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Inaugural 'Medium Festival Of Photography' Kicks Off This Weekend

Photographer David Taylor's "Border Monument No. 251: 32 degrees 33.383 minutes north latitude; 116 degrees 51.948 minutes west longitude." Taylor is one of the participating artists and lecturers at the inaugural "Medium Festival of Photography."
© David Taylor
Photographer David Taylor's "Border Monument No. 251: 32 degrees 33.383 minutes north latitude; 116 degrees 51.948 minutes west longitude." Taylor is one of the participating artists and lecturers at the inaugural "Medium Festival of Photography."
Inaugural "Medium Festival of Photography" Kicks Off This Weekend
GUESTSScott B. Davis, managing director of Medium Festival of Photography, and director of exhibitions and design at the Museum of Photographic Arts. Sam Hodgson, freelance photojournalist.

ST. JOHN: I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. The website says it's the only event. Its kind in Southern California. It's the first time it's happened, and it starts tomorrow here in San Diego! The median festival of photography is a 3-day festival of people who love to tame photographs. Scott Davis is managing director of the festival, and director of design at the museum of photographic arts here in San Diego. Thanks for coming in. So Scott, let's start with you. With the proliferation of digital cameras and camera phones, everyone is a photographer now. Is that affecting the art of photography do you think? DAVIS: I think it is. It's introducing an entirely new language to the medium that's really pushing it forward in ways that we haven't seen since the change of wet plate photography was replaced by film. ST. JOHN: And Sam Hodgson, freelance photojournalist. Now, Sam, you do this all day every day. Is the fact that almost everybody is out there taking photographs now, is that a good thing for photography or not such a good thing? HODGSON: I think ultimately, it's a good thing. It introduces new challenges for professional photographers, and how to go about monetizing their photography, and trying to keep their rates up and things like that. But ultimately for the medium, and the art, it's a good thing. If there are more people out there creating images and more people interested in creating images and studying image, ultimately that's something that's just going to keep pushing the medium forward. ST. JOHN: So does anybody shoot film anymore? Do people even know what film is? DAVIS: It is changing quick three. There's still a good number of people that shoot film. But by and large, digital has replaced that. And interestingly as film continues to be a minority, it seems that a lot of the older handmade processes that really require the photographer or the artist to create an object from the ground up are seeming to rise up. ST. JOHN: I noticed there is a workshop at the festival that involves that kind of skill. DAVIS: There is. I'm going to be giving a demonstration in particular on the platinum paladdium technique, which is a 19th century photographic process. ST. JOHN: People used to mesaround in the dark room. Now it's more a matter of messing around with Photoshop, right? HODGSON: Right. ST. JOHN: Do you think that's taking away from the need to be a really skilled photographer? Or is it adding? HODGSON: What photo shop does -- it will never add substance to the image, necessarily. What it's good for is going and making your routine color corrections and making things look stylized and fancy. But the thing that won't ever really change is the need for someone who is very skilled at composing a photo right, being at the right place and the right time, and finding interesting story lines to document. ST. JOHN: You have been quite successful in your career as a photographer. I guess you didn't expect to become a professional photographer, did you? HODGSON: Not at all, no. ST. JOHN: So what is it about finding the right subject that you found works for you? HODGSON: Well, it's just something that's going to connect with other people. And so oftentimes you'll be out in search of something, and the subjects often come to you. And as long as the subject is someone who will connect with people, and when you communicate their story, it's something that has universal appeal, I think that's the kind of thing that comes across L. ST. JOHN: Something that has universal appeal. Right. Even though it might be completely different from what universally one might choose, a sort of unique angle you often have. HODGSON: Absolutely. ST. JOHN: So what do you think about the way the whole industry is changing? Do you feel like -- the news please is just changing as we speak. How is the photograph industry changing? HODGSON: The I think you'll hear professional photographers talk about a lot is the way our rates have gone down, and the way that now every soccer mom with a camera is out on the sidelines taking pictures of their kids, so the sports photographer has trouble making money. But with the proliferation of digital photography and everyone taking pictures, all it's doing is forcing professional photographers to find new, interesting ways to monetize their work. A lot of people are going out for grants, doing Kickstarter campaigns. And then people just -- if you're willing to hustle every day, you're willing to be out shooting every day, and talking to clients every day, there's still great markets out there for photographers who are creating interesting work. ST. JOHN: So Scott, would you say it's easier or more difficult as a professional photographer to break into the industry these days? DAVIS: I'm not sure if it's either one. ST. JOHN: Has the number of ways you can make a living using photography grown? DAVIS: It definitely has. And we've seen that diversification in other industries as well. The Internet, blog, so many different subforms of mini-genres from food and cooking and photography have sprouted up a lot of new and innovative opportunities that never existed before. ST. JOHN: So now we have all these different mediums where these images are grabbing our attention. What's the chemical of getting an image to stand out from the crowd? DAVIS: That's a challenge that's been present since the birth of the medium of photography. And it's really an important aspect of working as a photographer and defining what your voice is. You may photo landscape, people, and to really probe deep into that and to connect with your subject is really the first and foremost of an important direction to take. ST. JOHN: How did you find your voice, Sam? HODGSON: I think I'm still finding it. I'm 27 years old. And I don't know that I've completely found it. The voice they use has developed from living and working every day in San Diego, and taking in our neighborhoods and communities. Most of what I document is San Diego's people and how they live in these places. I think my voice has developed organically from spending time with the people in this community. ST. JOHN: Let's talk about this festival that's starting tomorrow. Scott, you founded this organization called medium. DAVIS: The purpose is to celebrate and bring exposure to creative photography. In the location where we are, which is Southern California or San Diego to be specific, but to bring attention to that. ST. JOHN: How are you involved here? HODGSON: Well, Scott came to me and a couple other folks when he was mulling this idea, and Scott and I had had many conversations about the state of the photo community in San Diego, and how there's always room for it to grow, and how we might be able to strengthen it. And Scott came up with the idea of the festival, and along the way I've helped guide some of his ideas. And over the weekend, I'll be there to make sure things run smoothly. I'll be an extra hand this weekend. ST. JOHN: Give us an idea of what people can actually experience. Is it sit-down lectures? Workshops? DAVIS: We've got a diverse roster of lectures by a range of artists. I mentioned before artists who use 19th century photographic processes to people that are pure digital. And their subject business range all over the map. So the opportunity for guests is to experience a really radical range of artists who are doing really interesting things with the medium. In addition to that, we've got a number of different industry professionals from lawyers to branding and marketing specialists who can help photographers take their work and career to the next level, and just to educate them about the opportunities at hand. ST. JOHN: How important is marketing yourself, Sam? Do you think that was something that has made a difference to you that you were able to market yourself effectively? HODGSON: Yeah, absolutely. And I'll give you one of my business cards before I leave. [ LAUGHTER ] HODGSON: Marketing yourself is huge. And branding yourself is huge. And I think that's the reason that as a free-lance photo journalist, I've been able to make a living. Every day I get out and shoot, but also every day I get up and I send e-mails and I send pitches and I work on my website, my blog, my instagram, everything, to make sure people know who I am and know that I'm available to work for them. ST. JOHN: So are the people who are coming to this festival, is it designed for people who want to make money and become professionals? Who should come to your festival? DAVIS: It's really designed for anybody with an interest in creative photography. We've got everything from emerging artists just out of grad school to under graduate students to photography collectors and seasoned professionals who are attending. It's really, really built for a broad range of people. ST. JOHN: When you think about all the things you have on offer, what would you say is the most exciting thing that you personally feel most excited about to recommend to people coming to this festival? HODGSON: Well, tomorrow night Alec Soth is going to be speaking, a magnum photographer, very well known, and I think anyone in San Diego should be thrilled at the opportunity that he's going to be here. And I also. To see Mary Virginia Swanson if for no other reason that Scott has been telling me how much she can help people's photographic career. But if I was just a member of the public, I'd be really, really eager to go out and see Alec. ST. JOHN: So you can drop in for one or two events? DAVIS: We have day passes. ST. JOHN: And Scott, talk a little more about this photographer who you really feel is going to be able to help people's professional careers DAVIS: Oh, well, she's not a photographer for one. She is a marketing specialist. She has worked in the industry for about 3†decades, and has an credit amount of information. She has an uncanny ability to help you focus that interest of yours into -- either to monetize it or just to allow you to follow that passion and take yourself to the next level. She's really a wonderful, wonderful asset to have at the festival. ST. JOHN: Should people bring their cameras? Are you going to be having photo shoots where people go out and try their hand? DAVIS: No hands-on photo shoots like that. Of course people are welcome and encouraged to bring cameras. It's what we do. And it's realize heartening when I see a photographer carrying a camera. ST. JOHN: What about the plans for the organization? This is not just a festival, is it? DAVIS: In an ongoing sense, we're looking ahead to the next year of not only hosting another festival next fall but in the interim hosting a series of smaller informal lectures. Sam and I were actually just talking about this earlier today, and hosting some workshops also, some hands-on workshops for photographers. ST. JOHN: It sounds like you're sort of creating a community now of photographers here in San Diego, possibly in Southern California, right? Through generating a new way of interacting for people who love photography. HODGSON: Yeah, we certainly hope so. If you go to cities like New York or even Denver, Colorado, or a lot of places in Florida, there's really big, strong photo communities. In San Diego, there's a lot of resources for photography, but there's always room to strengthen the community. And that's what we'd like to do. DAVIS: Right. ST. JOHN: Thank you both very much for coming in.

