Sunday, 13 December 2009

'The Future of Photo-books' A response.

Miki Johnson over at Livebooks asked me to contribute to her crowd sourced 'Future of Photo-books' blog post, so here it is.


I'm no expert on the history of Photo-books, and I go to other people for that knowledge (Art Director Wayne Ford's Posterous page is one of those little nooks that I like to nip into to hear and see what books have caught his eye recently).

My excitement about the future of photo-books is all around the narrative structure, what the implications of that are both for the medium (books), the practice (photography) itself, and what opportunities this presents for the 21st Century Practitioner.

I am though equally excited about the fall-out from this rush to pixelate. The generation currently breaking into the industry have inherited a fond nostalgia for analogue processes (think Holga, Lomography or witness the dramatic rescue of Polaroid ). Developing and exploiting this demand is one of the areas that photographer’s business practices can and should focus looking forward. The book is just one element of this and I’ve written about how ‘Versioning’ can be leveraged in this respect both in my trials with Cory Doctorow and here in conversation with New York Photographers last month.

The pixelated version of the book promises what to me, is the most exciting element of 21st photographic practice : the non-linear narrative. It's the chance for the reader to engage with the subject and the subject to talk back. It represents the natural evolution of the photographer who has sourced, funded, recorded, published and (most satisfyingly) realised the material benefits from their work. The (now empowered by their Holistic Photographic Business Practice) Hyper-Photographer* in making an image, provides the forum for the subject and internet-viewer to come together and engage in a discourse.

This is obviously more directly relevant to the Photojournalist but the dynamic aspect is just as relevant to us all, whether we’re considering a portfolio that responds to the needs of the client, or a book that responds to the subject matter (think of the Living Book or the work of Rick Smolan and his Obama Timecapsule which enable readers to engage in both the processes and final products). **





None of these things represent nails in coffins of the Photo-tome and it's really boring when people start banging on that it is. These vehicles that facilitate the pixelated Photo-book (e-paper, the kindle, Apple's Tablet, iPhone etc etc - the PC for goodness sake) represent an evolution of some aspects of the analogue experience, but also a host of brand new possibilities. And as these new directions take us further away from their paper-based ancestor (perhaps thinking of Apple's Tablet and so along the route of Apps), then so the inferred value of the coffee-table trophy original will rise.

Did any one predict the upsurge in demand for Holga's at the birth of Flickr? I understand that I'm not exactly comparing like with like with that analogy and of course the demand for cheap plastic cameras didn't make up for the dramatic drop in demand for film. But what it did do is tap into demand for lo-fi analogue practice and the internet enabled it to explode, those two Austrian students (Lomography) were just in the right place at the right time right ?

Yes, just like we are now.


* For more and better reading re Hyper-Photography see After Photography by Fred Ritchin available from his blog by the same name, here.
** For a great article on Rick Smolan's work pop over to PhotoMedia Magazine.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A Proposal

What about a sustainable holistic* photographic practice that strove to empower both the photographer and their subject? What if the products from this were openly accessible and free from editorial or political agenda?

Might this removal of traditional 'gatekeepers' not lead to a new generation of credible witnesses / new and dynamic dialogues?

As Fred Richin says of Hyperphotography ;

'There are very few reference points.
What we need are more reference points and rapidly.'



How might a route to such a 'reference point' be road-mapped ?

What about if the Photographer created a large community of followers (much like a magazine has a regular readership) ? This audience-demand for their very particular product is a valuable commodity, and could be monetized indirectly, for instance by selling website page-space advertising (traditional media model) as well as levered directly to both fund, promote and distribute the work.

What if we rewarded our loyal community of patrons with a trustworthy and consistently high quality product? (the market will demand it)

Likewise, what if we enabled this community to support and participate in our work, both through purchasing and by commissioning ?

What if we scaled the levels of support to enable every level of participation**?

What if we rewarded that commitment with a consequently scaled level of product value which they received in return? Right from zero cost and infinite availability, to infinite cost for the singularly unique.

What about re-thinking existing relationships with traditional media and leveraging what they're still useful for - like marketing us to their communities of subscribers ? What about if we trade our quality content and our discerning subscribers for theirs? (introducing both sets of parties to new and related products , like Amazon shows us products that we'll 'probably like')

What if we looked forward to better image searching methods wherein styles and nuances of the photographer's vision enabled their brand identity to be equally honed, delineated and defined (rather than the clumsy and open to abuse meta-tagging system***)?

What about if technology enabled the subject of a photograph to engage in a discourse? The same subject that the commissioning subscribers wanted the photographer to draw attention to in the first place. What about if that empowered the subject to communicate in their own language and from their cultural viewpoint, looking back at us?

Which of these things are not available to us now ?


* By holistic I mean the various aspects of previous practice models (agent, manager,stock agency, book publisher etc) would be pro-actively developed and undertaken by the photographer themselves and/or a redefined partner (I hear already from assistants of photographers requiring them to be conversant with the various flavours of social media along with the requisite digital workflow and web building).

** Examples; Photographer Brandon Schulman raised and exceeded his required $3,000 with just 52 backers. Film-maker Franny Armstrong's "Age of Stupid" raised its' £450,000 budget by selling 'shares' to 223 backers who each donated between £500 and £35,000.


*** Think of iTunes Visualiser that creates fractals to match the mood of the music. What if for instance we didn't use key-words but rather referenced a piece of music or some replayed some 'real' ambient sound to which the search engine matched photographs/photographers?




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Reasons to be Cheerful Part Three

"We don't know who discovered the water, but we know it wasn't the fish." Marshall McLuhan.

(iii) The Visionaries
(iv) and the Fish.

If you're over 26 then you're not a fish.

