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Crusade Tour Featured on FStoppers

The awesome Joseph Gamble interviewed me for this article on FStoppers. Love the Joseph, love the FStoppers.A Crusade for Collecting: Jennifer Schwartz’s Photo Road Tripby Joseph Gamble, published on FStoppers on September 3, 2013

Ten thousand miles, ten cities on a coast to coast ramble in a 1977 vintage VW bus all for the sake of promoting photographic art. From April to June of this year, gallerist Jennifer Schwartz was behind the wheel of her microbus on a two-fold mission: to promote photographers and create collectors. Working with five photographers in each city on the tour, she orchestrated pop-up events and curbside photo exhibits designed to educate and engage communities regarding photographic art and the value of starting a collection.

An avid photographer and collector, she launched the Jennifer Schwartz gallery in March 2009 in Atlanta with the hope of reaching collectors and providing an immersive art buying experience. One of the cornerstones of her early success was placing photographers in front of an audience of interested collectors. As she explained, her role was not just to sell work but also to foster a community of collectors.

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Lady Blue replica model in Brooklyn, New York when the van was under repair.

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The Map of the trip.

“In my Atlanta gallery, I discovered the most successful programs to get new people interested in art involve meeting the artist and making a personal connection,” said Schwartz. “They lure people who have had only a limited relationship with art to have a unique, fun experience where they engage with photography and the artists in a thoughtful way. They look, and in a lot of cases, they start to believe in art.”

While the gallery experience created a local nexus for artists and enthusiasts to gather and view work, the space felt limiting as she was only reaching people in Atlanta. Thus, she came up with the idea of a mobile arts promotion traveling across the country in a wide loop from Atlanta to Los Angeles and up the West Coast to Seattle before heading east to Chicago and New York and then down the East Coast.

The trip wasn’t an unplanned, off-the-cuff road show. Schwartz staged pre-trip events in 2012, one at the High Museum of Art and the other in December at PhotoNOLA in New Orleans. These initial stops were instrumental in preparing for the three-month journey that began in April, which she named the Crusade for Collecting.

The idea was grassroots and simple — take the gallery experience on the road, interface with local photographers in each of the tour stops and then bring the photographers and their work directly to people on the street. In essence, breaking down the gallery walls and the exclusivity that exists in the art world. Photographers seeking exposure would give away ten of their photographic prints (between 6 x 9” and 8.5 x 11”) signed copies of an image freely in exchange for the exposure and opportunity of sharing their work and being a part of the tour.

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Pop-Up Event in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Los Angeles, California Pop-Up event.

“I felt that if I could give people a fun, disarming art experience in an unexpected way – that if they had an opportunity to meet artists, learn about their work and connect to an original piece that became theirs – it may be transformative and put them on a path to loving, supporting and collecting original art,” said Schwartz. “And what could be more fun than walking by a turquoise 1977 VW bus with photographers standing in front giving away original, signed photographs to someone who wanted to chat about them?”

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San Francisco Pop-Up Event

To fund the purchase and outfitting of her bus, nicknamed Lady Blue, Schwartz, like many project-driven photographers profiled on Fstoppers, launched a Kickstarter campaign. It wasn’t an easy prospect so her efforts were buoyed by additional sources including sponsorships, a local fundraiser, private donations, and the Collectors Building Collectors program that she developed with an Atlanta collector.

“When I launched my Kickstarter campaign, it still seemed fun and new and I had only known a couple of people who had run a Kickstarter campaign but I did have a difficult time explaining to my non-art friends that ‘yes, they were giving me money to buy a bus, and no, there were not any starving children or sick animals that would benefit from it,’” said Schwartz. “Now that the concept is more mainstream and people trust it, I think it is easier to fund a project, because the pool of potential supporters is deeper.  On the flip side, there is a significant amount of Kickstarter fatigue.  If you are going to do it, I think you have to be very strategic about it.  I wrote a blog post offering tips to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign, based on my experiences.”

