously not a writer.


Everyone knows the stories of Ansel Adams and how he camped out for hours and days to get the incredible photographs that he is famous for.

However, there is a hot new photographer named Ansel Liebowitz doing the same type of work. He has recently been commissioned by Landscape Incorporated to produce the covers for the magazine called Terra Faire.

The progression of this cover shot is as follows:

Day 1. Executive meeting in New York with editor, photo editor, art director, location director, 2 writers, Ansel Liebowitz and his assistant , the stylist, and two interns. The discussion, the cover for May, three months away. Apparently there is a movie coming out on May 5th that features a lot of locations shots in and around the Sierras.

Day 2. Meeting with Ansel, his four assistants, stylist, art director, location director and 2 location scouts and 2 interns. Find the perfect location, check on snow, moon location, time of day etc and report back to Ansel by early next week.

Day 9. Meeting. Same group as day 2. Location scouts report that they have helicoptered around the area and have 3 locations that could be perfect. They produce photographs showing the entire area and included are the position of the sun, moon and at what times. Snow may be a problem.

Day 11. Meeting. Same group. Location is decided upon. Two assistants are sent to the area to camp out and report back when conditions are perfect. The other assistant is sent to round up rental equipment for the shoot. The location manager is sent to arrange for transportation air and ground, for Ansel and his group as well as for equipment, for the day the shoot is decided upon.

Day 19. Sierras. Weather is perfect.

Using their satellite phone the assistants contact New York. The shoot is set for 5pm. The equipment has arrived and has been set up. Ansel jumps in a limo and heads to the private airport. After a grueling 4 hour flight which he sleeps through aboard the company jet, he arrives at the nearest airport, and jumps into a helicopter to take him 30 miles to the staging area.

 A Hummer picks him up and then deposits him at the site at exactly 4:30 PM. Unfortunately the driver, not used to the slick roads,  fails to stop in time and runs smack dab right into the catering truck. The doughnuts are OK but the capiccino machine and one intern is ruined. Oh well.

 Luckily the set decorator arrived yesterday, in time to hire 3 local Sikorskys to drop 500 tons of fresh snow in patchy areas to even out the flats before the mountains. The valley floor is alive with the rhymthic whine of the six semi trailer generator trucks pumping power to the 126 strategically placed strobes filling the valley with light as the assistants tweak the set up working on polaroids. Ansel, wearing his new trumpeter swan down jacket jumps out of the Hummer and looks at the polaroids and yes it's perfect.

He trips the shutter and just to be sure trips it twenty more times as his dutiful assistants skillfully switch the film holders in and out.  The shoot had to be interrupted once, while one of his assistants shot a pesky bear cub that kept edging into the shot. But right on schedule, ten minutes later, Ansel is back in the Hummer heading for the helicopter to take him to the airport. He has a gallery opening to attend later tonight.

Day 45. Executive meeting New York. Editor, photoeditor art director,
2 writers, Ansel Liebowitz and his assistant, 1 intern. Ansel, freshly tanned, back from the Bahamas, looks over the pictures which have been photoshopped and printed. They naturally, are admired all around. Ansel - another perfect shoot.

Day 90. The magazine hits the newstands to rave reviews and Ansel has done it again.

Another book is in the works. Just in time for Christmas.


Michael
« Last Edit: January 24, 2009, 03:21:24 PM by blansky » Logged
Yoram from Berlin
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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2009, 04:54:21 PM »
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Business is business, and if a person uses a camera to make a living, he or she is by definition a photographer.

...but that wasn't the point of my post. Just to reiterate, I was impressed by the Non-Corporate work. I'm not that into the big-budget production stuff, largely because there's little I can learn from it. I don't shoot that way, and probably never will. But her other work is very good, and that gets little attention... unless you seek it out, or see it in the books/films I referenced.

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JDClements
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« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2009, 08:03:32 PM »
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Quote from: Kirk Gittings
...it won't make you a great or even a good photographer without some innate talent.
Innate talent? So, that would be something encoded in your DNA? Could be, I suppose, if we're talking about pattern-recognition. More likely what would appear to be "innate talent" in photography is a result of years of looking at other pictures. Followed by lots of practice, and looking at lots more pictures.
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Joe Behar
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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2009, 08:19:18 PM »
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Quote from: JDClements
Innate talent? So, that would be something encoded in your DNA? Could be, I suppose, if we're talking about pattern-recognition. More likely what would appear to be "innate talent" in photography is a result of years of looking at other pictures. Followed by lots of practice, and looking at lots more pictures.

