In Mark Antman’s memories of the start of Image Works, the local photo archive company he’s currently in the process of closing after 36 years, lies a metaphor for much of what constitutes the Woodstock experience of commerce, creativity, and a continuing consensus that character matters.
“Terry [Antman’s wife] and I had been in France for a decade, where I had been working around Europe as a photojournalist, and we decided it was time to move back to the States with our five year old,” Antman recalled of his to move to Woodstock 40 years back. “I met Alan Carey, who was the chief photographer for the Freeman at the time, at what turned out to be the one and only New York State Duck Calling contest here in Ulster County. We immediately hit it off and, realizing we lived a half mile from each other, became close. In 1983, Alan accompanied me to Boston where I was meeting one of my publishers, who then bought all these pictures of the Children’s Annex from him, for a book they were doing, and from there we started working together.”
At first, the two photographers would match spec lists sent from publisher clients from their own files, meeting at the post office to mail off prints. Then they started a business, gradually adding on other news photographers the two knew, as well as work from European agencies. They began working out of a spare room in Antman’s house, as Image Works. Then they found offices on Tannery Brook, on Glasco Turnpike, and eventually the space off Route 212 in Saugerties, five miles east of Woodstock, where they’ve been now for decades.
“We realized there was a market for these great newspaper images that would run once and then be filed away. Together, they provided this wonderful profile of daily life in America, day to day,” Antman said. “That’s what drove us, and over time our files grew and grew…we never really got into advertising at all; that sort of imagery never really interested us at all.”
On an office level, Antman and Carey (who retired from the business due to health reasons in 2001), Image Works was always designed to work with locality in mind. Their offices welcomed dogs; to date, seven kids have grown up at their various sites…most of them now older and full of fond memories playing “at work.” If someone grew weary sitting at a desk, they could take a walk into surrounding woods. You could get home with a short drive; cook and share lunch from an office kitchen.
“The key phrase was always that we were, and would remain, a ‘human-scale business.’ Image Works was about working with folks who lived nearby,” Antman continued. “We were able to compete with the mammoth photo archives and agencies by creating and maintaining niches in the market. It’s fortuitous we were able to operate so well for so long. But it all just kind of grew organically”
Antman admitted that shutting down Image Works has not been easy for him or any one at the company. It’s like shutting down a family, a dream. But the reasons for his decision match those that have accompanied similar shifts in our area’s once-dominance of an international music scene, or the closing of many galleries in recent years.
“The model for the image industry now is mammoth,” he explained. “Little by little, the niches we had found weren’t as lucrative.”
Editors and publishers started looking for the cheapest photos, rather than the best. Smartphones brought multitudes to the image world, and the idea of professional photos started to slip. Aesthetics changed and money leaked away from the creative side of life.
Antman feels something may be getting lost in the shifts to bigger and bigger business models, and less rigorous aesthetics.
“There’s a huge difference between a professional photographer and someone who takes a lot of photos on their phone, although it’s the latter look we’re now becoming used to,” he added. “What’s getting lost is that decision-making process where one asks whether a picture is actually the best image to illustrate a concept.”
We speak about making aesthetic decisions for posterity, versus an immediate profit.
“There used to be a sense that photography chronicled time,” he said. “Photographers worked with a sense of history.”
Yet Antman detours, after considering such epochal changes, to note how “fortuitous” it has been that the shift in his industry, and his recognition that his business model may no longer make sense in today’s economics, has come in his 75th year.
He’s ready for the challenges of a change, even though he realizes he’ll need a period of transition to get beyond “going into my office every day, even if it was only a few miles away from home.”
Will he himself return to shooting photos? To travel? Not necessarily, Antman replied. He’s done plenty of both.
“I’ve never been without projects. I’m a big tinkerer,” he added, speaking of the workshop he’s long kept at his home in the hamlet. “I’m also working with some people here in town on a video project that’s aimed at bridging the gap between progressives and conservatives.”
On top of all that, there are the hives of bees he’s kept at each of his Image Work offices over the years. Given that the actual building his business has been in for years still needs to be sold, he’s started thinking about the steps that would be needed to move them all. And make certain what archives he can move get moved. And that everyone ends up happy when the doors of Image Works finally close in the coming months.
“There’s an inevitability to all this,” he said. “No matter how much we miss what we had, nothing is forever.”
What’s most bittersweet is the closeness of everyone who’s worked at Image Works, which always had low turnover, and maxed out at a dozen employees around the time everyone was scanning all slides and prints to digital…which unlike other agencies, Image Works insisted on doing in-house.
“High on my agenda is refocusing, slowing down, and finding new areas for creativity,” he added.
He noted how moving bees involves finding a temporary home at least three miles from the hives they’re to be shifted from. Then finalizing the move with a final move.
We both agree there’s a metaphor there. Both for Antman and Image Works, and maybe all of Woodstock, as well.