An Interview with Judy Herrmann
Along with Lindsay Adler and Richard Kelly, our (now graduated!) Advanced Intensive students were fortunate enough to hear from, and spend time with another distinguished name in the photography industry, Judy Herrmann. A former president of the ASMP and a current full-time commercial shooter, Judy provided a valuable perspective on life as a photographer for our students. I had the chance to catch up with Judy for a quick Q&A, and am happy to be able to introduce her to our blog audience today.
Q. In a nutshell tell our audience who you are. Where do you live? Where were you educated? When you did you begin shooting professionally? What kind of work do you do?
A. I am Judy Herrmann of Herrmann + Starke, a style-based studio that specializes in producing distinctive imagery for commercial clients. My partner, Mike Starke, and I have worked out of a small historic district in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. corridor since 1989. I graduated from UCLA in 1986. My major was design with an emphasis in photography and video.
Q. How long have you been teaching?
A. Our first studio was located in an Arts Center where we taught photography and darkroom classes to non-professionals as a way of supplementing our income while building our commercial client base. In 1994, as early adopters of digital technology, we wrote a series of articles on our experiences making the transition from film to digital for Photo District News magazine. We leveraged that series into a seminar called “Going Digital” at the 1995 Photo Plus Expo (then called VisComm) in New York. We expanded that program into 2 parts: “Going Digital: the Technical Side” and “Going Digital: the Business Side,” which we took it to national photography conferences across the country.
These seminars and articles gave us clout with manufacturers who were eager to reach our audiences. In 2003, we received sponsorship that allowed us to take a day-long program called “Working Digitally” to 22 ASMP chapters in two years. By 2005, we recognized that the need for sound business practices outweighed the need for training on technology and started to develop programs on Copyright, Licensing, Pricing and Planning for industry conferences. My “Breaking into the Biz” program has been presented at the Photo Plus Expo every year since. In 2008, during my presidency, the ASMP revived the highly acclaimed Strictly Business conference. The workshop I developed on career planning and development for SB2, toured the country from 2008 through 2010. In 2011, I was the only educator invited to present 3 workshops for ASMP’s SB3 conference.
Q. You were a past president of ASMP. What was that experience like? How did it help steer your own photography career?
A. Five out of my six years on the ASMP National Board were spent holding various positions on the Executive Board – Secretary, 2nd Vice President, 1st Vice President and finally President. I was a very active board member those first five years. Always chairing multiple committees, doing a lot of heavy lifting but nothing prepared me for the sheer intensity of serving as the organization’s president. The ASMP presidency is all consuming. You spend at least 40 hours per week on ASMP business and far more than that thinking about the many problems and issues that the organization is working to improve. Adding that to an already over-extended professional photographer’s working life is daunting at best. But it’s also worth it. The exposure to ideas, the opportunity to shape the future of our industry, the skills you hone, the people you work with within ASMP and the industry leaders you meet along the way, all make you a better, smarter, more thoughtful business person in your own right.
Q. How was your experience teaching at RMSP in Missoula? Had you visited Montana before?
A. I have never been to Montana before and was startled to find golden rolling hills greeting me outside the Missoula Airport. I had grown up playing hide and seek in the tall wild oaks covering Northern California but the hills of my childhood are now plastered with houses. Seeing those empty expanses of flowing gold was like walking back in time.
The RMSP Career Training program is astonishing in its intensity and effectiveness. The students’ work demonstrates quite clearly that they are encouraged to develop their own vision at a much earlier stage of their photographic experience than most. I spent much of my visit trying to figure out how this happens. I think it’s a mix of factors – having different teachers each week, which requires the students to pick and choose what they’re going to keep from each faculty member and reduces the desire (or need) to emulate the teachers’ aesthetic, the supportive environment created by the founders and staff that encourages camaraderie and downplays competitiveness, the intensity of the class schedule, which puts the students into a kind of pressure cooker where faking it becomes hard to maintain – that together create a space where each student can find their own voice
Q.When you were here, our students were wrapping up our 2011 Career Training program with the Advanced Intensive course. For them, and anyone else about to embark on a future as a professional image maker, what do you think the biggest hurdle they will encounter is?
A. Managing change. Most human beings have a hard time with change and that hurdle gets taller as we gain experience. Our industry has been going through classic disruptive change for several years now and there’s no end in sight. Maintaining adaptability, keeping your expectations flexible, staying open to opportunities that don’t look like what you imagined when you started down a path – these are the big challenges that imaging professionals will be facing for the foreseeable future.
Q. Who are some of the photographers you look up to?
A. Oh, there are so many and for so many different reasons…one thing I’ve discovered now that I’ve been in a position to meet many of the photographers whose work I admire is that knowing the artist has a huge impact on how I feel about their work. I find myself far less able to appreciate the work of someone who turns out to be arrogant, selfish, a prima donna or just plain rude. I imagine many clients feel the same way.
Q. When not behind the camera, or running your business, what are some of your other interests?
A. When I’m not working on my projects related to my business or the ASMP, you’ll most likely find me hanging out with my delightful 4-year old. I also try to read for at least one hour every day.
Q. Are you a coffee drinker? If so, black? cream? sugar? decaf?
A. Sadly, I had to give up coffee while I was in college so I’ve become a dedicated caffeine-free tea drinker. My current favs are Earl Red, a bergamot infused Rooibos (African Red Bush) from Samovar in San Francisco and Trader Joe’s Ruby Red Chai, a rich, flavorful, cinnamonny Rooibos. Both are great brewed strong with a healthy splash of milk.
To see more of Judy’s, visit www.hsstudio.com