Four Corners

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

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.

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,


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 , 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.


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

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.

Why you don't need a Rep. Pt II

Part II ‘Van Gogh, may have had previous relationship baggage - see the whole ear in a letter thing’

The following is from a conversation between me and Bree Seeley.
Bree has been both an Editorial Director for, and agent with Magnum, as well as working with (amongst others) such names as Anton Corjbin, Jack Peirson and Pierre Et Gilles.

JW - Bree, one of the decisions that I came to make early one was to rep myself and to abuse friendships with people like you in order to learn how to do it ....

BS - ....repping oneself is a really sober decision. I swear, the information one gleans independently takes root in a significantly more meaningful way than being party to somebody eles's high talk.
The latter can be a sort of rush to be involved. For example; agent says they’re calling their old mates to do lunch/ cocktails to discuss the latest matters of glitzy third parties business which they’re hoping to land and, voila: you’re stoned on thinking that you're nearer the industry fire than you really all.

And frankly, the only item one can bet on, is that the wait staff will be up a tip after that meeting.

Actually being avid about tracking players involved in projects (magazines, web/multi media projects, books, exhibitions..) takes diligence at first, but soon becomes a natural reflex and addictive.

Learning the names and responsibilities of industry folks is like unravelling a sweater and soon you've got the whole thing uncovered. Give these practices a while and you find crossover names reoccurring. Soon you get it and mercy... you've garnered a lot of information and it doesn't feel like work anymore because you're no longer in the dark.

You'll have information that, combined with the wherewithal, will allow you to pursue the people you admire and/or projects you relish, and you’ll make an impression on its players, given that you've actually tracked individuals and 'know' their work. There's integrity in this method and a much respected depth of understanding.
Simply grafting yourself onto others and hoping that they'll following up with what seem like ‘the untouchables’ does not offer you a feel for how the projects or industry trades.

Relationships you as the artist make with the decision makers (Creative Directors, Art Directors, Picture Editors, Gallerists) can never be topped by facilitators or middle-people. The decision makers on creative or cultural projects are considered 'the artists' at their pop culture offices, where in fact they are 'remixers' (myself included - sigh). This crowd in-turn require you (the actual artist) to do the real work and for that they will always want as much contact with you as possible.
Agents know this and hence once you find yourself having secured a project, artists often awkwardly start wrestling with their agent who insists in remaining involved. For me this is where an agent earns their stripes. If they can stay out of the mix (more-or-less) and let the remixer and artist do their work, then they're okay by me.

Agents will come and go but once you've made a solid relationship with a facilitator at the actual creative project you hope to work with (ad agency, magazine, publisher etc..) they will be calling you directly. That's just how it goes.

JW - Okay so I did all that but I’m still wanting to work with someone, what should I look out for?

BS - Well, some agents might require you to pay them a base salary instead of a commission basis. A quality agent will see you as two parts of a whole. The Ying and the Yang of getting this ‘making-a-creative-living-thing’ done. They “the business” and you the creative”, but the whole thing spins on where you get together.

Boundaries about work from clients predating an agent relationship need to be established very early, so that nobody assumes the road ahead. Here you need to work to an understanding that is fair (eg. i the client offers low-maintenance work with little or no production requirement - it remains yours for the next 24 months total, thereafter it’s subject to the agent usual percentage. OR, if their work is production heavy then the percentage may be lower for one year (but the agent gets all of the production mark-ups).
You're a creative. Think of a way to manage these clients with your new agent, that offers an incentive to be taken on by the agent and grow that business, but that rewards your previous ingenuity for sealing repeat business. You'll know in your guts when you've settled on a fair deal.

Likewise try to get your head around a reasonable clause should the relationship with the agent fail (your “pre-nup”). It should be one that allows you to both leave with what you entered the relationship with, as well as a fair sharing of the produce thereof.

Some shabby agents can also expect artists to foot the entire bill for promotion. Again you’re partners in this. so they need to be chipping in. Hey, I’ve heard of some agents with bloated rosters who expect to make a profit from promotions because they overcharge their artists. Run from these people.

Turnaround for payment must be in keeping with the turnaround of payment by clients. Any other way and trust will soon break down.

Best to know the outlets you want to work with and expect that the shared knowledge of an agent will have a sword sharpening effect. They may be front line, but all involved work shown to any outlet needs to be absolutely relevant. This goes back to my point earlier about trading on the details of a project, and getting it into your practice early. Bloody hell... between you and an agent there is no reason why this cannot be in check at all times

Don't take an agent on if you’re unable to handle criticism or get snakey with rejection. ‘Natch’, few of us have a love affair with being criticised but if you become badly behaved when you're being dealt it straight, then best find your own way.

I recommend not signing up with agencies with too many photographers. Again you'll know when the list looks too long for you. It’s okay to be aligned with an agent who has an artist similar to you, but you owe it to yourself to see and understand the real difference between you both. Otherwise you should not be surprised when you lose work to this person - whereas what you want, is to have a chance at some more work because a genre is established at the agency.