I doubt many people under 26 (
the Google Generation) would be here anyway and so I can them all Fish without fear of reprisal. They're the people younger than the internet and as such they're digital natives. Speaking at NYU last week, I asked again "How many people here use social media to research and develop their practice?", and as usual, my vernacular was impregnable.

Not because they didn't understand the terms, but as usual they just didn't regard their current social media habits as being the methodology by
which they'd define the sustainable photographic practices of the 21st century.

It was like me telling them that they all had a
ccents. Accents that only I could hear.


Which is kind of the point. It was too normal to point out, and for them too blindingly obvious to be an issue. This is a very circuitous way of saying that, the problem is all mine, and ours (that is, if you're not an aquatic). I can teach them craft but they're fettered by my ineffectual application of their digital reality, a traditional application just doesn't account for the huge shift in attitudes to terms like: 'access', 'value', 'free' and 'ownership'.

It's us that have to learn how their perception of the
digital landscape will redefine ours.

This particular bunch of students were very lucky to have the last sort of person that I met as their Professor.

There are the those people that see this moment in history to be one of unparalleled opportunity. A real chance for Photographers to take control of their medium and their practice. The chance to define a future where they can realise the full material benefit (both economic and otherwise) by leveraging the forces of this post Digital-Renaissance ('access', 'value', 'free' and 'ownership').



They see how (in very practical terms) this can define 21st Century Journalism as a force to empower their subjects to effect positive and lasting change.

These people are the Visionaries.

And right now, they're
all out fishing.



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Reasons to be Cheerful Part Two

... continued from Reasons to be Cheerful Part One.




(ii) The true Radicals.


Several of the magazines that I went into recently had shed a bunch of staff, more of the almost daily purges in that industry (our industry). So, aware of and sensitive to this (and also inspired by a conversation with Stephen Mayes of Vii), I asked some of them; what difference it would make were I to offer to work for free ?

Tumbleweed.

.. I went on.

jw - What about if I traded my fee for a hotlink to my site. Perhaps it would be hosted at my site in a similar way to how Vimeo hosts my video but it's embedded in my site, so whenever anyone clicked on my Photograph it took them straight to that story in my folio - likewise for my credit wherever it appears.

mag - Why would you do that ?


jw - Because the particular traffic that I want to get at, is the person that either likes my work and wants to hire me. Or it's the person that wants to use the picture/ a picture because they're interested in the subject. You'd still pay the expenses for the job, I'd just trade my fee for easy access to a discerning sort of traffic.* And it would cut both ways, if someone came to my site and saw someone that they were interested in then they could link back to your site and there, they could read a story on them.

mag- But what about the print version of the magazine?

jw - Well, I'm not exactly sure that I see the future of your magazine as being paper, do you ?

.. more Tumbleweed , followed by debate.

I was staggered that this could be a question up for grabs. All I could think of was that these lovely people, whom I respect enormously, were in some sort of 'survivor-denial', they reminded me of passengers in a hot air balloon fatally holed. No matter how many get thrown out, it's only going in one direction unless there's a radical re-think. However, the fact that we even had a discussion about this left me thinking that perhaps these people, might be the real radicals.

Not me. I can't match that sort of extreme view.

So, after some more to-ing and fro-ing I was told that if I wanted to take this further then I'd have to speak to someone on the digital side because they didn't have much to do with them once they'd sent stuff over and '..can we do hyperlinking?'.


I watched a hot air balloon come down just then. It left a wet pink stripe across the floor of a vaguely surprised digital landscape.




*Frankly, this is pretty much the current version of events with a most of the newspapers and weekend supplements in the UK where the fees include expenses and seldom cover the costs of the job. Other magazines like iD and Dazed have always traded a minimal or no fee for the prestige/exposure that their publication offers. All this really does is formalise that situation, make it explicit and begin to concretise this notion of apparent "Prestige/Exposure" into a formal transaction.
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Monday, 16 November 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful Part One.


Last week I invested the proceeds from my experiment with Cory Doctorow.

Actually I gambled them, but then that's all investing is anyway isn't it or did I miss something ?

I gambled that some of the people I've not been able to access via Twitter (or any other of the traditional social media methods) might speak to me if I knocked on their door (old school).

I booked a flight, a couch and then whored my services as a photographer, an assistant, a re-toucher and a speaker, in order to pay for my stay.


"Sir, is your trip business or pleasure?"
"Sir, my Dad said 'Find a job you like and you'll never work again'. So I'm here strictly on pleasure."



The people that I met, fell broadly into four categories;

i. Those who saw their practice/business as being in terminal decline and/or out of their control.

ii. Those in denial (the true Radicals).

iii. A precious few who were excited and pro-active (the Visionaries).

iv. And the fish.


(i) One of the photographers that I spent time with described how he was struggling on his reduced editorial fees, that he wanted to fund new projects and he'd been trying to set-up a book deal for nearly two years without success. This very established photographer then explained that the book is a valuable aspect of his promotion and one of the vehicles that he employed to generate new commissions.

So I asked him why he wasn't publishing it himself and at the same time earning the proceeds ?

Answer; 'Because it's not that simple. Funding, design, storage, distribution - and there's no money in books '


What about if you minimised the upfront costs by say, using a print on demand company ? That way you can have it designed by whichever designer you want to work with (rather than being saddled with whichever one is at this elusive publishing house).

Likewise we just removed the storage issue (because they'd be printed on demand), leaving only Money and Distribution.

So I asked him; why he usually did both hard and soft-back versions of his books.

Answer - because one's better and more expensive, thereby catering for different buyer's budgets.

Great, but only two different budgets? Why not ten or twenty ? In fact, why not cater for everyone's budget? Why not have one virtual version that's open and available at no cost, one small softback version that's $5, one better quality at $10, another hardback at $20, another larger hardback at $30 and yet another limited edition with signed for $50.

