them they’re wrong. The real problem is when networks,
and magazines, and newspapers, and websites all started
using those handouts. You’re putting seasoned pros out
of work. You’re calling me because I’m one of the last
ones standing. Where’s Callie Shell? Chris Morris? Chris
Usher? They’re gone [not shooting Washington politics
anymore]. The news organizations choose to use the
handouts. That’s what’s wrong. [Note: Crowley says The
New York Times rarely publishes handout photos.]
PDN: What can photographers do about it?
SC: [Make] bean counters aware that it doesn’t take much
to derail an individual or organization’s credibility. It’s
really that simple. There’s the value in supporting staff
PDN: When does the 2016 presidential campaign heat up?
SC: It has started. As soon as the mid-term [elections] are
over, things will really kick in.
PDN: How old are you?
SC: I’m 61.
PDN: Campaigns require a lot of stamina. Is it getting
more difficult for you?
SC: Of course. [But] the campaigns are not making as
many stops as they used to. They’re using social media
[so] they can do one event in a city instead of making a
number of VFW calls. That’s bad for democracy. You just
see a packaged news report on [local TV], and it’s less
interaction with the people.
But the White House trips? They’re manageable.
I don’t’ go out drinking at night. I have a disciplined
approach I learned from Larry Downing at Reuters. As
long as you discipline yourself—when I was younger, on
some of these campaigns, it was party all the time.
PDN: Who were your mentors?
SC: I didn’t really have mentors, but there were people I
admired. Wally McNamee. David Burnett for his humor.
Chris Usher for his work ethic. Larry Downing has a
discipline. Scott Applewhite. Grey Villet from LIFE
magazine. You learn a little something from everybody.
PDN: With your “Smoke-Filled Rooms” project, you were
delving into the politics of various issues. What projects
are you working on now?
SC: We have this new project called “First Draft.” It’s
eating up pictures like crazy. Lens [The New York Times
photo blog] was great with the “Smoke-Filled Rooms”
project. They gave me an opportunity to package [stories]
in a creative way, and the approach made my coverage
better than it had been. The other thing is, in the end
I wanted to have a book. I never said I was going to be
Henri Cartier-Bresson. But if I can find an interesting
way to present [my images], then OK. If I do a quad- or
triptych—take those things apart and they’re not great
pictures, but put them together in a creative way and
suddenly it means something. And if every once in a while
I do make the decisive moment, that’s great, too.
Jason Elias struggled to get a
foothold in the business, and
finally succeeded by defining his
niche, learning how to promote
himself, and trusting his instincts.
FOR JASON ELIAS, a week-long assignment to shoot promotions for
“Moonshiners,” the Discovery Channel reality show, was the big break he’d
been waiting for, and he was feeling rattled. Lara Richardson, senior VP
of broadcast promotions, came on set for the last day of shooting, and just
looked on in silence. “I would [shoot] stuff and say, Lara, are you good? And
she would say, ‘If you think you’ve got it, move on.’”
Elias decided to trust his instincts and just keep moving. After the wrap,
he asked Richardson why she’d been so quiet. “And she said, ‘I wanted to see
how you reacted. I wanted to see how you ran the set.’” She wanted to see
if he could draw out their personalities rather than simply direct them “to
stand there with their arms crossed, looking mean,” he explains.
Elias aced the test, and went on to shoot numerous promotions for
Moonshiners, Deadliest Catch, Amish Mafia, Fast N’ Loud, and other
Discovery Channel shows. That led to assignments for Country Music
Television, the History Channel, TLC and other clients. “I found this
incredible niche that gets me a lot of work,” Elias says.
But he struggled to get his career off the ground. He endured a decade
of false starts and bad luck before his film industry experience, some
entrepreneurial talent, and a lot of soul searching paid off.
In fact, success came after he quit trying so hard. “I decided to stop
ABOVE: A promotional image for Discovery Channel’s reality show, “The Big Brain Theory.”
striving for a while,’” he says. “One of the things that I have learned is, if I’m
constantly assessing and strategizing… That’s when I start really doubting
myself. If I trust myself, what’s the worst that can happen? I go back to being
a gaffer, and I have a great career and a good life.”
Elias attended film school, and during the ‘90s worked his way up to head
BELOW: Photographer Jason Elias found a niche shooting reality show promos for
Discovery and other clients.