Photography is more accessible than ever, thanks to the proliferation of digital cameras, camera phones and applications like Instagram and Camera+, which enable anyone to be a photographer. And with the onslaught of social media networks, distribution has never been easier.

But is all of this technology making us better photographers? How has the medium evolved over the past decade? While the tools have certainly changed, photography's power to communicate and tell stories remains.


A new local, independent organization, Medium, has dedicated itself to foster awareness and understanding of innovative photography within Southern California. One of the biggest ways the organization is carrying out its mission is through an annual festival, which kicks off tomorrow, Thursday, September 6.

The inaugural Medium Festival of Photography, a three-day photography event celebrating all forms of photography, from fine art to documentary and photojournalism, will provide photographers — both amateur and professional — and photo enthusiasts with events and opportunities to talk shop, share their work and forge a network. From workshops and lectures to open portfolio reviews, Medium hopes to strengthen the local photography community and provide resources for photographers to develop their skills, market themselves and get published.

Featured speakers include San Diego-based photographers Tim Mantoani and Philipp Scholz Rittermann, as well as keynote speaker Alec Soth, known for his shots of rural America and portraits of "loners and dreamers." In 2009, Soth released a photo book, “Last Days of W” (Little Brown Mushroom), documenting "a country exhausted by George W. Bush’s presidency"; the photos were also exhibited at New York City's Gagosian Gallery.

KPBS Midday Edition speaks with Medium founder Scott B. Davis and freelance photojournalist Sam Hodgson about the state of photography today and this weekend's event.

“Medium Festival of Photography” runs Thursday, September 6 through Saturday, September 8, at the W Hotel in downtown San Diego. (View the complete event schedule.)