$100 could buy you a hard-back with a signed print - some of these could go out to your commissioning editors and so on, until ultimately you make a unique handbound set of fine prints, stitched together by elves and delivered by you in person on a unicorn for $100,000.

Then follow that up by making yourself available for commission at $10,000 a sitting.

That just leaves distribution.


So I asked him; were there any people repeatedly interested in his work, like a fan-base? Or did he sell to different people every time one of his books was published? In answer to which, he showed me the vaguely terrifying list of email requests from assistants, students, enthusiasts etc all requesting an audience, work, advice, donations and so on.

Ummm.... so what about if you sort of provided a virtual forum for those people to congregate? A place where you could (for want of a better phrase), herd them towards other virtual environments to experience your magic first hand ? Like for example, which publications are showing your work, what campaigns you've been working on, what projects you're thinking about, perhaps even give these loyal fans access to behind the scenes footage and the odd contact sheet. Maybe even reward their commitment by offering advance copies of those books, special rates etc ?

Well there's this thing called Social Media and it allows you to do all of that and probably a lot more too. We're all still waiting for the Fish to work out and show us it's full potential.

And here's another thing about the "new commissions" part. What about if there was a way of gathering this loyal 'fanbase' and asking them if they'd fund your next project? In gratitude for which you'd reward these new 'patrons' with special treatment and access to some of the afore mentioned magic.

Well there's a website for that too.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Retire before you stop learning.


I was at school and we were studying Seamus Heaney . My teacher asked "so, what do we think the author meant by the language he's used just here....?".
I vividly remember my answer innocently ringing out that; Seamus had "written down what he meant right there, job done", to which trite repost my teacher (wearily) dragged out a sighing" .. yes ... yes Jonathan, but what does he really mean, beneath the simple printed text?"

In retrospect I think maybe he wanted us to talk about metaphor and simile but at the time although I loved books and still do, I'd had enough of picking poems apart and just asked (bristling) whether Seamus Heaney was dead or not.

I'm not sure, at this point if my teacher foresaw the orientation of this tetchy discourse. He may even have perceived a window of inspirational opportunity, because he launched into waxing lyrical about Mr Heaney being very much alive, prolific and defining what poetry is, and can be for all of us etc etc. Which set me up beautifully to deliver the painfully logical answer to his original question -

"Let's ring him up and ask him then. Lets find out what he means, because even though he's as good as you say he is, you still don't know what he's talking about, and you're meant to be teaching us this."

Ouch. Fail.



I always ask Photography students 'Who their favourite practitioners are? And, if they're alive?'

I'll then follow this with 'Okay, great, so what do they think of your work?'

Followed again by; "What ? They're that important to your practice and you haven't engaged them in any way ? "

For student fresh out of high school, this seems a vaguely absurd question. Not because they wouldn't know how to get in touch, because the mechanics of doing
that are as blindingly obvious as to be assumed knowledge to them. No, their sticking point is usually why? Why might this person speak to me?

There's another group of people that find this a vaguely absurd question and oftentimes they re-inforce the students ill-founded outlook. But for very different reasons. Theirs isn't simply a case of porting existing social media habits into their professional practice. For these people, the thought of bridging the gaps between enthusiast and established practitioner are so other worldly and unsettling as to be vaguely uncouth.

These are the people that piss me off. They're the teachers/lecturers/professors/"experts", who's patronising smiles, knowing nods and mutters of 'boyish enthusiasm' turn me back into the obstinate seventeen year old. And worse.

Err.. here's a news flash for those people (and please pass it on because I don't think you're one of them) - contrary to what they might think, this is actually not a 'novel idea'.

This isn't even optional.

This is absolutely, mind numbingly crucial for anyone planning on being proactive about their career right now.
Note that I said right now, not in the future,but right now.



The internet is substantially older than most of the students going through college, look at this through their eyes for a moment, what will they think ? You've actually had their entire lifetime and more to get used to the idea of the internet. Did you not see the writing on the wall?

How as an "educator/expert or otherwise person of influence" can you not be leading on developing new understandings of what we/they do and how we sustain those practices? Every time I hear someone in a position of educational authority or aspirational influence bleat that Photography/Journalism/Books/Music is/are dead/dying/gone I want to retire them to oblivion.

Perhaps as a compromise and where teaching resources are rich they (the dino-teachers) could teach pure craft, whilst the current generation of new learner/practitioners apply them. Before they (the current learners) then come back to teach how they made them relevant and sustainable to yet another generation of Lens-based practitioners.

Who was it that said "Some people die at 25 but don't get buried til they're 70"?

Well those people shouldn't teach.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

250 year old Royal Society makes Photographer, Fellow for teaching Twitter


You know that thing when you really put yourself out there, not knowing if you're 100% right but committing 100% anyway because there's no other option. Then sometimes, not always but at some point, someone you respect and admire comes along to see how you're getting on and says;

"Wow, that's great, how d'you do that?".

So it happened to me here today. For the trials with Cory Doctorow, the brainstorming with Foto8 and the Photography BA course at Coventry University in the UK (where
Blogging, Podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Vimeo etc are all embedded).


"In recognition of your innovation and influential role in developing new business models for photographers using the social web"



The funny thing is; it's the young Photographers that I work with and mentor who teach me all this stuff - not the other way round.

Shhh. That is all.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Note to a Mentor 'learn from your students'

"Twitter, as Wired journalist Stephen Levy put it, 'rocketed into the mainstream without really knowing what its service was. Its users defined it.' And they still are."


I've taken to starting some of my lectures by asking, how many of the students use social media to research, develop and extend their practices?

The silence is deafening.

