Friday, 1 January 2010

Photo Pro Magazine interview.

Q: How long have you been experimenting with social media?

A: Understanding what that means is really important - if you mean 'how long have I been using Facebook and Twitter?' then a couple of years and a few months respectively (I signed for twitter way before I knew what to do with it). But if you mean how long have I been sharing resources (inspirational/technical and otherwise) with a select community of friends and colleagues then - always. The mechanics of doing this has changed and so has the scale but in principal we've always shared and sought like-minds, and I think it's important to communicate this in these terms to people baffled or equally bored by the prospect of micro-blogging.

Q: What did Cory say to you to convince you to try this experiment?

A: That he makes money from giving his work away for free. That convinced me that this needed to be investigated to see what relevance it had for photographers. Bearing in mind that most editorial fees don't cover expenses, so I already often work for free either, that or I pay to work!

Q: What was undesirable about the National Gallery’s copyright stance?

A: You'll have to ask Cory about his position on the NPG's copyright stance. And I'm not sidestepping due to anything other than the knowledge that Cory would answer with a brutal clarity that I can't. However, knowing that the NPG began collecting my work this year I wanted to photograph Cory because he's so important and he was bent on holding that very free flavour of CC license sign (which contradicts NPG policy). I loved the idea - it reminded me of Banksy.

Q: How does/has disseminating the picture online increase its perceived value?

A: Well I think maybe it's better to turn it around around and ask a similar question to explore it, say for instance , if Leonardo DaVinci's Mona Lisa had gone under his bed and no one had ever seen it, along with everything else he shot. Then what would be the perceived value of that image today? The answer has to be nothing, because no one would have heard of it or him, in fact it probably wouldn't have survived. If it had though, then once discovered, the news of the image's quality and it's historical importance would spread, and as more people demanded to see it so the value of that experience would increase likewise. We'd find ourselves in the situation today where the picture is probably one of the most copied in the world and very few people get to see the original. Because everyone knows about it the perceived value of the picture is priceless. Now I understand that we're not comparing like with like as the painting itself remains unique but this was the point of the trial. The images were and are available to download high res from both flickr and And yet people still wanted to own a signed ltd edition version, and they were willing to pay for it ( incidentally the most expensive were the first to go - I understand now that economists call this "price discovery" - I should have set the high-end price a lot higher)

Q: Who bought the prints? Were you able to track how the buyers found out about the images/manuscripts?

A: Yes I kept record of who bought the prints but I don't know how each of them found out about it - I did real-time searches on Twitter for Cory,his various aliases, the trial, my name, my domain name etc, then used Google searches to tell me each week where these terms were cropping up. One of the things that I learned from this is that the community of followers one has, are a powerful force and that's super-relevant for photographers. Cory has 30,000 twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of blog followers. Really this is just learning from what magazines have done in the past (by leveraging a subscription base) except Cory's followers don't pay to follow him.

Q: Have any other “perceivable benefits” (excluding the print sales) come from the shot of Cory’s desk being released online?

A: Yes I've been paid for usages of the image (even though they're free to use) which covered the costs immediately. I've also been booked for another job though not done it yet so that 'potential new client' would go into the perceivable non-material benefit.

Q: Could you explain “perceivable non-material benefits”?

A: These are things that we work for all the time - I'm sitting here writing these answers , it's taken me two hours for which I'll not be paid. However I understand that there may be benefits in doing this other than material. In this case it's spreads the interest in the trial and engages other people, some of which might have better ideas and choose to contribute them at my blog or in the comments here (from which I'd benefit), it raises the profile of the trial and my profile with it. There are plenty of other examples of perceivable non-material benefits, magazines like Dazed and Confused, iD and most of the others have always traded a discounted fee (or no fee at all) for the promise that 'the exposure will be great for their contributor's business and profile' - prestige in other words. This is something that I think we as photographers need to formalise explicitly, take control of and lever to our advantage.

Q: Should this be something that photographers factor in when they work out the ROI of doing a similar “free” project?

A: Yes and surely everyone does and always has - again, essentially nothing has changed, what I'm doing isn't very radical. I'm just talking about taking control and using something that in the past has been perceived as an obstacle and turning it into tool.

Q: Had you worked with Creative Commons licensing before? What do you think of it, as a photographer?

A: I think CC is brilliant. I've never understood lawyer speak and resented being financially beholden to their dark art. CC enables me to take control of my licensing in an informed and easily communicable manner.

Q: Will you use it again?

A: Yes absolutely I've registered my whole site. I haven't used the same flavour of license that Cory and I did as that was too free at this point for where I'm at, but hopefully soon. I think some photographers see CC licensing and think they're giving they're images away for nothing. That's rubbish. The flavour/version that I'm using is very similar to the traditional copyright that I always assumed I had in place anyway; BY (you must attribute the work to me when you reproduce it) NC (you can't charge people to access it) and ND (you can't make derivative works). So this way, when people use my images on their blog, fan site or screensaver I just ask that they make it attributed to me (which usually means a link) and I get the best of all worlds. They get my pictures to people that otherwise wouldn't see them and I get advertised. I need to explore further but I think I need to ditch the ND part, because when a kid somewhere who's way more creative than me, mashes up my pictures with some music and a video and subsequently the Levis/Pepsi of this world want to buy it, then I want to be able to charge them to do so. If I don't enlist (collaborate with) that creative kid (albeit virtually) then I'll never be able to reap the potential fees from the cash-rich client that wants to charge people to see it .

Q: Has your experiment been a success, in your opinion?

A: I just got back from a week in NY where I met with Fred Ritchin (After Photography) and spoke to his class at NYU. I met with Stephen Mayes (Vii) , Aiden Sullivan (Getty) , Steve Pyke and David Campbell amongst a bunch more. I got instant access at every magazine that I tried to see. I've been made a Fellow of the RSA (which alone provides collegiate access to thousands of inspirational people), I'm working with Jon Levy at FOTO8 on new strategies for Photojournalists and we're collaborating on an exhibition and event for next year. And hundreds of thousands of people have heard about me and seen my pictures in a particular context that I decided upon. That has never happened before and for once I feel in some control of that. So yes, in my opinion these represent a successful two months work.

Q: Would you advise other photographers to try this approach for themselves?

A: No I'd advise them to move the trial forward with particular (and creative) relevance to their mode of working and their practice. Then I'd ask them to share what they do with the broader community at .

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