Chris Gampat - The Phoblographer
We imagine there is a lot that happens behind the curtains for a site like The Phoblographer that the rest of us are unaware of. We, the audience, generally only see the results, so we wanted to shed some light on the efforts that produce the results, namely the work of Chris Gampat, the founder of The Phoblographer. We wanted to take a peek behind that curtain because we want to appreciate the fruits of labor more by appreciating the labor itself. That and we wanted to get to know Chris better and hear what he is passionate about in the world of photography. We reached out to Chris with a short interview. Chris' answers reflect upon a journey that, while it has been successful in many respects, has not always been easy. We'll let Chris speak for himself, though.
So the impetus for this interview began with your work on The Phoblographer, which has become an influential source of information among photography blogs; let's start there. You launched The Phoblographer in 2009 and from there it has grown exponentially. What has that process of growth been like for you personally? After almost a decade, how does The Phoblographer of today compare with where you hoped or expected it to be when you launched it in 2009? And given another decade, where do you see it going?
The Phoblographer started out of a really, really dark place. It was 2009 when I graduated college and with a number of internships under my belt, the economy was so bad that even then I couldn’t get hired for a full time job. So I did the typical native New Yorker thing--lived with my parents. In this case, it was my mentally abusive mother. For a few years I put up with it before moving out, but before then I had been dealing with it since my teenage years. I related to the lyrics of punk rock and so in my own way, founding the Phoblographer was my rebellion. I founded something out of complete angst that I wanted to take care of me and others one day.
But see, I’m a person that tries to plan life and think about things 10 years in advance. I had an idea of where I wanted to be when I was 30, but things changed. So I had goals and at almost 31 I’ve accomplished most of them. I’ve got a few things that I wanted done already but the industry has changed. Canon hasn’t innovated like the 5D Mk II in years and everything has been disruptive. It’s affected the publications like Pop Photo folding and a bunch of other stuff. It’s a much different industry and in some ways I feel like those in charge need to catch up.
In 10 years I see the Phoblographer being a far larger operation, but I think that the American economy for small business owners and the industry needs to stabilize. I don’t have the intentions to turn Phoblographer into a company infected by tech bro after tech bro after tech bro being a poser art bro. I want it to organically grow. Sometimes slow and steady I think is a better approach for a long term strategy. But that’s intertwined with lots of small scale fast pace work.
Running a blog this size no doubt takes a lot of time, effort, sweat and probably blood; what are some of the trials and tribulations of growing a photoblog from inception to the size it is now? What was the toughest moment, and the most rewarding one?
So first off, people don’t think that it involves blood. It surely does. I’ve had lights fall on me and I’ve needed literal staples to close the wounds before. So it’s crazy. Some of the trials that I talk about on a near daily basis have to do with being original. We’ll often be the first to news and some sites will take what we’ve done and repurpose it without proper citation. I’ve reached out to some of these sites and have tried to correct this. But it’s always a battle and being original while also being attractive to a mass audience is quite difficult when a few sites will try to do exactly what you do and then do it in their own way. Plus, there are sites that don’t follow FTC laws and don’t declare that something is sponsored. I’ve always had a policy of complete transparency because I founded this business. I’m in it for the long term.
Then Facebook and other social media try to screw you over by cutting your reach. So you have to always find the next best thing. Plus stay on top of how Google algorithms change. Catering to changing web designs; we’re currently planning a major redesign of the website as it is. Sometimes growing is honestly pretty hard. It requires a team and finding a way to do everything on a budget.
My toughest moment running The Phoblographer was probably a few major changes that happened staff-wise in the early 2010s. I don’t really want to get into it, but the site is a much better one right now. In some ways, my toughest challenge is always trying to ensure that we’re unique and we’re always growing. That’s always the biggest challenge.
The Phoblographer publishes content at an incredibly prolific pace, anywhere from 6-10 posts a day. Walk us through this process. First off, where do the ideas come from? Do you rely on team members to create ideas for content or does a lot of it come from your direction? How long does it usually take to create a post from initial brainstorming to publishing? Hours? Days? Weeks? Or some combination depending on the nature of content and its urgency? And then, for you personally, what are your favorite articles to write?
The Phoblographer content management is done via Trello. Every morning I wake up at 6am EST and I find stories that are unique that my staff can work on. Anthony is on the West Coast. Joy is in the Philippines. Mark and Paul are here in NYC. Our contributors are all over; Xavier is in Brighton, Olivia is in Brooklyn, Tracie is in Ohio, Nathan is in LA, etc. I find stuff on YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, Flipboard, and a few other sources that I don’t want to disclose for competitive reasons. But I also take ideas from the team. Plus people pitch to us via email. So we’ve got a number of places to pull content from and create our own. People can submit to our website to be featured and then we also take pitches for products and stuff.