I know, the language is tricky, but that packages my point quite nicely. I follow it by asking;

'Okay let's look at this another way, how many people have a Facebook account ?' (most)

'How many have Myspace pages?' (most)

'Any users of Bebo, Twitter, YouTube ?' (by now everyone is involved).

'Okay, how many people have ever uploaded a picture to show to their friends?' (all)

'Has anyone here directed anyone to watch a movie that they liked/disliked or found funny/scary/inspirational?' (all)

'What about music? (chaos) okay, okay, we all listen to music, either on our own or with friends. And it's a nice thing to share and listen to together.
That's why clubs play music right ? Because it drawers us all together and transcends just a bunch of notes and some random (often) lyrics. Although you probably wouldn't want your Grandma with you when you go clubbing (nods),- STOP - Why?

Why wouldn't you want your Grandma to come clubbing with you ?

There are usually wide and varied responses to this question.

Okay, so Grandma goes into a different set of sharers. As do some other people, like your Professor, and another still for clients or employers etc. Each of these groups we push information to, all the while editing what we send to whom along the way.


We have, and discriminate between, a bunch of these different groups, and it's us as the 'author/sharer/creator', that constitute the one thread drawing everyone together.

All this is stuff that we already do, and in one way or another, we always have. People have always shared friends, places and things that they liked, what's changed are the mechanics and infrastructure for doing this. Consequently so has the scale and effect of this sharing.

To the new student, this is both good and bad. It's good because historically the opportunities for entrepreneurship have never been more democratic, and what's more, the student already speaks the language of this new democracy intuitively.

It's bad, because right now, the teachers don't. They're too often people fettered by understandings pre-dating the Social-Media revolution. A revolution gaining momentum so rapidly that it's seemingly impossible for most to catch up, and join in.

The students see them trying and think they're watching their uncles try to dance at a wedding.

It's worth remembering that the internet is only 26 years old ( a bit older than most students).It also continues to astound me that; Google is only 11 years old, Myspace is 6, Facebook is 5, Youtube 3 years, Twitter isn't even quite that yet and over the last year it's number of users went from 1,000,000 to 70 000,000.

Technology has ripped up many of 'the market's' historical barriers to entry. It has located new communities, enabled new collaborations, it is demanding new contracts, creating new disciplines and defining new modes of sustainable practice.

A writer no longer has to go through and seek approval from an editor in order to publish. A photographer doesn't have to be on contract to a magazine or signed to a gallery, in order to successfully sell their work. A musician can bypass a record label and still reach number one and someone hand-making books out of bicycle innertubes can reach, nurture and develop a global community of customers from her front room in Copenhagen.

What all of these creators have in common, is that they are generators of content. Enabling these students/creators to fully realise the potential of their ideas remains the role of the Mentor/Teacher.What's changed for the current generation of them though, is that they/we must un-pick the students application of this 'created content'.

We must learn from our students (the digital natives) how to navigate and negotiate new-media/ social media technologies. There's nothing to be gained by conceiving of some romantic past where artists of integrity didn't need to adapt and innovate in order to maintain their practice (See my earlier post on the Renaissance), the outcome of which is usually a bleeting in CAPS-LOCK that "Photography (insert Music/Books/Journalism etc)" is dead (insert dying,ruined,over etc).

We must instead empower the student by pointing out that whenever we share a Photograph on Facebook, a movie on Vimeo or a link on Twitter, that we are the people defining these new business models and re-defining old ones. We are simultaneously both the cause and the effect and we as Mentors are also learning about all of this along with, and from them.


The lead quote is from this great article on Twitter over on The Guardian's website.

As you're still reading,you might well be inspired (as I am very much) by David Campbell, so here's a great place to read him.



Sunday, 1 November 2009

Giving things Away Part III

Last Friday I sent out the following email to the purchasers of the Limited Edition Cory Doctorow Prints and Signed Manuscript pages;


Advance Notice of Withdrawal from sale of Signed Cory Doctorow Manuscript and Photograph.


As someone that has supported Cory's and my "Trial", it is my pleasure to give you exclusive, prior notice that the remaining prints will be withdrawn from sale at midnight GMT on Sunday the 8th of November. I will Tweet and blog publicly, to this effect from Monday 2nd of November.

The remainder will go back on sale when "For the Win" is published April 2010.

They will however go on sale at exactly TEN TIMES the price you paid for them.

So to be clear, if you bought one of the higher numbers 65-111 at $8, then any remaining editions will be back on sale at $80 each in 2010, if you bought one of numbers 7-17 then they will only be available at $800 each.

There will be no discounting and no exceptions. Should the situation arise whereby any prints remain unsold one month after publication of the novel, then they will be destroyed and there will be no second edition.

To affirm validity and value, I have kept a record of every purchaser, their Zip / Postal code and their respective Print Edition Numbers, if you sell or gift your prints in the meantime please pass onto me a record of the transaction and the details of the new owner.

I would like to stay in touch further, but I hate SPAM and presume you do too. If you would like me to send you updates such as this one (and there won't be many) then please just send a reply to this mail.

It's been lovely to meet you albeit virtually and I hope our paths cross again.

Very best wishes,

Jonathan.


Saturday, 17 October 2009

Getting paid to give things away.

My Dad spent six years in the printing trade as an apprentice "Compositor", setting every letter of cold type by hand. He said he learned the job in the first two, then spent four years doing a mans work, for a boys wage.

Some of my earliest memories are the smell of books bigger than me and fonts with magical names I could barely read.I loved their shapes. I'd trace them with my finger. Then with my pencils.


He wasn't a printer by that time, he'd just kept the books. One day in 1960 Fairchild Semiconductor invented the Phototypesetter and his job disappeared.