If you do commit to an agent, give it time. Expect nothing for 6-8 months. You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette. Quality relationships take some time. If the agent is taking steps with you everyday or every week then let the efforts ferment (in a whisky way, not a milk-in-the-sun way). If after 9 months you have little or no feedback and no nibbles, then give it another 3 months of working harder together. Find a second wind, make another plan again: together.
18 months of nothing is fair game for parting ways.
That's 18 looooong months if you didn’t think wisely about the partnership in the first place.

JW : But what about from the other side of the fence? What does a good agent look for or look to avoid?

A highly motivated photographer with a clear sense of purpose for their work. Hopefully it’s not only to become famous but also to do work of lasting merit...
Somebody who may not be a prolific producer (eg. 6000 frames a week) but who shoots through experimentation and makes efforts to develop as an artist (rather than an artist who talks about changing).

An artist with some genuine experience (doesn't have to be long history) in/of the industry. And so has some grasping of its realities.

A decent person. A professional outlook. Reasonable. Honest. Committed. Mature. No brutal track-record lurking in their previous business relationships.Clarity of vision.

May be working with a popular method but can be said to have a distinctive voice (without this, how can an agent be highly charged about their artist's value).

JW : Okaaaaay, so how come I’ve never met an agent to work with?

BS : Worth, you have bad hair, you’re a bit fat and frankly your social awkwardness is very off-putting. I don’t actually know how I know you.

JW : I’m like, probably not going to kiss you goodbye. Unless I should. I think I may have a coleslaw coming anyway.

Bree Seeley has been a facilitator of photography for 12 years . Currently picture editor at The Walrus, in Toronto. She has served as picture editor in the UK at the Sunday Telegraph Magazine and in Canada at Saturday Night, Maclean’s, and Shift. Bree was editorial director at New York photo agency Morisot Inc. and at legendary agency Magnum Photos UK bureau. Bree has taught photojournalism at Wilfred Laurier University, and is currently an instructor at Ryerson University teaching Visual Studies. She has been involved in the development of 10 photographic books, including the 2005 Infinity Award-winning Lodz Ghetto Album: Photographs by Henryk Ross and has been the commissioning photo editor on 20 works that received Gold awards from the Advertising and Design Club of Canada, and on 12 that won Gold at the National Magazine. Married to Franc Madden, she is also mother to a pair of scrumptious children.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Why you don't need a Rep.

Part I ‘Van Gogh died broke didn’t he?’

When I first started out or actually, mores to the point when I repeatedly failed to start out; I and the small clique of friends that called Crouch End our new home, held "getting an agent" as being the Holy Photographic Grail. The attainment of which, would grant us access to a world of constant work, a welcome revenue stream and exposure for our art, dare I say it, possibly even the coffee table trophy formally known as; “A book”.

A great deal of time was spent bemoaning our collective lack of success and condemning anyone who seemed to have grasped the challis.

We seethed at photographers who got out of college and only minutes later were shooting a big campaign and we knew it that it was down to their retched agents which we all agreed they only "got" because they had; cool hair and, kissed people on both cheeks. Two things that we knew set them apart from us and labeled them sell-outs and us as righteous, if perhaps a little nerdy.

We bad-vibed them. All of them, and their skinny jeans. And all their shiny, skinny, beautiful friends.

We knew there was no justice in the world of commerce. We knew that the best artists would starve in garrets or die of selenium poisoning. Though, away in the privacy of our own insecurities we would all deconstruct with a Becher-like obsession, the all-important concept of engaging in physical contact at that first portfolio meet.

I'm pleased to say that I've never lost this vaguely adolescent clumsiness and have now grown to accept it. So understanding that I would never have really cool hair or be able to pull off a convincing Euro air-kiss, I turned the focus of my attention away from the “getting” an agent and towards working out exactly what it was that they did and how. More importantly, if I might in fact be able to do it for myself.

As such when someone asks me now how to get an agent, I tell them three things;

1: to hang out with cooler people,
2: grow their hair and
3: shake hands like a Frenchman.

Not really. I’d say, come back, and we'll tell you how Van Gogh could have repped himself better.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Hyperphotography and Living Magazine covers.

I read about this Photo-shoot on Rachel Hulin's Blog and Tweeted a link to it right away. The references to Harry Potter are funny and hopefully begin to communicate the bigger notions of what's happening to our medium. It's a parallel that I drew here along with modes of instant global communication (Star Trek), the advent of Hyperphotography and their effects on documentary practice.

Just as the development of Digital SLRs that capture movies heralded photographers applying their existing skills sets in new ways (You are at the very least making home movies aren't you?) so E Paper should be perceived by most of us as "the cart leading the horse" again.

Not directly identifiable but really interesting is the promise of Hyperphotography's shifting power, from the observer/photographer to the hitherto objectified subject and how this is going to effect what we do.

Toss into the mix Google Wave's insta-web and we suddenly have our photographed subjects discussing the pictures in which they are depicted, in real time.

Which kind of leads us to the fundamental re-structuring of how conventional Televisual media works as well . Doesn't it?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Do I have to go to college to be a Photographer?

No. Obviously not - I think it's a deliberately stupid question and one that I hate being asked with a passion.