Lady Blue, like many Volkswagen microbuses from the past, wasn’t the most reliable choice of vehicle considering she would be subjected to a bi-coastal odyssey. Once on the road, Jen quickly learned to speak ‘conversational mechanic’ and now counts several mechanics around the country as good friends. “Fewer breakdowns would’ve been nice…” she said.

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Mechanics and Sean Dana (photographer who traveled with the tour from San Francisco to Portland) diagnosing Lady Blue. Photo by Kurt Simonson.

There were some detractors who felt that the concept of giving away work was devaluing the photographic medium and the work of the artists. Participating photographers were given an opportunity to showcase their work and reach out to new people who might take an interest in their future work. “But the goal was to give people an opportunity to connect with a piece of art, own it, hang it, to recognize value in that experience, and to want to replicate it going forward,” said Schwartz. “The hope was that the engagement would be transformative.”

Overall, the three-month saga was “a blur of awesomeness.” Photographers often came aboard and drove sections of the trip and kept her company. Social media resources including facebooktwitterinstagramand youtube proved to be immeasurable as she documented the entire experience with blog posts and video updates. It was an organic way of keeping up with new contacts from cities past and to forecast and prepare for her arrival in a new city. A few highlights of the trip include: an unplanned stopover in Cleveland with assistance from the Cleveland Print Room, a private tour by Fred Bidwell of the Todd Hido show at Transformer Station and presenting to a sold-out crowd at FotoWeek DC, the final stop on the tour.

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DC pop up with photographers Frank H. Day, Hannele Lahti, E. Brady Robinson, Jennifer Schwartz, Alexandra Silverthorne, James Campbell.

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Lady Blue in front of the White House. 

Although the Crusade tour is over, she is developing Crusade for Art, a non-profit organization with a mission to educate, inspire, and support artists to create unique, approachable programs that engage new audiences with art in meaningful ways. She has a variety of opportunities for photographers that are in the works and will be announced at the end of the year.

“This tour was not about a road trip, it was about starting a conversation about art,” said Schwartz. “It is nice to know the conversation not only started, but also continues.”

You can keep up with Jennifer Schwartz by sign up for the email newsletter and following her online at Crusade for Art or check in on her gallery work at Jennifer Schwartz Gallery.

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Astoria Retreat (Season 4!): #flashersforlife

When David Bram and I started planning our first invite-only retreat for photographers over a year ago, we never could have imagined how powerful these experiences would be - for everyone.  David and I leave each and every one completely blown away by the talent, energy and drive of these artists.  And then there's the bonding. . . something about living all together in a house for five days, talking non-stop about your art and life. . . it easily makes the retreats one of the most special and rewarding things I do. I have often said that living in the house together is like The Real World without the hot tub, and when I started my tour, so many of the photographers who have participated on the retreats either came along on a leg of the trip or participated in a pop-up or just showed up in a city for an in-person high-five. It started to feel like The Real World-Road Rules Challenge, with photographers from one retreat meeting photographers from another and sharing stories from what they all knew was a completely unique experience.  "What retreat were you on?" sounded very much like "What Season were you on?".  

Sean Dana and Kurt Simonson (Season 1 - aka Astoria 7/12, aka #Astoria6) drove with me from San Francisco to Portland, where we met up with Bill Vaccaro, who was also Season 1 and participated in the New Orleans pop-up (so did Kurt!) and met up with the Crusade in Cleveland.  In Portland I saw Julia Vandenoever (Season 2, aka The Cat Cave) and Elizabeth Clark Libert (Season 3, aka The Bone Collectors) and Brandon Thibideaux (who was soon to be Season 4, aka Flashers).  Sarah Moore (Season 2) was my co-pilot from Chicago (where we met up with Matt Crowther - Season 4) to Cleveland (enter Bill Vaccaro and Matthew Conboy - on Sarah's season) to New York (where she reunited with Muema from Season 2 and met Sara Macel from Season 4 and Charlotte Strode, who will be Season 5 in July).  And to bring it all home, Heather Evans Smith (Season 3) met me in Richmond to celebrate the final Crusading days.  Whew.  Confused?

