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 historically 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 whomsoever 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 difference 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 increases.
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.