Once a month, I ask certain contributors to do stories for us. I work with them on ideas based on what they’re working on and what they’re going through mentally. It’s a beautiful process honestly. The big thing about this is that I try to be as accommodating to their schedule as I can be. I sort of have to be anyway since our mobile website rendering company is in Barcelona, our search engine is out of Israel and our main ad agency has people in Boston and California. And then I'm here. People will want to work with you if you develop a symbiotic relationship. I'm not going to make people bend to my will; I'll find ways to make people want to work with me by (WHO THE HELL WOULD'VE KNOWN) not being a jerk to them. I'm fair, I'm very fair. And I always have been. There isn't a single decision I've made that I've regretted later on.
For the longer features, it takes a bit longer to brainstorm. But when ideas come to me, I try to let them flow or I dedicate specific times to writing so that I can stay on course. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I dedicate to content while Tuesday and Thursday are for meetings, emails, calls, etc.
I personally like writing essays and it apparently reflects in what our readers like. When I get to speak from the heart, I’m at my best. That’s not to say that I’m not doing so with reviews, I am. But I also need to give my opinion and the objective facts.
Now let's get away from Chris Gampat, founder and editor of The Phoblographer, and talk a bit about Chris Gampat, the photographer. You have an extensive background in photography: paparrazo, freelance journalist, wedding photographer, candid street photographer, studio photographer... and I imagine I am missing more than a few from that list. How do you describe yourself as a photographer these days?
Oh jeez, I think I’m a conceptual photographer and a portrait photographer. For the website, I purposely don’t show my best work because I’m afraid that it will be alienating to people. At least that’s what I’ve heard before via emails and stuff. But I went through a phase where I featured a ton of conceptual work for my own inspiration. I’m in love with that stuff; being able to express yourself in an image and people can completely understand you and you didn’t use Photoshop, that’s photography for me. I may be elitist, but at least I’m honest.
I genuinely hate the business side of photography though so I don’t take a lot of paid gigs if any.
So what else do you not know about me? I shoot a lot of nudes and film stuff. Plus I shoot a lot of intimate stuff that I’m asked to do because of the trust people have in me. If I wanted to be one of those dicks on Instagram that uses it to get all the followers, then I’d have a million by now. But I don’t want to do that.
Over the years I’ve also become more open about being legally blind. The other night my friend and I were walking and I stopped and snapped a photo with my iPhone. He said to me “How do you see that stuff?” And I told him that I’ve got vision that makes me see the world almost like a surrealist painting. He called it an unfair advantage.
We did a bit of research on some of your latest work and two groups of photos caught our interest. Super heroes, villains and other fantasy characters show up frequently in your work, both studio and abroad. It looks like you have a lot of fun with these and photograph some great characters; tell us a bit about these photos. What drew you to making these portraits? The other set of images that we were interested in is your series Caught On Tape. Tell us about this body of work.
Oh man, my cosplay stuff. Yes, I genuinely love cosplay. I used to go to Comic Con before everyone and their mother became a photographer. It was fantastic. What I usually do is I find inspiration on Pinterest and in actual comics. I try to recreate scenes in a photorealistic way. But I also try to incorporate the personality of the person into the image so that they’re not specifically lost in it. I originally got into cosplay photography too to give myself creative challenges. I want to actually.
Caught on Tape was specifically designed to express myself and to find a way to create my own way of making my images look like stuff from the 90s. You know, because that’s a trend now. It was fun and folks still like that project. I guess you can call it mixed media. But I really like that series even though I barely look at it. I was also just trying to find a way to be different. I guess I succeeded, right?
To pass some of the quiet hours of the day at the camera store here, the staff often quiz each other with off-the-wall camera questions, we want to close out with a couple of these for you, Chris. First up, the desert island question. You're stranded on a desert island with only a single camera - which camera would it be for you? Second question; you are offered the opportunity to travel back in time, only once, to photograph whichever historical event you would like. What or who do you photograph and with which equipment?
Holy crap, you have to save the tough questions for the end, right?
Uhhhhh...well...hmmmmmm. My desert island camera would be the Mamiya 6 with the three lens set. And I’d have a constant flow of Ilford Delta 400. Yup, that would be the life. Plus I’d have some flashes and umbrellas and of course sandbags because I need to stabilize my lights.
Now, if I had to go back in time to photograph one historical event, I’d probably want to photograph the terrible things that old school European nations did to the rest of the world in terms of slavery and such. Then I’d put those photos in front of their governing bodies so that they realize what their people were doing.
Lastly, where is the best place for someone to follow your current work? Instagram, Flickr, website, other?
Alright, that's it for now. Thank you for your time and all the effort you put in at The Phoblographer to get relevant info out to all of us in your audience. Keep up the work and best of luck on your future efforts!
In conclusion we wanted to point out one of Chris' favorite articles he's written, about the near-mythical Leica H that took over a year of research to produce (one of our favorites as well):