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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  1. Positioning a photographer as a brand throws up all sorts of ideas. With brand loyalty comes more power for the photographer and more ways to ultimately profit. What is needed are simplified examples of this new manifesto in action. I think with facebook, twitter and the like, everyone sees the potential. The more discussion the better.

  2. Yes I agree - when I proposed one of these ideas to a magazine recently I was asked if I was part of a movement, how many of you are there ?

    Perhaps if enough people are interested in developing and trialing new ways to practice then they/we could devise such a manifesto.

  3. Hi Jonathan, really interested in this! I'm looking to undertake a project next year in which I will try to enrol a community to "commission" me to carry out a documentary photo-project. inspired by Fred Ritchin and David Cohn (hppt://digidave.com and http://spot.us), I'd like to work on democratising the photojournalism process...

  4. Sounds Great Phillip, please do share the process. Thanks for standing up here with me!

  5. I would bet there are a fair number of people trialing various ideas. We need to identify and collect them. Failing that give some a go ourselves. You can count me in.

  6. Great piece by Fred Richin where this article is sited and referred to http://afterphotography.org/

  7. Your questions give reasons to be cheerful Jonathan. They embody the sort of creative rethinking about where photography might go that I addressed in part in my recent post at http://www.david-campbell.org/2009/09/20/revolutions-in-the-media-economy-3/. More than that, they show change is already underway and, as one of your other comments above says, we now need to catalogue the new developments so we can see the many direcitons that might be followed. The times may be uncertain but they are a changin'...

  8. A movement? Hopefully a radical one that not only strives to preserve itself but also address the injustices of the prevailing system of practices and relationships. I see parallels here with other emancipations, landless? Workers excluded from unions? Stateless? They all involve a disconnect between the individual and the means to self determination.

    Technology, traditions and people who will stand up to make a change are all important to give such a movement a direction and means to move. Bravo Jonathan and those that pledge allegiance. I and Foto8 are marching besides you!

  9. hi Jonathan - interesting discussion, with many parallels to those underway here at the Knight Fellowship at Stanford. (This year reconfigured to build a crew of media operators tasked with "saving journalism") - you might want to talk to John Duncan, who is here on the team - He's researching a model similar to your proposal, but focused on audio reporting.

  10. I think the most interesting part of this post is the last line. Which of these things is not available to us now? Everything is available and why has it not been utilized? it seems far too many people are stuck in the mentality that new media and its distribution models are a fad, or cheapening the 'art of photography'. These new methods you talk of Jonathan will make photography more engaging, enriching and accessible to not only more people but more relevant people.

  11. Thanks Jonathan - well said! At this point it's all about imagination, even more than reputation or brand. Technology has levelled the playing field and the opportunities available to the new-entrant and the seasoned-pro are equal. We are limited only by our ability to imagine solutions. This is the best time ever to be coming into the photo business...
    Stephen Mayes - VII Photo

  12. Love this post. I'm in the process of trying to implement a few of the things you mentioned. The model has changed, or broken depending on how you look at it, and I realize my future in photography will come from me and not from the traditional outlets of the past. Frankly, I think this is fantastic.

  13. Thanks Stephen - Thanks Smogranch - more great reasons to be cheerful.