Four Corners

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.