We’re kicking off our Member Spotlight series, and this month we were thrilled to speak with long-time member and past board member Bob Handelman.
First off, tell us about yourself: how long have you been in business, where do you live, and what type of photography do you do?
I’m a lifestyle and environmental portrait photographer based in Guilford, CT. I started out as an Advertising account guy in Chicago at DDB Needham, then launched my photo career in NYC in the 90’s and moved back to CT in 2006 with my family. I love projects where I craft image libraries to tell brand stories; most often for Advertising, Education, Corporate, and Editorial clientele. I’ve been fortunate to capture these assignments worldwide, while currently grounded by the pandemic.
Why is ASMP important to you? Why did you join?
I did a research project in college while at Northwestern on the inherent challenges of members of ASMP being both competitors while striving to promote community within the organization and photo industry. I got a closeup look at ASMP Chicago Midwest while interning with the chapter President. This really launched my passion for commercial photography, introduction to industry best practices and a belief that we are all better off as a creative community than cut throat competitors. Upon graduating, I moved to NYC and started an assistants committee while on ASMP NY’s board. Mentors included Gary Gladstone, Peter B Kaplan and many others. I dedicated a lot of my time and energy into the chapter while getting so much more out of it than I put in for which I’m grateful. This was early internet era before the extraordinary amount of education and workshops were available online, so ASMP and APA dominated.
I truly believe that ASMP still has a crucial and central role in the photo industry in advocacy, education and business practices. Just look at this past Pandemic year. By far the most reliable source of info was then Executive director Tom Kennedy, attorney Tom Maddrey and all the others on the National level providing the most salient, up-to-date explanations of the ever evolving PPP, PUA, FPUC, EIDL and every other acronym that helped so many of us stay afloat in these challenging times. Finally, I served on the board for 4 years here in CT and truly love the sense of community fostered by those who led and now lead.
I have colleagues who have what they described as lame chapters and feel fortunate that CT is so active. Please know that we’re only as good as what we as members put into it along with our volunteer leaders.
What does your creative process look like?
I know that to succeed as a photographer, I must always dig deeper. In addition to sharing impactful visual storytelling, in order to grow I know I must get raw, note and overcome resistance, wrestle with expectations and draw new lessons to stretch way out of my comfort zone. This ain’t easy! I hate the phrase “trust the process.” To me, this often means having to endure pain (real and imagined). It means failures. It means inconvenience and inefficiency. These are all things I kinda despise and am hardwired to avoid. Ahhh, the creative process! The deeper I dive in, the greater my discoveries. So worth it.
It’s true. All the clichés apply, and for good reason. “Rules ARE made to be broken”. “Draw OUTSIDE the lines”. “Think OUTSIDE the box.” Of course, I’m still the boy scout who likes to be prepared and follow-thru on my plan. Yet I’ve learned to listen and trust my gut. Over time mentors and valued clients have encouraged and challenged me to go with my instinct, take risks, get dirty in the creative process and surprise myself. When I try new things and keep exploring and discovering, the creative muse is always accessible. The high bar that I set for myself is that I always deliver on what’s expected (the assignment) and also seek the surprise of the unexpected. Recently a great client of mine commented that what made me most nervous about each new environment we faced was exactly what got us some of our best imagery for that project. There’s this “sixth sense” that seems to kick in to enable creative problem solving.
Who or what are your inspirations?
- Vincent Laforet, Steven Wilkes and more recently Tim Tadder who always are stretching the boundaries and innovating the field of photography
- Rick Smolan for Day in the Life vision
- Jeremy Cowart who is a pied piper of big visions for the greater good using photography as a launching point
- Chase Jarvis as an entrepreneur devoted to creators and perpetuating community
- Joe McNally – Mr Versatile as the Master McGyver of lighting
- Jay Maisel for always carrying a camera, and his evocative way of seeing the world
- Walter Ioss as I love sports and he captured it beautifully
- Sebastiao Salgado’s breathtaking B&W compositions and world view
- There’s SO much talent out there at all ages and stages and at one time it was intimidating while now I just find it inspiring
My personal mission involves living life three dimensionally by creating, trusting and engaging, really being alive in all pursuits. Yet, for too long after starting out in my career, I avoided enrolling many collaborators out of insecurity. I falsely believed that in order to prove myself I had to do it all myself. Having loved the energy of the ad agency world, this career path can be isolating. Fortunately, I’ve benefited from the joy, wonders and creativity of terrific collaborators along the way. It takes chemistry, trust and some ego checking at the door, and when it works, the results are inspiring. I’ve grown tremendously, both personally and professionally — wish I had started earlier AND there’s no better time than the present.