Second only to "What camera should I buy for my vacation?"

I'm not saying that one shouldn't pay for a degree. On a good course (the right course for you) there can be some clear and perceivable benefits to making the substantial financial investment. But a person can certainly put themselves into all of the situations in which they'd benefit from the positive aspects of a bricks and mortar education, without actually packing a bag.

I went to college because I thought it was my only way into the industry. I knew no one that made photographs for a living. Neither of my parents had gone to college, my Mother worked as a receptionist and my Father was a salesman. It was 1991 and my network of friends, family and colleagues didn't reach geographically or otherwise very far from our garden gate.

This was not the right reason to go to college.

Anyone reading this article and considering going to college today can't claim to have the same story.


Because you just met me for one. So unless you're my Mum (hello Mum) then you've probably already broken some ground in extending your network of contacts and reference points.

So where next?

Well, start by continuing to think in this fashion. For instance, there are actually very few people that work in the Photo industry that make photographs for a living. The job is just one aspect of an industry that runs the whole gamut, from framing prints, curating exhibitions, styling clothes/food/rooms, to location scouting, researching, production, representation, photo direction and art buying, right up to commissioning Picture Editor of the New York Times.
How do you find out about these opportunities? Well the job centre/employment office is rubbish for all of this stuff and frankly most Photography courses don't deal with it either. The ones that do deal with it tend to focus so much on the "How" that it tends to be to the detriment of the more important "Why?". You end up knowing how to do work a bunch of different cameras but no idea what to point them at.

(But)...a lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they'll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won't do a thing for you if you don't have anything in your head or in your heart. - Arnold Newman - "American Photo" - March/April 2000, page: 17

One way is to carry a notebook (old skool I believe) or a phone that's up to the task and every time you see a picture that you like (no matter how bizarre the situation or outlet) to jot it down (I guess we could call this Augmenting our reality ^_^). Then in the splendid comfort of your own virtually snug, home-computing environment, work out who the hell made it? How? And for whom?

Here are some nuggets that might help you begin this process of reverse engineering:

Lets say it's a picture in a magazine. The name of the photographer should be with the picture somewhere, certainly in the case of an editorial story (as opposed to an advertisement), perhaps underneath, at the foot of the page or in the gutter (where the staples are).

This being the case then the picture was either;
  • a) commissioned by the publication
  • b) given by the subject
  • c) sold by a photographer/their agency, or
  • d) placed by an advertiser.

a) The Art Director or Creative Director are usually top of the pile at a magazine and top of the masthead (a column of contributors usually early on in the magazine) they're great to meet if you get chance but they will seldom micro manage the photo-commissioning, it's usually the Photo Editor that does this.
Photo Editors come in a variety of flavours, some publications have rafts of them, others get by with just one. Either way, this is the person that would commission you and it's the person you have to show your work to.

b) Publications will often not have enough of a budget to commission new photography. They will choose instead to buy/use stock photography, re-use -pictures from previously commissioned shoots that they've retained the rights to use or use press and publicity images.
Press and Publicity images are owned by the subject or their representatives and used to promote themselves or what they do.
Either the subject themselves,their publicity person or agent will commission you to make these pictures. And as they have a natural shelf life, this can become a source of regular income, as any Photographer doing mode l head-shots will tell you (or not).

c) Generating your own work is an essential part of what we do as creatives. If you want to be known as anything more than, a technician called in to facilitate somebody else's vision, then you have to demonstrate this with your own work. Entire business models are evolving that rely less and less on commissioned editorial work and instead seek to realise the benefits from self generated projects. Look at Magnum for instance and how their industry can no longer compete with the citizen eye-witness on their mobile phone. Instead their direction is more in large Art projects that are made after the initial news event and monetized through exhibitions and book deals. When you generate your own work then you can sell or license it.

d) Advertisers remain a large and profitable market for a lot of photographers. There are a number of ways that a client may wish to use or commission photography to sell and promote their product or services. These are usually fed through a creative/advertising agency and more specifically through the Art Buyer.
It is this person's job to h ave a comprehensive knowledge of the industry, so that when a designer (who normally hails from planet Zorg) comes to her desk and says that they need a, young/old/foreign/quaint/sexy/religious/colourful/retro/black and white (that thinks in colour) photographer to sell their new Haemorrhoid treatment - he or she will be able to pull together a bunch of absolu tely relevant photographers.

If you're stuck with a spare Christmas card approaching the festive period, then send it to an Art Buyer.

Five questions to ask before you go to University ;

  1. Who wrote the course and when?
  2. What is the course Ethos and how is that embedded? (sum up the course in a sentence)
  3. Who is delivering the course?
  4. What work do they do? (you must at least respect aspects of their practice to be fair to them and you)
  5. Who are the alumni and what do they think? (also and essentially how long ago did they graduate, was it the same course and was it delivered by the same people?)

ps. When you found the name of the Photographer, did you Google them, go to their website, go through their client/publications list and make notes of them all ? If they were represented by an agent did you go through their site and see who else they represent ? If it was an advert did you find out who art directed it and then worked out what other clients they have/campaigns they work on ?..... I do.