I have the benefit of this knowledge at my back. And like many passionate media creatives I do not want to sell insurance. You work in the media or else you wouldn't be here, so you know that our industry is illustrating how business models do or don't adapt to technological and societal evolutions.

I'm running a series of live trials that form (for lack of a better word), "Research". They're the sort of thing that all long-term freelancers do, just I'm making mine public.

I know freelancers generally don't collaborate. And I've never been drawn to a particular Union. So I thought this would be just a case of sharing information, maybe a few people would comment and chuck in some experiences of their own. I thought I'd publish information on a series of ongoing experiments and then hope others'd pitch in and help me work out what conclusions to drawer.

I didn't expect people to actively engage. I've never seen the industry (in it's broadest sense) that way before.


I'll record Cory (the subject) Doctorow's massive and hugely generous support no doubt, in detail in the future, but I wanted to drop a couple of things here that happened last week.

So you know what particular trial I'm referring to now (?) if not click here. This week I was approached by the Art Director of a Magazine in NY wanting to use one of the images of Cory. He approached me saying that he understood the images were CC licensed to be available for reproduction (Cory and I agreed this particular flavour of CC license for the purposes of this test) but that he wanted to use the image for the cover of the magazine and ...

"As a long-time art director and former freelancer myself (illustration), I am always concerned about fairness in compensation for photographers.
I also work for a (currently) budget-strapped magazine, and as a result we always try to figure out how to do our covers for free (fairly of course), or as cheaply as possible. Many of our cover photo images are provided by publishers because they serve their purpose of promoting their books while serving our need to illustrate the story. Other times we come up with original design solutions.
But I also respect your desire to be compensated, and putting the photo on a print magazine cover is probably extraordinary usage of your imagery. I appreciate you checking in with Cory re: the scope of the CC licensing (of which I admittedly need to become more educated about).
We have an broad agreement with XXSTOCK AGENCYXX for photography, and the cover we were considering for this issue before deciding to make Cory Doctorow the cover, was going to use a royalty-free image from XXX which would have cost us only $150.00 (US dollars).
Would you be OK if we compensated you $250 for use of your image..."


I explained that he was not obliged to pay me and it's worth noting (one way or another) that for the period of this Blog my website and online folio have been off line - so this AD has no idea who I am or what I've done in the past. He just has an image that he likes, which serves a specific purpose.

It's also worth noting that Cory has a bunch of similarly licensed images that are freely available to use from his flickr stream. But anyway, the AD wanted this one and, he wanted to pay me for it.

I didn't expect that.

I didn't expect it so much, that after a some back and forth emailing we're meeting up when I'm next in New York. That's someone who likes my work, and wants to pay me for using it, which means that meeting goes into my "Perceivable Non-Material Benefit" column and the fee goes into the perceivable benefits column.


Here's another thing. When I began using Twitter (as opposed to signed up for and forgot about) one of the first people that I came across who was Tweeting things I wanted to learn more about, was a very reputable Art Director whom I'd worked for in the past.

I became a part of his Twitter community, and through the echos that are RT's I gradually sidled up, before tapping him on the shoulder and asking if he remembered me and came here often?













Up to now, I'd always always thought "Networking" to be a hollow and crap term, which summed up what vacuous Trustafarian Socialites did and whose sole motivation was personal gain in a fashionably fair-weather world of parasitic exploitation.

I've never understood it as a variable sifting through, of all the friends, colleagues and acquaintances one had come across, to find those who, at that particular moment you have the most in common with. I don't now think there's anything sinister in this practice as I did before. It's just great.

I wonder, is that what the younglings mean by the Social-Media-Interface-tubing in my space?

Anyway, here's a line of what Wayne Ford wrote in a blog titled "In the New Media World, Photographers Who Embrace Change Will Succeed" for Black Star:

(of our subsequent conversations)"it is the dialogue itself that will ensure the media’s long-term survival — and the success of photojournalists and others. "

Dialogue, with another ally. Not Patron, but ally and partner.

My Dad assists me these days and not long ago we did a job that meant hanging about waiting for someone in a dank and forgotten storage area. Against one wall were a bunch of old wooden drawers a yard across and at least as deep. Each of these were divided and subdivided into open topped sections.

My Dad explained that these were the Type-Cases he'd had to use as a youth. He pointed where every letter of the alphabet, the numbers, the punctuation and the spaces would have lived.

Although there aren't as many books bigger than me now, I still love the smell of ink.

And I love making Photographs. And I'm not ready to sell insurance.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Giving things away Pt II

This is an update to my "Giving things away" post which you can read here.

There are several threads to this exercise one of which is detailed here but all are being recorded whether they work or not.

I just opened an Etsy shop account from which I'll be selling limited editions of my prints. I've made 111 copies of the print that was CC licensed and uploaded to archive.org , one to go with each of the pages of Cory's upcoming new novel "For the Win".














Cory has given me one of ten First Edition Manuscripts and signed every page. I am likewise signing, stamping and numbering each Archival Print.

The first fifty will go on sale directly and I'm planning on shouting loudly about it on Friday afternoon when most people are online.

So please feel free to pass this on to anyone that might be interested and please forgive me in advance if you happen to be in my Twitter stream.


The pricing structure will be as follows with prints only going on sale in order.

Pages 65-111 are priced at £5GBP or $8 USD
Pages 39-64 are priced at £10GBP or $16 USD
Pages 18-38 are priced at £25GBP or $40 USD
Pages 7-17 are priced at £50GBP or $80 USD
Pages 2-6 are priced at £75GBP or $120 USD


Page 1 is priced at £150GBP or $240 USD and will also include Number 1 of 3 Special Edition Pieces (made from the contact frames from the shoot) measuring 100cm x 140cm. Number 1 will be on sale, number 2 will be owned by Cory and number three I'll keep.




