Interview: Jerry Tavin And Young Photographers Alliance

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The photographers become the photographed at the Young Photographers Alliance show

From putting on music at Hamburg’s famous Star Club, to running a recruitment agency, to being a pioneer in the stock photography business, Jerry Tavin’s career has been an adventure. But in 2009 he began his biggest adventure yet,  co-founding the Young Photographers Alliance

Jerry Tavin has a long career in the photo business, founding Nonstock pictures with Janou Pakter, then founding the Young Photographers Alliance with Pakter, Deborah Free and Edward Leigh. He tells us how it is more important than ever to nurture new talent

Jerry Tavin

What was the moment, the “flash-of-light” behind the inspiration to set up the YPA?

Jerry Tavin: I had been working so many years very happily with wonderful photographers, and a large group of then were emerging photographers that I was introducing to the stock business. The feedback was always very positive because it was opening up professional possibilities, even if it wasn’t Assignment or Representation. Then my business was sold, I was doing less within the other new business, I was getting on in years, so I decided to see what I can do to give possibilities to new photographers that were sustainable.

It’s become increasingly difficult than to make a living from photography, how do you help these keen young image-makers?

Jerry Tavin: Something I hear that’s said to young people dedicated to becoming photographers – the easiest thing for people to say – is “Why? You’re not going to make any money.” Why does anyone have a passion? Why do you want to become an actor? Why do you want to become a ballet dancer? Why do you want to become a Fine Artist? It’s the same question, you are competing with a million people and you may never make a penny. But you do what you love to do. The great thing about these young people is that they don’t know anything but their own passion for it, they don’t get jaded. All they want is someone to pay attention to them. We do that. One of the things we thought we’d do we’d have a Foundation. We gave out scholarships to begin with.

Not much. First $2,500, now it’s $3,000. We give 5 or 6 scholarships a year, I’d love it to be 20. The kids who get the scholarships, they buy books or cameras but more than that, they begin to feel significant and important. When we started our situation we didn’t want to give them a cheque and say, “Nice, you won an award, Goodbye.” We wanted to keep them involved with us, so we started a lot of other programs, like Mentoring Programs, Portfolio Reviews, we tried to sustain the kids, not only in their careers but in dealing with professionals, in networking. So a lot of our kids have now met so many professionals in the industry and that’s helped them ease their way in.

What about photography schools?

Jerry Tavin: One thing we have discovered is that schools, while they are wonderful, don’t teach the business of photography. We really wanted these kids to connect with mentors, to connect with educational forums, to connect in many other ways other than just giving them money.  Part of the sustenance of these kids was to keep them involved with us and we have a whole group of young people who have worked with us from the get-go on different projects. When we hang an exhibition they come and work with us, not as volunteers necessarily but as equals doing everything.

Exhibit at the YPA show in New York

These are difficult times for raising money?

Jerry Tavin: For the last three years, despite the many hardships of running a foundation which are primarily funding and getting money for infrastructure. We’ve had some great support from ASMP, Eugene Mopsik and Judy Hermann, gave us enough money $50,000, to keep us supporting this program for three years now. The money is earmarked just for the program. If we had other means of support we would have got more portfolio reviews, that many more educational seminars. We’ve learned to walk and not run as fast as we’d like to.

You are trying to internationalise the YPA program?

Jerry Tavin: This mentoring program started out as an American program, we began to work with a UK group which is the strongest group we have, a UK group under the guidance of Erin Moroney from Axiom pictures. Erin began to put together a great board and she got these people together on a regular basis, and they formulated the ideas we had for our website, for our mutual websites, for our connection with each other, the programs that we have. So I come here with that in mind. I have just been in contact with people in Canada who want to do what the UK group do. If I can get that going in Canada using Ontario, Montreal, Toronto, with somebody guiding the program along there, then we can do it in other countries.

So when I came here I talked to the people from India, the people from France, the people from Sweden. People I think that are going to be interested and supportive and so far it’s very affirmative. We do have a person in Beijing who is very active, an American photographer, Shannon Fagen works our Beijing program, he gets our mentors and our mentees. We are doing it in Bangkok, we are doing that wherever we can do that. Maybe next year we will have one or two more countries, after that maybe five and make it international.

YPA Toronto Team Exhibit

It’s a labour of love?

Jerry Tavin: Oh God! I used to start my speeches for the stock company, why I got into the stock business. I used to start every speech with, “If I knew then what I knew now I would have taken a knife to my throat!” Starting a Foundation, you would take a knife to your throat, a knife to your belly, a knife to everywhere! Because it’s not like owning a business where you control the flow of the money, you hire the people and you do the project. When you start a Foundation, unless you start with a quarter or half a million dollars, you start form grass roots, you have to put together an army of volunteers, but keeping them involved it’s hard not to burn them out. We try not to do that, but it’s hard. So it’s a labour of love.

There’s always a hundred reasons not to do something?

Jerry Tavin: You also come to a point in your life where you begin to feel if you don’t do it know I’m never going to do it. And frankly that happened to me. I also do believe with all my heart, that there is no future to this business if we don’t tap into the energy, the ideas, and the creativity of the young people. The really good photographers that have come to be our presenters such as Mary Ellen Mark, Rob Seliger, Doug Menways, Barbara Bawden, they come to our events to give out the scholarships because they realise these young people are really the foundation of the future of the business. We have attracted a lot of attention from really high-end professional photographers who work with us on our mentoring program, present our awards, work on our educational seminars.

YPA Events Committee Members, Don Bitzer and, Image Source Director of Photography, Lisa Curesky

How difficult is it to get mentors?

Jerry Tavin: In the US, because we are doing it in 12 or 13 cities, I want to reach out to someone we know, to organisations. It’s easy in places like Los Angeles, or Chicago, but it’s more difficult if you want to go to Kansas City for example. We are going to Bangor, Maine this year. It’s more difficult because school, because of workloads, because the kids are the kids, and they don’t do things in timely manner the way that you’d like to round up all the mentees and we do it but it’s a bit of a stretch.

The work is created for a main category, say the program is Answering Adversity, or Raw Energy, or Home Town, the kid comes up with the image for  that theme and then they write an essay on it. One London project contrasted the different ways of living between rich and poor, the different ways the poor travel, the different ways the rich travel, by shooting the different communities. Another showed home-grown vegetables, gardening, to show how they could sustain themselves with food because they didn’t have jobs. In Raw Energy they showed people people building their bodies in gyms, sweat, they showed light bulbs flashing off, they showed all kinds of different ideas. It’s amazing the ideas the kids have.

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