Bucking the Trend
November 2008

by Ron Steinman

I know a young photojournalist in Brooklyn named Joshua Wolfe who devotes his time and craft to making pictures of climate change. Wolfe is also an entrepreneur, a young man with big ideas. Despite the state of the economy and how it is hurting photographers everywhere [see the October 2008 issue of The Digital Journalist for an editorial called "The Challenges of the Economy": http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0810/editorial.html], Wolfe and five colleagues who also concentrate on the environment have created a new agency to handle their work called GHG Photos. Obviously not the greatest time to start a new photo agency, I have a sense that they said, why not now when the mood moves us? I recently conducted an e-mail interview with Joshua Wolfe about the agency, its hopes and dreams.

R.S.: What promoted you (and the other photographers) to start a new agency in a clearly declining market for photography?

Joshua Wolfe: In many ways it was the declining market that prompted the creation of our new agency. Resources for the type of photography we do are much harder to come by now than they would have been a decade ago. GHG Photos is meant to tackle that problem in two ways. The first is to bring together photographers specializing in climate change under one umbrella. We want the agency to be a resource for climate change photography. If an editor is interested in the far north and polar bears he can get in touch with Steve Kaslowski, who might already be in the field, and thus more cost effective. If an editor wants photos of rising sea levels in the South Pacific, he can find Gary Ashley or myself. We know how to get around some of the more remote islands and already have connections with the major scientists working in the region. Importantly, editors will be sure that when we submit our work, the photos and the captions reflect an understanding of the science.

© Steven J. Kaslowski
Polar bear, Ursus maritimus, sow with cub walking on multi-layer ice (freshwater pans formed over the years where the salt is squeezed out of the ice) on the Chuckchi Sea, off the National Petroleum Reserves, Alaska.
Our second goal is to explore new funding sources as a group. There is a lot of interest in climate change right now but organizations looking to create projects involving photography don't have a resource to handle the photography. We want to help them build the projects from the ground up and secure new sources of funding.

This is an extension of the group projects we've been working on since 2005 when we put together the show "Photographers' Perspectives on Global Warming." Of the agency members Gary, Peter, Ashley and myself were in it. Since then we've collaborated on other projects and generally keep running into each other the way photographers do in oddball, remote places.

What is your market?

We hope to reach several markets, including magazines and newspapers, NGOs and foundations. We also want to find corporate and advertising work to supplement our incomes.

Each of the initial members is already established. How does an agency such as this help them in selling their work?

While we've established ourselves as photographers it is still a constant struggle to fund our work. We each have networks to support our work. I work closely with the Earth Institute at Columbia University; Gary, Benj and Sara are with the Blue Earth Alliance, and Peter is with National Geographic. The agency wants to expand those networks and diversify our funding sources so that if one project falls through we don't have to scramble as much.

© Peter Essick
Jeff Pagati sampling the "Coro marl" (the white layer) at Murray Springs, Arizona. This highly distinct layer was deposited during the last ice age (from 40,000 to 15,000 years ago) when local conditions were wetter than today. The thin black mat overlaying it was laid down during the Younger Dryas 13,000 to 11,500 years ago. Fossils within the sediment can help date local changes and climate impacts.
At the same time I feel like we have an unusual range of talent and experience. We have photographers in their 20s just making their names and veterans who've put 20 years into their careers. Gary Braasch and I are a perfect example. I'm serving as president and Gary as vice-president. I'm 25 and Gary has been in photography for that long but that range of experience is an asset to the agency. It provides us with a series of different perspectives, both philosophically and visually. Visually, you can see the difference in the contrast, tones, and composition in our work. I tend to favor harsher light, more contrast, and images composed around a handful of graphic elements whereas Gary prefers softer light sources, subtler contrast and layered compositions. Philosophically the two of us frequently argue for hours on end about climate change, related issues, and what to do next.

Are you or the others part of any other agency?

Many of us have contracts with stock agencies but none of us have competing assignment representation. GHG Photos will not represent stock in the first year.

Do you model your agency on any other agency?

As our model, I like to think that we took the best parts from different agencies and non-profits. VII does some really interesting things in terms of outreach and funding sources, Magnum builds great partnerships with NGOs, and Noor is coming up with models to produce hard-hitting stories as a group without losing individual identity or focus. From the non-profit world, Proof: Media for Social Justice has a similar approach to creating group projects among photographers to better explain a subject (in their case, Darfur), and Blue Earth Alliance for exploring new funding sources for long-term projects. There is a lot of interesting stuff done in the photo world right now and we hope to draw on it.

Are you open to having other photojournalists join the agency? If so, how can anyone do that?

The Athabasca Glacier in Canada in 1919 and rephotographed by Gary Braasch in 2005.
We would love to expand our ranks, but joining is almost as much self-selection as it is applying for membership. We want members to have a commitment not just to the subject matter but also to the science of climate change. Just because you've photographed something related to climate change doesn't mean the work shows knowledge of the subject. We don't have a set process for applying but the best way is to contact one of the members. We don't have a program yet for photographers that are just starting to cover the subject but that is something we'll probably consider in the future.

Why is your agency unique?

Our focus on climate change sets us apart. With two or three notable exceptions, we really represent our entire specialty. There aren't that many photographers who have focused on climate change and almost all of them are now members of GHG Photos.


For the biographies of each of the founding members of GHG Photos – Gary Braasch, Ashley Cooper, Benjamin Drummond, Peter Essick, Steven Kazlowski and Joshua Wolfe – along with a gallery of their work and more information about GHG Photos, go to their Web site at http://www.ghgphotos.com/.

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© Ron Steinman

Ron Steinman, Executive Editor of The Digital Journalist, is an award-winning producer of television news and documentaries. He was NBC's bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. He is also an author and freelance documentarian through his company, Douglas/Steinman Productions. Buy Ron Steinman's book: Inside Television's First War.