As part of Greater And Grander’s ongoing focus of great artistry in the 21st century, we are highlighting several artists who are making a splash on the art scene. Beth Dubber was born and raised in Cleveland, OH. Dubber earned double B.A.’s in German and Studio Art from Cleveland State University.
Making her way to Los Angeles in 2003, she began a career as a unit set photographer in the entertainment industry where she currently works on feature films and television.
Her fine art photography has been published in the NY Times Lens Blog, US of America Magazine, numerous online exhibitions and has shown work in many group shows in and around LA as well as Cleveland, Ohio.
Beth’s clients include ABC, Disney, FOX, HBO, MTV, NBC, Showtime, Universal Studios, and Warner Brothers. Her work has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, People Magazine, and Variety.
What was the first large artistic project you worked on that you were proud of?
Very early on, in the 10th grade, I was fortunate enough to have a photography class and darkroom in my high school. I had the most amazing teacher, Mrs. Stemen, R.I.P. She was very encouraging. I practiced portraiture with hot lights, akin to a basic work lights you’d find at Home Depot today. I took a portrait of my friend which my teacher just adored and made a very big deal about it. I felt embarrassed but also excited. I got to show this portrait at the mall along with other high school students’ work. Much to my amazement, this image won a prize, it was my first prize ever and I received a ribbon. I think that was the time that I knew I would want to be a photographer whether full-time as a career or just as a hobby, I knew it would always be a part of my life.
Why did you get into the arts?
In college, I was given my first assignment of self-portrait series. It was through this series that I found for the first time that I could express emotion that I didn’t know how to verbalize or didn’t want to talk about. It felt empowering, I wanted more of that. At this time, I was 24 years old.
Why did you choose to go to Cleveland State art school versus some other place?
Cleveland State University, close to home, tuition was somewhat affordable. After moving back to the USA from Germany for 2 years, I realized I wanted to go to college solely for the education, it didn’t matter what my major would be. So I bartended and paid my way through, took 6 years, but I did it.
Do you think you would have been better off going someplace else or simply just diving right into being a professional artist?
I am glad I studied. I think it makes a big difference in life having knowledge that you cannot quantify or knowingly apply to a current career but just a more basic knowledge of the world in general. It is mind expanding and I feel VERY valuable. I feel that my college was not great I wish I could have had the experience of being only a college student and not having to work full time to pay for it. But that was not my story and I helped me to work harder and also greatly appreciate my studies.
What were your goals when you started?
My goals became as a way to express myself, to driving to Los Angeles from Cleveland Ohio, in pursuit of becoming a unit still photographer for film and TV. I was laser focused, it took me about 5 years to get my foot in the door and a good 10 years to be working constantly on film sets. Concurrently, I have always worked on my fine art. While I was in pursuit of my on set photography career, I knew I needed to practice my craft. Hence, was born “The Photo of the Week”. I gave myself weekly assignments. My main objective was to capture a true and authentically candid moment, every single week. There are many that fall into this category but only ONE image truly encapsulates this. From my weekly shoots, I would select one image and email it to friends and family. When I started meeting with the photo editors at studios, I would ask them if I could add them to my weekly email list, some said no, most said yes. This series lasted for 10 years, that was not my plan.
It became so entwined with my life that I become obsessive about it and could not stop, even if I wanted to. There was a time when I had to have a major surgery and knew that I would be out of it for at least 6 weeks so I pre-arranged older POTW’s to go out on that Sunday evening. This series went from 2006-2016.
In 2015, I had a baby and the POTW became photos of her, which was boring compared to my street photography people on my email list were used to, I started to get a lot of unsubscribes, which didn’t bother me since its always an exercise for me. I knew I didn’t have the time anymore for weekly jaunts around town so my POTW series organically became a new series called “Dear Madeline”.
I was on the road for a TV job and flying weekly to SF for months. I missed my baby and felt terrible guilt so I began to take her portrait and write her weekly letters, just a snippet of life as it is happening. Also, taking a portrait of her or me as a visual reference. This also ties into my own history, I am adopted and have only 2 photos of my biological mother, (long story) and not many photos of me growing up. My immediate family have all passed away and I would have LOVED having any written document from my parents.
Flash forward, Dear Madeline has begun to include “Dear Peanut” as we have a foster baby and are in the process of adopting him. I get to take his photo and write him letters about what is going on and how it is coming to be that he is adopted and everything I know about his family. It is so important to adoptees to know these things, even if it is a painful truth, we must know. This added letter/photo is also a way for me to fulfill something I long to have for myself.
