Man Makers Mondays is back with my pal Ben Renschen. Ben’s name circled around through a group of friends before we finally met in 2016 and what a gem he is. We’ve worked together on a few projects and each time, I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to work with people like him. His personality is similar to the way he exhibits the beauty in front of the lens…There is a thoughtful articulation of his subjects, a mindfulness as he clicks away and departs gently as to not alter the natural beauty. One can easily sense the reverence he carries for the environment as he explores it all behind the camera. When I look at his photography, I find streams of philosophical thought embedded within them in the way he captures sun streaks, fog, mist and the totality of nature’s stillness. I bet Henry David Thoreau and Ben would have been able to sit side by side on a mountain top somewhere, one with a pen, the other with a camera and just be. He’s traveled around the world as a photojournalist and one would be very lucky to caravan with him on assignment, he is easy, accommodating and walks with a warmth that makes human connection memorable. This maker has been a great ally in helping me recognize the merits of the marketing and strategy. His educational work at Society 6 boosts moral in developing creative content but also strives to uplift artists so we may all achieve the success we hope for. I am honored to share his work, recommend him for any and all assignments and call him a friend. Enjoy.
What is your brand/name:
What is your heritage:
Human? In spirit, I wish I was more aligned with aboriginal or early human communities – it's the purist way I know to scrub myself of modern, judge-able stereotypes. Ignoring ancient DNA though, I always assumed I was a European mut. My mom said she had Swedish/French blood and my dad is Greek/Italian. I did the 23andMe thing and found out that’s true (among other bloodlines). We never really had traditions associated with being Swedish or Italian or any region for that matter, so my heritage, in the traditional sense, is pretty middle America.
What are 3 reference points of inspiration for your work: (philosophy/culture)
1. The natural world is a master of solutions. If I want to learn anything, I'll just see how nature would handle a problem.
2. A rising tide lifts all boats. Support the growth of each other, and you support the growth of all. Join or create communities.
3. Find, practice and teach empathy. It seems so obvious, but it bears repeating over and over and over again.
What are 3 skills you've learned in representing yourself as an artist:
I feel like I’ve been slower to implement the self-representation skills I recognize as most valuable in other artists. I work at Society6 as our Artist Development Manager so myself, and our awesome Community Team, have over 300,000 artists educating US every single day. I’m always soooo impressed by how artists do what they do. So, please forgive the educator in me that’s coming out!! I get so excited about this stuff!
1. Authenticity is everything. In your work. When talking to clients. On social platforms. All of it. Be you. Pour yourself into the work. Without authenticity, we’re building a house of cards.
2. Create until you can say "this is why I create". Boil it down to one sentence. It’s hard, but worth it. The answer will almost always be a work in progress, but you should be able to answer that question when asked. If you can create a consistent body of work (or a series), you’ll have a marketable narrative. But if you’re just getting off the ground, simply create until a theme or motive is clear across your body of work. Then, put it into words. Get feedback on your bio from friends and/or customers to see if they can add anything. Have thick skin! Feedback is important, but can be challenging if you’re not used to it. Once you have your “why” down, take those words to #3...
3. Pitch yourself regularly and be precise in that pitch. Whether it’s for press/social coverage, collaborations or new commissions, this could easily be #1 on my list. It’s not enough to just reach out anymore. The thing you’re trying to accomplish should be very clear within the first sentence or two of outreach. People love bullets and high level facts. A 4-5 slide deck featuring your best work and most popular collaborations, partners or press is HUGE. Add logos! Create value for the recipient of your pitch. Your pitch should also be easy to email around without explanation. You want your pitch to impress people on it’s own merit. Don’t slink into the background or get super heady in there. That’s what makes follow up convos so great! Think of every cold call/email/DM as a cover letter for a job. Devote time to getting your pitch down and improve it with every rejection. Then ignore my advice, light one up or pour a few fingers of whiskey and experiment with new work until your hands fall off!
What are 3 skills you believe are a necessity to be an independent artist/designer?
1. Embrace the business side of art if you take it seriously. Business is not a competing philosophy. It's complimentary. Money does not rule all, but we do need to find ways to sustain our creative work if it’s truly important to us. Sometimes that's stressful. Sometimes you get to do a deep dive into the work. But unless your strategy is 24/7 pumping out work until you start landing big clients/gigs on the regular, you'll need to find a balance between business building/outreach and creative time.