In all of the traveling excitement, I have not written up the last retreat (Season 4 - held in Astoria, Oregon in April).  This group bonded straight out of the gate.  It was almost alarming.  We always try to put together people from different places, photographic experiences, types of work, etc. so that the participants learn from each other as much as they learn from us.  And although this group had the usual amount of diversity, they were besties nearly instantaneously.

We had the usual agenda of intensive work on portfolios, sequencing, artist statements (my favorite!), and hours and hours of more, followed by after-hours bowls of Butterfinger ice cream and more photo talk.  We also explored Canon Beach (Goonies rock!), made friends with some locals, rocked the DQ,  and became flashers for life.

This crew. . . damn special.  They all are, honestly.  David and I say it constantly - we are so lucky to do what we do.

Make sure you check out the work from this talented group: Matt Crowther, Elizabeth Fleming, Sara Macel, Brandon Thibodeaux and Annick Sjobakken.

Are you a photographer interested in getting a project ready to launch? Check out Flash Powder Projects here.

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A Tale from the Backseat by Kurt Simonson

I first met Jennifer Schwartz at the inaugural Flash Powder retreat in Astoria, Oregon last summer.  It wasn’t long before I was deeply impressed by her passion for art and for people, and her brilliant out-of-the-box thinking.   When she first told me about the upcoming Crusade for Collecting, I loved the idea, and I had the distinct premonition that I’d find myself involved in some way (ok, actually, I had visions of being broken down in the middle of Texas, having repeatedly told Jennifer that I did not drive stick...) Still, this all sounded strangely appealing, so with a teaching sabbatical on the horizon, I figured I’d jump in. I was fortunate enough to participate as one of the featured photographers in both New Orleans and my own home of Los Angeles before I actually joined Lady Blue on the road in San Francisco.  The experience of giving my work away to strangers in both of those cities was a whirlwind of energy.  Whether the people passing by were genuinely interested in my work, or whether they were just bewildered and took a photograph to get me to shut up, it didn’t matter—my work was making it’s way into the hands of new collectors.   Who knows, maybe they got home and threw it away, or maybe they put it on the wall and it’s their new favorite thing… either way that’s okay.  What I found so valuable was the interpersonal connection of artist to collector, giving artists a chance to forge a vibrant network of relationships in the community through their work.

The next week, I met up in San Francisco with Jennifer and our fellow Astoria mate Sean Dana, ready to begin my leg of this adventure on the road.  As promised by Jennifer, I was not allowed to drive Lady Blue, due to my aforementioned ignorance of manual transmission (yes, I’m a bad Minnesotan).   So instead, I took up residence on the backseat bench, where I could get lost in all the street noise and be left to shout “what?!” to Jennifer and Sean as they had their conversations in the front of the bus.   The first story I heard was about how Lady Blue had spent most of the weekend in the shop, being tenderly serviced by an amorous mechanic named Coby.  Sean seemed reassured by Coby (who wore a jumpsuit with the name Paul on it, so Jennifer called him Fake Paul from the start) that things were going to be in good shape for the drive to Portland.   After a leisurely morning of preparation and b-roll footage, we hit the road.

The camera was rolling, the music was cranking…. and the oil was leaking.  Heavily.  We didn’t even make it over the Golden Gate before Lady Blue decided she missed Coby.  With only a couple miles under our belt, we had to go back to Valley WagonWorks to spend some more quality time with Fake Paul Coby.   I was beginning to wonder if we would spend more time crusading for mechanics to become collectors than anyone else.  This photo says it all to me:

The generous sponsorship of the “Impossible” project, written on a decal along the side of the bus, threatened to become an ominous prophesy of doom.  However, long story short, and a mediocre Mexican dinner later, Coby found what was wrong (or did he?) and sent us off on our way, just barely before sunset.