What are your future goals?
I would like to shoot more commercials, thus far I have worked with Dove and the Shonda Rhimes campaign, Cover Girl photographing Janelle Monae for in store advertisements, and the Honest Diaper company. I also plan to direct in the commercial world.
What are the biggest mistakes an art school student can make while in school?
Skipping class, not doing assignments. Try gaining perspective on what you want to do as a career after studies. Be specific and go for it right after graduation. Also, learn about the business side of being a fine artist. There is a ton of administrative things that are not taught, at all. These are so important to learn. Take a marketing class! Go to toastmasters or an improv class to learn how to better communicate because if you are an introvert and think being an artist will help you stay that way, you are very wrong.
What did you do after art school? Did you have trouble finding work when you first got out?
Yes, I moved to NYC, I had no clue what I wanted to do in life so I just kept bartending. I was a gypsy for a very long time and had no direction. I ended up working in production on commercials with a friend and did that for a while, I juggled jobs for many years.
What difficulties (if any) did you encounter?
Internal, having NO idea what to do. I wanted to be a photographer but that seemed overwhelming and I had zero clue about how to go about it. I had skills but I was never taught about what it takes to get a photography assignment or even how to do it, it scared the hell out of me and seemed so daunting that I didn’t really even try.
Do you ever work for free or on spec now? And if so, how do you choose when to work on those terms?
Yes, only for non-profits events and portraits, something I see as valuable. It is important to give back when I can.
What are you currently working on, and how did you arrive here?
I am working on putting my book together of my 10 years of the Photo of the Week. I also am working on a Netflix show that I cannot talk about because I am under NDA.
What are the biggest mistakes a person can make when they first start working as a professional artist?
Over-valuing themselves. Really take a look at your work and experience. Talk with mentors often. I see some photographers just starting out and work is not so great but want to charge crazy rates because they are a photographer then not get work. You have to constantly practice your craft and remain teachable.
Did someone ever try to take advantage of your inexperience in the arts?
Of course, this is always the case. People will take whatever you give. The best course of action is to simply say NO and move along, do not take it personally. It has nothing to do with you and your art. I have to laugh when I see on message boards people huffing and puffing over being offer free or cheap work. Just pass and move on, no big deal.
Did you ever come across a project or a person that looked promising, and then the whole thing blew up in your face?
Sure, in the beginning, I worked for free on set and sometimes the visuals sucked. So I learned to only work with more experienced filmmakers so I could gain the lush visuals I needed for my portfolio.
Also, ALWAYS have a contract in place, even if its very basic info, I learned this the hard way. I also get paid before I hand over deliverables and do not care if people get upset by that. My experience has been that people respect these common business practices and they know what to expect when they hire me. It is all laid out before the work is to begin. If it is a last minute job, I still insist on working out details before I begin any work, this is just a common business practice.
I would look out for people who do not want to answer questions, such as, how much are you paying, what is your budget, etc.
What did you do?
Several times, I withheld work until I got paid. One time, there was a mis communication about copyright when a client thought it was a “work for hire” job and since there was no buyout in place, I assumed a licensing fee would be in place. We had a very uncomfortable 2 hours hammering out rights in a rudimentary document, this is a big reason I do all contract and spell out everything before the job begins.
Did anyone ever approach you and say they would offer you a job if you slept with them?
It has been implied, I work in Hollywood! But I never did and would not consider it. I believe real deals are made in an office and on paper. Any physical relationships ruin any good chance of good and solid employment.
Did you ever meet someone casually at a club that wound up leading to a great job, or a major step in your career?
No, never!! Solid working relationships do not happen in bars, if they do it is extremely rare. Networking is vital! Developing solid relationships is the cornerstone to success. Don’t get sloppy drunk if you are at one. I love networking events, because that is what they are for. But I only like early ones and I don’t stay long, maybe 2 hours max. Hand out cards, that’s all you need to do, Getting drunk at a bar and romanticizing and dreaming of all the great things you’ll do together is a complete and utter farce, it will never happen, Real deals happen in person, sober, or on the phone, sometimes via email.
What motto do you try to live your life by?
A few, There is room for me, this too shall pass, If I don’t ask, the answer is No. If at first I don’t succeed, try, try again.
Where’s your favorite place in Los Angeles?
Olvera Street, Griffith Park, The beach.
For more information on Beth Dubber, check out her website at www.bethdubber.com. For all print sales, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Also email to join the artist’s newsletter and/or weekly letters subscription.