How have you been handling COVID and what personal projects are you working on?
Straight up, my business has suffered. Also, on the shoots I’ve done, my mood, energy, and outlook immediately brightened and felt like a long lost friend. As for personal projects, I stepped back to dive deep on where I’ve been, where I am and where I’d like to go in my career. With the help of my super talented personal branding coach Greg Monaco I embarked on defining my brand story, promise and value proposition. This spurred truly fresh ways of distinguishing myself, which I’ve struggled with as a lifestyle and portrait shooter. From that effort, I re-enrolled uber renaissance woman and design force Noemi Kearns of Ink & Pixel agency. She had helped me with my last big promo; Americana: Know Thy Neighbor which won 2 CADC awards. With their collaboration and encouragement, I sought to find a meaningful personal project to stretch creatively and connect during the Pandemic, and to enroll my 2 teenage daughters.
Nothing was particularly easy and Covid and social distancing presented more challenges. As a personal project it kicked my butt having to pivot objectives and logistics and on and on. However that’s what I do on my assignments so it was yet another opportunity to stretch and grow. The personal project is all about connecting during this unique shared experience during Covid. My business goal is to reconnect with current and past clientele as well as introduce myself to some new folks, in a purpose driven promo: it’s going to include emails, social media, a website takeover, and blog posts, along with some surprise tangible interactive fun for those who choose to engage. This will be much more integrated than I’ve done in the past and will be launching in March.
What do you think are the secrets to a successful photography business?
Do the work. No secrets, no shortcuts. Sure we all have different paths. The fundamentals are still the best way to build a sustainable and successful photo business.
- Find your voice. Don’t be scared to emulate and be inspired by others, while testing.
- Try techniques and styles on for size and gain knowledge with intention to develop and define your own visual sensibility and style.
- Master your craft as the tools of the trade so then you can draw outside the lines. Be able to do everything on set, and divide and conquer, delegate, trust, and respect.
- Take a directing class, a bookkeeping class for business, or cross train with other creative pursuits.
- Sock away some money early while your overhead is low and let it grow/compound.
- Determine your brand voice and amplify your message wherever possible — stay consistent.
- Be dependable, accountable, thick skinned, talk about money candidly, be your own advocate, find mentors, enroll your own board of directors for your business (people you turn to with different skill sets that you can tap into).
- Be a good barter partner, where everyone wins and grows closer, not apart, through value exchange.
- This AIN’T an easy career. Is it a job, a career or a calling? That will impact the choices and sacrifices you make and how you measure success.
- This can be an AWESOME career. Have gratitude for designing one’s own life.
- When evaluating a project, consider 1. the Money, 2. the People and 3. the prestige/value/learning, 2 out of 3 is usually enough. 3 out of 3 is ideal, and 1 out of 3, well, know when to say “No”.
- Understand your target audience and what problems you solve for them.
- Get involved and contribute to the photo industry in whatever way works for you, ie ASMP, Flashes for Hope.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to technology and workflows. Leverage what already works and customize as needed.
- Figure out passive income and multiple revenue streams.
- Be adaptable, ask for what you want, experiment, take leaps of faith in yourself, be flexible, LISTEN, observe, always carry a camera (phone) and given the chance break bread with your subjects, clients, collaborators to get to know them as people (when Covid safe to do so of course)
- Learn VIDEO.
- There really aren’t secrets, there’s a smorgasbord of invaluable resources like CreativeLive, in person or online sharing communities, and just finding what fits for YOU. Have a voracious appetite for learning. DIG IN.