You all may be interested in picking up and reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book "Outliers" In particular the chapter that deals with what he calls the 10,000 hour rule.
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Rob C
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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2009, 05:17:28 AM »
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Quote from: JDClements
Innate talent? So, that would be something encoded in your DNA? Could be, I suppose, if we're talking about pattern-recognition. More likely what would appear to be "innate talent" in photography is a result of years of looking at other pictures. Followed by lots of practice, and looking at lots more pictures.



Well you might have a point there, but it would not explain why some people can look at all the pictures in the world and achieve nothing, whilst others can do the same yet succeed using their own handwriting.

Talent most certainly does exist - I have seen a lot of it, as I have its lack. And it is not something to be confused with simple technical competence either.

Getting back to the lady in question, prior to that documentary she was someone of whom I knew little beyond the fact that she had worked with Rolling Stone, of which I knew even less. I was aware of her Gimme More shots, of course, of her appointment to Vanity Fair. It is only now, post-documentary, that I have learned there is quite a lot more to her than Iīd imagined, not that I had even bothered to imagine anything much at all about her.

To sum it up, I view her with more respect now than I did before. Canīt be bad!

Rob C
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budjames
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« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2009, 06:35:24 AM »
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After reading about Annie's book "At Work", I went to Borders Books this weekend and bought it. I started reading it this morning and it's well written and captivating. Definitely worth the $40.

Cheers.
Bud
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Bud James
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jjj
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« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2009, 07:49:41 AM »
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Quote from: Joe Behar
Quote from: JDClements
Innate talent? So, that would be something encoded in your DNA? Could be, I suppose, if we're talking about pattern-recognition. More likely what would appear to be "innate talent" in photography is a result of years of looking at other pictures. Followed by lots of practice, and looking at lots more pictures.

You all may be interested in picking up and reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book "Outliers" In particular the chapter that deals with what he calls the 10,000 hour rule.
What people repeatedly fail to understand is the dedication to work so very hard is also a natural talent. Plus without innate ability you cannot create. Practising for 10,000 hours to play the piano very well is fine as you'll be a fine pianist and will be able to play music that others have written, but being able to write a beautiful tune on a piano is not simply a matter of practice. Same goes for photography or any creative endeavour, I include science here as that is very creative too.
The other thing that Gladwell states is that people from advantageous background do better, success breeds success apparently. His next book 'Color' posits that the shocking theory that black paint may reflect less light than white paint.  


There's an apposite expression that springs to mind whenever people dismiss natural talent and say it's just practice - 'you can't polish a turd'. I've ridden with Steve Peat [World Champion DownHill mountain biker] and his comment on this view was - "If it's just a matter of practice, why aren't there loads of people as good as me? Plenty of riders practice way more than me". Like many talented people, he makes the incredibly difficult look effortless.

JDC your dismissal of inate talent being based on consuming other examples and regurgitating your own work ignores the awkward fact that in new fields, there is no one to learn from. In a similar vein - I do various partner dances and with one of them Modern Jive [nothing like the awful Ballroom Jive], I'm good at simply because I looked at how it was done/taught and decided it was fundamentally flawed. So I then changed to my own own way of movement/lead-follow and am a much better dancer for ignoring prior art as it were.  So you can also become good by rejecting what has gone before.
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JDClements
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« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2009, 08:05:07 AM »
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Quote from: jjj
JDC your dismissal of inate talent being based on consuming other examples and regurgitating your own work...
Dismissal? Please re-read my post. I questioned what it means, and offered an opinion on what it could be based on. Far from dismissal.
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situgrrl
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« Reply #15 on: January 29, 2009, 06:13:16 AM »
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I'll take cue from Michael here and lay by bias open; I've always been a fan of her work.

I also thought that Ģ12 to get in to her exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was excessive and refused to pay.

I met a couple of girls by chance in town and took them around the place.  They had come over from Belgium to see the exhibition and insisted I accompany them.

I have NEVER ever seen such an inspiring exhibit at a gallery before and I doubt I will again.  It was nothing like I had expected.  To me, Annie Lebowitz is a "star" photographer -Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and all that stuff I'm not so into - the reason for me admiring her work was that she could persuade people to do things you wouldn't necessarily expect - Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk, Chris Rock "whited up" - to me it was the high art end of bubblegum much of the time - and I happen to like a little bubblegum every now and then

The exhibition left me with a very different opinion.  The 4x6 pictures intermingled with 40" prints were the real stars often and my closest point of comparisson after seeing the exhibition was that other much lamented photographer, HCB.  The poigniency of her pictures of family ad friends was touching.  The one of R2D2 in a packing case, somehow genius.  The shots of Patti Smith were also favourites.  The horror of Sarejevo was depicted with "subtle brutality" and best of all - this post is far far more pretentious than the stuff written on the walls.  Normally artists are so silly in their descriptions and explanations - her words were a breath of fresh air in the stuffy gallery world.