After spending the night in Willits, CA, Sean chugged ole’ Lady Blue out of the parking lot of our hotel and into the middle of the road, where she promptly decided that she was done … only two minutes into the day.  We forced her to chug along a side road to Ron’s Muffler, where we would meet our next batch of collectors mechanics.  This time, however, the experience and wisdom of Ron was on our side.  I had a good feeling about this and was optimistic: I grew up around repair shops and mechanics.  It’s the type of work my family has done for generations, and while I’ve always been a total misfit to that world, I still had a good feeling about Ron and his two guys, Cesar and Matthew.   Sure enough, within minutes, Ron could tell what was happening, and Matthew found a bolt that was loose, or broken, or something like that… I don’t know… Sean talked to them.  I was busy taking photos of junk piles.   Again, I’m a bad Minnesotan and I fell far from the mechanic tree in my family.  In any case, with a sense of great relief, we hit the road again, with our mechanical woes behind us.  Lady Blue was finally happy, it was a beautiful day, and the lush wooded landscape of the 101 northbound was ahead of us.

The day was marked by two epic stops:  first with John and then with the Giants.   Jennifer has already shared a bit about John, and his toilet in the middle of the field along the side of the 101.  (You can see some of Sean's photos here.) This was truly your quintessential road trip experience.  John’s roadside wunderkammern was a definitely a “cabinet of curiosities,” but it was John himself, and his hospitality and generosity, that left us feeling so much joy.  

Upon first getting out of the bus, I was led by John directly to the far back of his large shed where he opened a fridge packed full of beer and soda and proceeded to tell me all about his Chrysler New Yorker, his various collections, and all the different people he gets to meet when they stop to use his toilet in the field.  He pulled up chairs for us, offered us many gifts, and even sang along to some of his favorite songs (he would regularly grab the remote to his Bose speaker system and play whatever song he felt appropriate in the moment).  Eccentric, definitely, but crazy?  Not at all.  John struck me as a man who delights in simple pleasures, and loves to meet anyone who comes his way.  He is a collector of experiences, and a perfect person to meet on this Crusade adventure.

Our next stop was to see the redwoods in the Avenue of the Giants, a sight I have always wanted to see.  Needless to say, I found myself deeply in awe of the beauty of this place… but having been told by Sean that this is where they filmed Return of the Jedi, I was sorely disappointed that there were no Ewoks and speeder bikes.

Our second night was spent in Crescent City, which afforded us this beautiful view the next morning (see above). Day three would be spent driving up the Oregon coast, which is really beyond words in its beauty.  Much to our delight, Lady Blue behaved herself all day and managed to control her addictive desire to meet new mechanics in each major city.   That night we finally found ourselves in Portland, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of my friend Tom, slowly peeling off the layers of clothing that we wore to keep warm inside the bus.  Photolucida was the next day, and my adventures with Lady Blue were coming to a close.   I didn’t participate in the Portland pop-up, due to review appointments at Photolucida, and I have to admit, it felt a little strange to not be part of it.  It had been a total pleasure to be included on three legs of the Crusade and to be along for the ride between two of them (even if I never did get to drive the Lady). Jennifer and the Lady are headed to the Midwest and East Coast next.  If you’re in one of the remaining cities of the Crusade, don’t miss your chance to see what it’s all about, and even go home with some free art.

Kurt Simonson is a fine art photographer and professor based in Los Angeles.  He is also one of the best people on the planet.

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On the road, meeting collectors

Today was a travel day - not slugging through the airport and dealing with luggage carts kind of travel day, but beautiful, open-road, California Redwoods to Oregon coast travel day. Crusading is pretty rad. On this leg of the trip, we have a photo dream team assembled with Sean Dana (SF pop-up) and Kurt Simonson (LA pop-up) on board, and we have been having a blast talking photo, stopping every few minutes to make pictures, and having loads of unplanned adventures. These activities all came together at once when we were driving through Willits, California this morning on our way north.  Sean mentioned once seeing a toilet in the middle of a field in that area, and how he had always regretted not stopping.  This led to a common photographer conversation, where we all lament those missed opportunities at what in hindsight we can say with certainty would have been the photo of a lifetime. (As a side-note, Michael David Murphy's project on this very topic, "Unphotographable" has been one of my most favorite for years - definitely take a look.)

Suddenly, we passed by the toilet field, gasped, and made a U-turn (or "flipped a bitch", as I just learned it is called - this Crusade is so educational!).  We pulled the Lady in front of a welding shop-turned eclectic assemblage of bizarre wares all housed in a barn-type building.  As it turns out, John, the owner of that place is also responsible for the toilet.  If you use it, you get to sign the toilet guest book!