The proceeds of this sale will be donated to a Primary School raising money for permanent classroom buildings.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Fat telly-addict predicts end of Sport and Photography.

As I sit here and write this there's a certain amount of apocalyptic vitriol being spent over a football game. No big deal, it's a world cup qualifier, but apparently it's causing a certain amount of discomfort amongst couch-gymnasts.

Apparently because an 'Old media', ahem sorry - a major television network went bust and no old-media; apologies - and no television company stumped up the cash to buy the contract, the host nation decided to pump coverage of the game out by the internet-tubes.


But surely that's just crazy talk. That means fat-telly bloke has to plug his laptop into his 97 inch plasma to watch it and even more traumatically, they can't screen it down the pub.

Seemingly, fat tele-bloke is absolutely, flabbergasted. I know this because he shouted so earlier from radio world. Could it be true that this is an indication of the direction of the tele-medium or as couchbloke said; "sport itself" ???

I've never bought a television and for the last year not owned one. I do watch tele-land, I just don't use a telebox to do it. I don't buy newspapers either but I do read news and although I seldom buy magazines I look at an incredible amount of pictures.

I don't think I'm that unusual. You're reading this (hello Mum) rather than watching the telebox, or maybe you're doing both. Maybe you're in the bath. But we're not that dissimilar are we?

Nope, I don't think fat telecouchsportsfan is going to stop demanding to watch sport on his 500 inch plasma. I don't think I'm going to stop wanting to look at quality photographs and read reliable news. I also don't think that I'm going to stop wanting to watch great films, read great books and listen to music that moves my very soul.

Amen.

Quite by coincidence when rooting about behind something that was holding up the a crucial part of our house last night I found a folded newspaper clipping that until that point had been preventing a major subsidence.


The lead story was from 1978 and speaks of a police raid on some crazy Pirate Radio Station that was "transmitting on the medium wave". Stop me if I'm wrong,but was it due to this regional, but crucial investigative breakthrough that the music industry survived beyond the 70's ?

I'm going to have to plump for a big fat no. I'm pretty confident saying that people's urge to make music coupled with peoples need to experience it meant that the music industry continues to exist and I'd offer that more music is heard by more people quicker and more often than any time in history.

I'd also propose that when more TV stations and channels go bust, that fat telesportscouch will still demand to watch the footy, and David Beckham's kids will still want to play. I'd also have to say that there'll still be news and people will still want to hear about it. I bet they'll even want to look at pictures describing it and read considered reflections on it's ramifications.

So, Dear Amorphous-couch shape that shouts out of the radio - according to the (thus far) reliable laws of supply and demand, if you want it badly enough then someone will supply it to you. Conversely to all of the suppliers of this demanded product (sport,news,music,photography etc), the enormous and overwhelming demand means that you will have a market.

The means of distribution and pricing structures will be dictated by that same market. Here's the good bit; everyone coming to this moment in the history of our media for the first time today, will be proactive about how their product is perceived and valued. They will not wait their turn in the suppliers queue, they'll push past us old people with our baggage of old business models and sense of yesteryear business decorum.

Because for these "lens based new-agers" it'll be completely normal and they'll not be interested in whatever it is us dribbling, middle aged, digitally-incontinent photographers are banging our tri-pods about anyway.

No matter how loud you and your friends shout into the radio. No matter how often you use CAPS LOCK INAPPROPRIATELY in comments sections. And no matter how frustrated I get with you.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

"Tradition is not a business model."



Why do Architects listen to photographers?

There's no punch-line. The question is almost as random as it appears on the surface. And still, I have more blog and Twitter interaction from Architects than anyone else non-photographic.

And I'm not the only one. A Foto Magazine publisher that I was talking to last week said that he also learned from and exchanged ideas with Architects. The more we talked, the more I realised how incredibly short sighted and narrow minded I am. Me, who preaches to other photographers to think of new ways to understand what we do and how we might make it relevant.

I listened to Cory Doctorow when he described how Science-Fiction writers would take great pride in the fact that their work would build on the work of their mentor's. Far from being covetous of his product, he actively works with other writers and sees this 'passing of a flame' as paying homage to the people that he in turn learned from and continues to be inspired by.



I thought of this, but in a different way when reading an article over on TechCrunch (thanks to @popsciguy from where this title originates). The full Journalism Internet Manifesto is here, I was reading it through my Photographer's eyes for what was relevant to me and perceiving photography as a small cog within the giant amorphous mass that is Journalism in it's broader sense. I was thinking - yes "16. Quality remains the most important quality." is relevant , practitioners that strive to produce original high quality work will always be in demand.... and then it occurred to me that I was again missing the point.


At the core of journalism is the idea that once garnered, information possessed by the journalist must be coveted and hidden. It's value is it's exclusivity. We've got something that we have to share but in traditional business models the only way to consistently realise the material benefit is to sell it exclusively.


This can't be the most efficient way of getting our work seen or heard. Assuming that sharing was the journalist's original intent, then this method must be at odds, in fact I struggle to think of a more effective way of limiting the people that are able to share in the work.

The upshot are practitioners who historicall
y are frightened of admitting their work is informed by others and consequently terrified that others will steal their ideas. The 2.0 discipline equivalent of an inter-webular stillbirth.


Similarly both Music as a Practice and Music as an Industry have elements of this in common with photography and journalism- I suppose all art has elements in common. The most important one being that they drawer people together with something that transcends the material body of the the artifact. To illustrate this I often feel it my obligation to point out how much great Art artifacts have in common with the best Jokes.

The science of the Joke is a dark one and w
homsoever works it out first probably won't be that funny. A bit like the Joker in Batman. But clearly, humour transcends the Joke itself and drawers people together in an involuntary response, Art and 'the sublime' do the same. And the more democratic the humour, or perhaps another way of putting that might be ; the more access-able the humour, then the more people will be drawn together and the louder they'll laugh.