I maintain that, subsidised by two sponsors and the tax payer, Ģ12 is profiteering - but ethics be damned!  I'd pay it again.
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jjj
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« Reply #16 on: January 29, 2009, 06:31:46 AM »
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Quote from: JDClements
Dismissal? Please re-read my post. I questioned what it means, and offered an opinion on what it could be based on. Far from dismissal.
I did. It still reads like a dismissal to me.   Might not be what you meant, but that's how it comes across.
The perils of the written word!
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« Reply #17 on: January 29, 2009, 07:11:31 AM »
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What is interesting about this discussion on Annie L. is that people's views on her work seem to be based on a select and possible quite unrepresentitive sample of her work.
I normally like AL's work, commercial + personal, but the recent Lavazzo ads are remarkably awful as they look cheap, amateurish and crass.
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Rob C
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« Reply #18 on: January 29, 2009, 12:02:41 PM »
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Itīs all that caffeine, Futt Futt.

But then, I donīt think that many people manage to translate their usual quality into these "name" calendar exercises. I think she failed, too, with her Pirelli as I think did Joyce Tenneson; all personal opinion, of course, but I do honestly think that I detect a fear, almost a case of the thing being a challenge too far.

The surprising thing is that some of the early ones (Pirelli) that created the reputation now seem (again, just personal) strangely weak. For me, I have to repeat my belief that there were three great ones: Sarah Moonīs and the two Francis Giacobetti efforts. Later ones seem to have become very much more wrapped up in trying to be "about" something rather than simply just beautiful photographs. Funny thing: whilst I thought that Hans Feurer worked wonders with Pentax calendars, his Pirelli didnīt excite me too much beyond a single shot, a half-length sitting number with a girl looking out to the left (her right) of the page, a cap on her head and some sunlit strands of hair making the important detail at the face which is otherwise in shadow. Brilliant. Clive Arrowsmith did some beautiful photography too, but it was lost in myth and overproduction, I think.

It could be that when there is a brief, an art director, or any form of pre-conceived concept that some photoraphers find it too much. I imagine that somebody based in reportage will not enjoy working to anotherīs brief; that it will also prove somewhat unpleasant for a so-called art photographer to work to instruction. If, of course, there is any. There used to be.

jjj, you are UK-based: did you see any of the Mintex productions of yesteryear? Derek Forsyth who was the AD behind the first tranche of Pirellis was also a presence behind Mintex ones; beautiful work there, too.

Rob C
« Last Edit: January 29, 2009, 12:03:52 PM by Rob C » Logged

NigelC
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« Reply #19 on: January 30, 2009, 08:38:55 AM »
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Quote from: blansky
Personally I'm kind of neutral on her work. A great deal of it was planned by committee and executed by a large crew.

As for the whole celebrity aspect, it's just basically pictures of actors, who have a built in following of silly people who some how think that they're special and any picture of them will leave them swooning.

My take on celebrity photography is that it's only interesting to me if has would have the same impact if the subject had been someone not famous. Then if it sings, it's a great picture.

I also don't really revere the work of photographers with ACCESS. Just because you have been allowed access, doesn't make the work great. Just because you're allowed an hour with Johnny Depp does not make the pictures special.  Any more than an hour photographing the crew of a landed UFO does not make you a great photographer, it just means you got access. The pictures might be interesting buy that does not elevate you to the status of a great photographer.

To me Annie is a competent photographer, with the backing of a marketing machine that in turn promotes her and gives her incredible access.  Stay tuned for her next book due out Christmas of 2009.


Michael
I haven't seen enough of Annie Leibowitz work to comment but on the your general point about reputations and access I totally agree. Access might be a measure of business acumen but definitely not photographic skill. I've grown fed up with bored rich kids taking up "photography" and getting exhibitions on the strength of a) photographing their celebrity friends,  getting their gallery owning parents friends to give them wallspace.

BTW, before anyone responds, yes I am bitter and twisted (!) Just to contradict myself, abiity to get close "access" to the fauna is most definitely a core skill for a wildlife photographer.
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