We ended up spending over an hour with John, learning about his place, his four grown sons and seventeen grandkids, and how he likes to spend his time (apart from monitoring the toilet log).  Because he works quite a bit with a salvage yard, he collects a lot of different types of things he finds in old cars.  He is also unbelievably generous, and we each left with a new (to us) pair of sunglasses, a lapel pin of our choosing, a pocket knife, and a Mr. Potato Head arm.

But although John collects - gathers and stores is maybe a better way of describing it - lots of random items, what made me really think of him as a "collector" was his carefully curated assortment of noise-making metal parts.

In a special metal garden out front, John has collected all different shapes and sizes of metal cylinders, each of which makes a unique sound when hit.  At first glance it looks like a parts pile, but in actuality, this is John's collection.  He even has a fog horn or two to make you wish you had used the toilet across the way.

Last month I wrote a blog post titled, "Isn't Everyone a Collector?", where I made the point that we all collect something, and that the term "collector" in reference to art should not be considered intimidating or stuffy.  John is the perfect example of a collector.  He has found something he loves and has purposefully acquired pieces that make him happy.

John made our day, and I loved hearing him speak passionately about his collection.  Collectors are everywhere.  Join in the fun.  Crusade away!

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San Francisco Crusade

Saturday was another beautiful day in California for creating art collectors.  The Lady held her own on the hilly drive to PhotoboothSF, an awesome tintype studio and store stocked with instant cameras, plastic cameras, film, and cool little photo things you didn’t know you needed.  We parked in front and it was go-time. Right away it was a completely different vibe than the LA event.  Every person that walked by in Venice that day stopped to see what was going on – it was a constant buzz of bubbly excitement.  The San Francisco event was busy, but more laid back, and most people tried to zoom past us on the sidewalk, head down, earbuds in.  We had to be a lot more clever and engaging to convince people we were doing something fun, and that stopping would be a good disruption to their day.

But once convinced to take a look, people were really into the art and thrilled to get to select a photograph.  It was interesting to see the process – some people spoke to a photographer, loved the image, and walked away a happy collector.  Others spent a lot of time speaking with every artist and looking at every image before making a decision.  I’m pretty sure I would be in the second camp – as much as I may love the first thing I see, I need a complete picture before making a decision.

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First Crusade Stop Sets the Bar High

Get it? High? High Museum? Sorry. Couldn't help myself. . . A year of planning, more than a few tears, and a tidal wave of supportive and encouraging emails, messages and hugs and here we are, pop-up number one a huge success and pop-up number two just a few days away. I am on cloud nine. Maybe even cloud ten.

The first official Crusade for Collecting pop-up event was hosted by Atlanta’s High Museum of Art the day after Thanksgiving, one of their busiest days of the year. Early that morning I loaded the Lady, removed the side mirrors (the final pass-through to drive onto the piazza is very narrow), and held my breath as I steered her onto the High’s Sifly Piazza, then had a gear-grinding victory lap.  

Later that morning we came back to set up, and before we could get the first thing out of the bus, people were stopping to see what the Crusade was all about.  The ten Atlanta photographers featured in the local photographer showcase came just before the event start to sign their prints and get the run-down.  It was such a talented group, and the images were amazing.

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Anyone who stopped could take a look at the images, meet the photographers, and choose their favorite to keep. We gave away nearly 100 images on Friday, and people were shocked and thrilled to be able to choose a piece of art to own. The photographers really engaged with people, and on several occasions conversations lasted so long, they moved away from the table and talked and talked. For me, that was everything. The exposure, the connection, the conversation.

We also had work from The Ten displayed, and there was one extra special encounter that I will save for its own blog post (the anticipation!).  There was a video loop of the Ten photographers talking about their work, that you can watch here (extra special thanks to Sean Dana for making a lot of disparate parts come together in the coolest way), which gave some context for the images displayed.  And then my kids took it upon themselves (their dad may have indicated there could be a commission involved) to hawk the Crusade merchandise to anyone on the grounds.  Lila even learned a lesson in upselling.