2. Learn to say "no". I feel like I live by this. Don't waste your time–it’s a finite resource. Saying no gets a lot easier the more times you say yes when you wish you didn't–to clients, to friends, to events, to collabs, etc. Still say yes to things that challenge you and feel right, but as you identify why you create, only say yes to projects you see growth in–personal or business. Our gut is usually on point.
3. Get out of your own damn way. Show the world your work. Be diligently aware of pride and ego limiting your opportunities to get your work to a larger audience. Fear sucks. And everyone suffers from it. I do. It’s not an easy thing to shake, so check in with yourself every now and again and actually answer the question, “What am I afraid of?” Is it failure? Is it success? Is it time commitment? Knowing the answer to what’s preventing your growth is the first step to getting out of your own way.
What moved you to make with your hands:
I’m a firm believer that we exist to support the journey of others. From what I can surmise, one of the most challenging parts about being human is our ability, or lack thereof, to manage or resolve pain–whatever the source of it is. That said, my need is to inspire greater expressions of empathy in others. That means the medium doesn’t carry much weight. Whether that’s 35mm, drawing, imagery of people, plants, animals or landscape, I always try to remind people of their contribution to a greater purpose.
If you could travel anywhere today, where would you travel and why:
Ask me again in ten minutes and I’ll have a totally different answer! haha. Buuuuut I want to be shooting water-rich, biodiverse ecosystems these days. So, I’ve been seriously craving a jungle trip w/ epic waterfalls. Just got back from Hawaii in August. Amazing, duh. Haven’t been to South America yet! I went to Norway last year. EPIC for waterfalls!! But also, feeling like a return trip to SE Asia is at the top of the list. I've been to a handful of places over there (Indo, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc), but I've barely scratched the surface! I’m also on an alerts list for Serengeti trips because who doesn’t want to go back to Africa? Long story short, I did a crap job answering your question. Anyone feelin’ like an adventure? Email meeeee!
3 Favorite songs at the moment:
Cocaine Jesus by Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Ancient Light by Allman Brown https://open.spotify.com/track/5yDxRgBdvZICap03ygT95y?si=tXFlfakqRWuXgtE0dxZIpQ
Breaker’s Roar by Sturgill Simpson https://open.spotify.com/track/7rR5X9RKz5VprclstYOLb5?si=fnFVzTD2SFOn96_2dj4twQ
What advice would you offer your fellow female makers? What business advice?
My advice is agnostic of gender. Use your internal, socio-emotional climate to inspire work that changes the world. As for business, be aggressive in having the world see it. To live self-sufficiently as artists, we need income to meet our financial needs (housing, food, travel, etc). Duh, but also make sure income is a part of your thought process when you're in business mode. We invest a lot of time and energy into our creations. It only makes sense to give them the best chance to be discovered so we can keep doing what we do best–making things!
What advice would your 65 year old self give to you today?
Grab the bull by the horns while everyone else wonders what it's like.
What change would you most like to see in the world?
This question was hard as fuck to answer. And I wasn't intending to self-promote a new project, but it feels very relevant bc I recently dug deep to answer this question for myself.
I’m in the process of launching Good & Gone, an online mag of sorts. It’s very much in it’s infancy right now, but the mission is to provoke greater expressions of empathy within storytelling, travel and daily life. It's the sum of my interests and will evolve as I do. To your question though, that mission is the change I want to see in the world and I want to build a community around that parent philosophy.
When I realized that my mission statement supersedes my interest in photography, I knew I’d be shifting focus (at least for now). For me, being a publisher in the world allows me to have a much greater impact, while still allowing me to shoot whatever I want (art, lifestyle, landscape, photojournalism, etc).
Any additional thoughts on the importance of artisanal/handmade goods in a fast pace Western World?
It's an incredible time to be an artist!! It feels like we’re accelerating into the age of information, but we also still have control of our creative processes. I can walk into the woods and spend 3 hours photographing less than a quarter mile. No one can rush me and I love my pace. I also love bringing it back and sharing that stuff. That's where I think the value is...the "why we create". The world will change and so will landscapes and mediums, but the "why" will always matter–even if only to encourage new work the world needs at that time.
Here is where to find Ben.