So, ahem, I think it's fair to say that we've established categorically, the effects of Photography, Journalism, Music and Jokes are the same, in that they transcend the material body of the artifact and bring people together in a moment or on a subject.

This being the case, then what's the differe
nce between reading a joke alone and hearing it amongst friends? I guess it's similar to listening to music alone as opposed to going to a concert? Or singing in the bath as opposed to singing as part of a choir? Perhaps in journalism it's the difference between having information that you keep to yourself or being part of a political movement.

Would it be fair then to say that as more
people experience something alone, so the value of that experience increases when it becomes part of a larger whole?

Might this be a way of looking at the increasing numbers of people attending live music events as being directly related to the increase in 'freely' download-able music ?


Might it also apply to a piece of fine-art. Lets say Da Vinci's Mona Lisa? A painting that has been reproduced countless times. Would it be fair to say that the original artifact had been devalued as a consequence?

Well what if we take the opposite point of view ? What if that picture remained seen by only a few people along with everything else that Da Vinci produced? Would these unseen artifacts be worth more because no one had heard of him or seen his work ?

No, of course not.

They're valuable because they're well known. As more people value them, so the perceived worth of the original artifact increases respectively.Likewise as awareness of the original is disseminated, so the likelihood of someone able to afford this now escalating price coming into contact with this knowledge also
increases.

Excellent, we've clearly illustrated why Architects listen to photographers, and who could dispute it? But where does that leave new business practices and models for the lens-based practitioners formally known as Photographers?

Perhaps, it's seeing partners where previously we'd looked for patrons. Perhaps, it's seeking to exploit the very things that in prior business models we might have perceived as exploiting us.
Maybe, the answer is understanding what we can learn, not only from Architects, but from any and all seemingly unrelated disciplines which are just like us, trying to navigate their way through a world widely webbed.






Sunday, 27 September 2009

Behind the scenes

I had to put together some examples of my work for a talk that I'm doing, so rather than a bunch of disparate stuff I thought I'd make a little film of one shoot where you see the images being made and then how they get used. This is a portrait session with the band Kasabian.






(Note to self - I have to gather much more information on shoots and work with assistants/collaborators that can shoot video and record sound, whilst changing a Hasselblad backs like the wind itself.)

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Marlboro Marine

Luis Sinco (Photographer, Los Angeles Times) in dialogue with Thomas Keenan (Bard College, USA) The following is an abstract from a conference being held this weekend at Durham University. The conference is titled "Humanising photography" and can be found here.





This is not a war story—it’s a love story.
Luis Sinco It’s about the unlikely friendship between James Blake Miller, a young Marine from the coal- mining mountains of Kentucky, and me, an accomplished photojournalist for one of the nation’s top newspapers. Ours is a story of fidelity, courage and kindness in the aftermath of war. How we overcame differences in age, geography, race, politics and culture to form a lasting bond. It’s about how he saved my life—and how I repaid the debt.

I was embedded with the Marines in November 2004 as they mounted a bloody
assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja, Iraq. I followed Miller’s unit as they took cover from heavy fire inside an evacuated home. During a lull in the fighting, I transmitted images by satellite phone from the kitchen. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the house, and I headed to the action upstairs. Miller had barked orders into his radio, directing tanks to take out the insurgents who had us under attack.

In the brief calm that followed, I looked across the rooftop at Miller, realizing he had
just saved my life—and the lives of many others. I raised my camera and snapped a picture of the young warrior, a cigarette dangling from his lips, his face smeared with grit and camouflage paint, blood trickling from a cut on his nose, his eyes exhausted, haunted, yet somehow determined.

The photo, immediately dubbed the “Marlboro Marine,” ended up on the front page of
more than 160 newspapers. It evoked strong emotions around the world. Mothers wondered if the rugged young man was their son. Women wanted to marry him. Dan Rather waxed poetic about it on the evening news. Many recognized the “thousand-yard stare.” Even the Marine Corps command took notice, offering to give Miller a free pass to leave the combat zone.

The photo thrust me into the limelight, earning me a finalist spot for the Pulitzer Prize
and invitations to speak at prestigious institutions. Ironically, I wanted nothing more than to leave the photo – and the war—behind. I resented how the image had been misinterpreted as a swaggering pro-war emblem. I had taken so many other photos in Iraq, but all anyone remembered was the “Marlboro Marine.”

My antipathy began to fade in the fall of 2005, when I learned that Miller, then barely
21, had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition serious enough to get him discharged from the military. Soon, at the urging of my editors, and the encouragement of my wife, I headed to Kentucky, hoping to do a quick follow-up story.

For me, it was a chance to set the record straight—to let the world know that the
photo of Miller was not about “Kicking Butt in Fallouja” as the conservative New York Post had screamed on its front page. Despite my reluctance to get involved and the professional ethics that required me to remain objective, I found myself getting drawn into Miller’s crisis. After a particularly bad run of events, he fell into a deep depression and teetered on the brink of suicide. I had no choice: I had to put down my camera and pick up a young man in desperate straits. “If I had gone down in Fallouja, would you have carried me out?” I asked Miller. “Damn straight,” he responded. “Well, I think you’re hurt pretty badly and I want to help you,” I said.

That day I coaxed Miller into my car and drove him to a treatment center in
Connecticut, all the while knowing that I could lose my job for crossing the line that’s supposed to remain between journalist and subject. Over the next 18 months, I came to understand how war alters lives—not only Miller’s, but also mine. Together, we have struggled to make sense of a world where it seems nothing has changed but us. We became brothers. We found healing.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Why you don't need a Rep Pt III



"He [Yousef Karsh] thoroughly researches his subject, knows wife's name, or man's hobby,
and uses this information to the hilt. He's the ultimate flatterer." - Elliott Erwitt




Van Gogh could have 'Repped' himself better.