It was an amazing day and the perfect way to launch this tour.

Crusade away!!

Our Atlanta sponsors came through in a big way – Binders with custom mats for the Ten work and some cash money to make things happen, PPRPix with the printing of the local photographer showcase images, andDigital Picture with all of the signage.  Thank you again for the support – it means so much.

Local Photographer Showcasers and their websites – please do check out their other work:

Kendra Adams

Bill Boling

Stephanie Dowda

Nikita Gale

Michael McCraw

Mary Anne Mitchell

Nathan Sharratt

Jerry Siegel  

Anderson Smith

Karley Sullivan

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The Perfect Way to Launch a Project

There are so many new bodies of work out there, so how can you make yours stand out?  Well, when I got my mail yesterday and saw this (excuse the crude iphone pics - they don't do it justice) . . .

Well, Sean Dana nailed it with his Press project.

Sean is one of the famed #Astoria6 from the photographic retreat David Bram and I hosted in July, and that was when I was first introduced to this project. Sean doesn't do anything half-assed (hey - who does that sound like? yes, it was love at first sight), and he has devoured this project.

Sean grew up in the Bay area, and his first job was as a delivery boy for The Vacaville Reporter. He began photographing and filming this press and others in the area for this multi-media project, going through incredible hurdles to get permissions, eventually winning over everyone imaginable along the way. He fell in love with the machines and their history, and it shows.

He created this paper showcasing his Press project on the printing presses at Howard-Quinn during their last week in operation. It is a tribute and a perfect way to launch this project.

Congrats Sean!

Looking for help creating your own innovative ideas to connect new audiences to your work?  That's what Crusade for Art is all about.  Read more here.

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#Astoria6

If you have read a number of my older blog posts, you know that I have a love affair with Oregon (for example: Portland, Will You Marry Me?). But I have just spent over a week in Portland and Astoria, and since I left my husband at the helm of the house to take care of three kids, he strongly suggested that coming home and mentioning how much I love it there would be a serious misstep of goodwill and appreciation. So I won’t do that. . .   . . .

. . .

The reason for my trip to the totally average Pacific Northwest? David Bram (Fraction Magazine) and I hosted the Roundtable Retreat where six invited photographers came to participate in a four-day, five-night retreat on the Oregon coast.

The goal was for each photographer to strengthen and package a portfolio of work and develop a plan to strategically launch a project. We all stayed together in a quirky house, Real World-style – all the cameras, confessionals and late night debauchery but sadly no hot tub.

Photographers were invited to participate based on their work, experience and willingness to share and explore as a group. The intimate nature of the retreat was designed to foster community and create dialog around the work, as each participant brings different perspectives and ideas. And it rocked. Seriously rocked.

The group came together both personally and creatively in the most amazing way.  They became the Astoria Six, replete with a logo and nicknames.  David and I led discussions, critiques and instruction (on topics like social media, writing an artist statement, how to find your audience, what makes a good website and the artist-gallery relationship).  We even managed to scout out various Goonies filming locations and take a spin on a carousel.  You know, serious stuff.

I feel like I sound like an artist statement myself if I talk about the in-between moments being the most salient ones, but after hashing out nearly ten statements in half as many days, I guess that’s understandable. And nevertheless, that is the truth. The times spent informally discussing art and life and fears and successes were some of the most productive and gratifying moments of the week.

Although I was one of the “leaders”, I came away from this experience feeling inspired and recharged in a way I did not expect. So to the Astoria Six – I am grateful for your light and your humor, your talent and your energy. Thank you for giving as much as you got and for being unforgettable.

The Astoria Six:

Sexy Camera (Tatiana Wills), Cookie (Kurt Simonson), Bugle Bill (Bill Vaccaro), 5am Randi (Randi Lynn Beach), Dawnology (Dawn Roe), Fancy Bram (David Bram) and Vaguery (Sean Dana)

Are you a photographer interested in getting a project ready to launch? Check outFlash Powder Projects here.

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