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 ?


.. 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,