I expect that like me, early on in his career Vince was often down the pub with a few mates waxing lyrical about why no one valued what he did and 'if only he had an agent all this nonsense would go away and he could concentrate on the real business of making pictures' etc.

And then when things were getting a bit maudlin and everyone was staring into their beer. There'd be the usual awkward moment, no one wanting to look at the obvious gap at the side of Vince's head where a ear should live. Then to break the tension someone would ask if anyone wanted another drink, and Vince would have to say "No, I've got one ear thanks"and everything would go a bit Reservoir Dogs, so to speak.


I only wonder why he didn't take the next step.

Not to clean off the other lobe (for the full aero effect), but rather, to consider marketing and repping himself. Obviously he was mad, but surely you'd be mad not to (Hah).


There's no point me repeating what Bree Seeley said here, and I detailed how far off the mark I was when I first started out in Pt I , all that remains are a few of the nuggets which (with the benefit of hindsight) I now see turned my career around, or kicked it off depending on your point of view.

It wasn't my fault that I didn't understand the role of the Agent or Rep(resentative) when I started out. My understanding of an agent was someone with a bunch of jobs each week and a roster of photographers with which to do them. I, like most of us, had worked from age sixteen and a lot of that had been for agencies doing unskilled minimum wage work. So when I started out on my own, I was still yet to make the transition to a self employed professional mind-set.

This is a bigger deal than it might at first sound. The first and biggest favour that a freelancer can do themselves is to consider all business relationships to be on some level; partnerships.

Even the relationship with the client should be perceived as symbiotic. Yes you're providing a service but the client is equally dependent on your product. Think of the photo-editor going to her Art Director and justifying her choice of photographer with the pictures you made. If you provided her with bad work then her judgment will be brought into question as well as your abilities.

Similarly the relationship with an agent or rep should be considered a collaboration.Put simply, a good agent is a great business partner that helps an artist to realise all the perceivable benefits of their product, both material and non-material. In doing so it is the partnership that enables each to sustain and grow both of their practices.

A bad agent is a parasite.

Here are a few steps :

Educate yourself. You can do a lot worse than subscribing to somewhere like Photo District News and using their vast resources to do this, of especial interest should be their "People on the Move" section wherein you can track the players within the industry and with little amateur detective work get in touch. Likewise their "Who's shooting what" section, great for finding out who shot that great campaign perhaps because you want to assist that person or because your work is better and you want to get in touch with the creatives.

Be creative in your problems solving. Another way to educate yourself is to learn from someone whose work you admire and respect. If this person reps themselves successfully then you can learn a great deal. If not then consider an internship at an agency. You'll see first hand how the industry works from the other side, it continues to amaze me that so few aspiring photographers try this route and instead dive straight into the studios - go to the agency you'll be able to meet all of the photographers,their current assistants and their clients as well.

Bring more. When you get that meeting (though it might equally be a commissioned portrait) - be prepared, know about the person you're meeting and what they do. Everyone loves to be flattered to some extent. Everyone is vain and even the most hardened pro will wilt at another's genuine interest in their practice (but don't bullshit - only 'wrong people' love an ass-kisser).

Be prolific. Be disciplined. If you're not shooting,thinking,working everyday, then you're a part-timer and as such you should get another part time job because your approach to this one's not going to pay the rent on it's own.

Be reliable. You must be someone that solves problems for people. Not someone that adds to them. If a commissioning client finds that you always overcome, they will be more inclined to give work to you if only to make their lives a little easier. Not definitively but those extra jobs that you get because you're a rock, add up. Pretty soon you have a reputation. Try to take stuff out of the hands of the client - "I'll book that, leave it to me, I'll sort all those other things" not only does this mean you're empowered but also you're removing stress from somebody elses world. Again not a definitive answer but these little things add up to an holistic practice.

Use what you've got, (equally don't dwell on what you 'ain't got'). The phone is a very seductive tool and if you're butt-ugly, plump for it. I say this with some authority and I believe that the telephone sex industry revolves around this dynamic. So I heard.
Email can be a similarly deceptive tool and your correspondences should be considered (don't text speak - you will be thought of as a chimp), and subliminally allude to what you aspire to be (big,lots of staff or small and intimate).

Make the most of being small. Perhaps you heard? Size isn't everything. One person doesn't have the overheads that a big set-up has, small is personal, manouverable, quick to respond and efficient.
An agent won't have time to spend all of their attention on you. You do. And here's a thing, in fact you can afford to pay yourself a relatively high percentage of your turnover in order to spend your time on you. As you grow you can also afford to hire good people to do specific tasks that maximise your efficiencies rather than being saddled with full time staff that you have to pay during down times.
Having learned from the bottom up you will also understand the intimate workings of your practice and be able to spot possible problems early on in the future, again saving you money and making your business more efficient.

Think long, make a plan and see it through. One photographer that I worked for always made a list every Christmas of the things he'd achieved over the year and things he wanted to achieve over the coming year. I adopted this and find it very useful.
It's also a good way of seeing the positive things in what sometimes, on the surface, seemed a bad year. I'd add to it a longer plan for where you want to be in three years time as well and likewise how to get there. These plans tend to change and evolve but that's okay. It's all about disciplining yourself and setting in place a structure. No on else will do this for you, remember 'You are the boss'.


If Van Gogh had thought like this, then he wouldn't have donated an ear. That was very short-termist. Especially when we consider that at some point he'd probably need to wear glasses.

Stick to the plan Vince..... stick to the plan dude.