Photo Plus Expo brings thousands of photographers together to share ideas, both big and small. For those who can’t make it – or who want a little something extra – we’ve invited our contributors this week to share the big ideas they think photographers should be thinking about. ~Judy Herrmann, Editor
[by Richard Kelly]
I have had numerous conversations with creative’s of all types contemplating when “things” (meaning business) are going to get back to normal. I have been a part of these conversations for quite a while, and even started a few myself. I’ve come to realize that the only way to the new normal is to move forward. No more looking back.
Throughout the past decade or so, there has been tremendous disruption in all media, especially for those who use images. That’s an old topic, though, so where is the big thinking moving forward? The business of being creative now includes being creative about business: identifying opportunities where others aren’t looking, anticipating needs companies don’t know they have and offering solutions when everyone else is talking about problems. It means spending less time being a photographer and more time being creative about being creative.
The challenge I see is what we do call this work? And, what will this work even consist of? Maybe it’s something other than a picture, a hard drive or a movie file. How do we charge for services that clients are not used to paying photographers for providing? Does this put photographers in competition with the very gatekeepers – like ad agencies and creative firms – that used to hire us?
One of the reasons I incorporated under a name other than my own is that I was starting to provide services that were not strictly photography. It seemed odd to be consulting on media strategy and then invoicing under Richard Kelly Photography. I have found that in my client work I often bill more as a consultant than as a photographer. The consulting may be related to the photography but I am selling something bigger than my camera and me.
This type of thinking is not just outside the box thinking. It is more like smashing the box –literally. Looking at our value, how we sell it and how we cash it in this is a big idea that all creative’s have to consider.
[by Barry Schwartz]
A major perk of a creative career is the requirement to connect art with the world.
One of the most influential newspaper editors of twentieth century, Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post, died last week. Bradlee was instrumental in turning the Post into one of the best papers in the country. The Pentagon Papers were published on his watch, exposing (along with the New York Times) damaging facts about the Vietnam War forcefully hidden from the public, and the next year, he guided coverage of the Watergate scandal that over the next two years helped force Richard Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency.
Mark Felt, who died a few years ago, was, at his career peak, Associate Director of the FBI. Near the end of his life, he outed himself as “Deep Throat” — a pivotal source of information for the Post about the Watergate break-ins and the coverup that followed – all leading to the only resignation of a President of the United States.
Both men, one might assume, operated out of liberal ideology, promoting their views through their actions.
Not true. Neither were ideologues.
David Remnick, the current editor of the New Yorker (who worked for Bradlee as a reporter) wrote in his New Yorker remembrance last week: “After a trip to Vietnam, in 1971, he ‘ended up feeling uncommitted politically as usual,’ he once said. ‘By instinct and habit, I was more interested in the whatness of the war rather than in the rightness or wrongness,’” This is exactly what you want from a principled, skilled journalist, slant or not.
Mark Felt, despite his central role in the Watergate scandal, did not in any way consider himself a liberal; rather, he saw himself as a public servant and his actions as a civic duty. He saw the bigger picture. Felt became so unhappy with the Nixon Administration’s determined and relentless undermining of the Constitution he was impelled to break away from a career’s worth of loyalty to help expose years of illegal and unconstitutional behavior.
What, you might legitimately ask, has any of this to do with having a creative career?
These men saw beyond themselves, their slice of the world, and their actions revealed a strength of character enabling them to cut through anxiety and doubt, come to a resolution, and act.
In other words, they did their job.
Competition from colleagues in the creative class is intense – always has been. There is only one path to remain sane. Stay focused. Provide great product and service. Do good work. Stay engaged. Pay attention.
In Bradlee and Felt, there was no separation between their actions, their mission, and having a vision for the future. They were just doing an honest job.
Barry Schwartz is a photographer, writer, and designer in Los Angeles, who learned about sticking to it in his twenties the first time he hit his thumb with a framing hammer so hard he knew he’d lose the fingernail and understood he’d have to keep at it or find another way to make a living. Which he did, but many years later, long after the nail grew back.
[by Thomas Werner]
We frequently, if not always, discuss image making in local or national terms. Yet over the past two years it has become apparent that access to multiple channels of international distribution, and a growing demand for socially engaged imagery, will substantively affect the careers of many photographers. As still photographs and motion flow through social, main stream, and new media to an increasingly international audience it will be imperative that image creators have a working knowledge of the culture and customs in countries in which their imagery is consumed. Creatives will need to understand not only local definitions of beauty, power, freedom, and commerce, among others, but also how these definitions function cross culturally. The inability to create imagery that operates locally on an international stage will inhibit a visual artists ability to earn a living, and the development of a successful career.
Equally important is the rise in demand for socially engaged imagery; photography, motion, and social media campaigns that take into consideration the social, cultural, and economic concerns of the countries in which they run. Many corporations and not for profits are looking for ways their campaigns can effect positive social change while also engaging in promotion or commerce. Successful image makers will not only be able to supply imagery for these campaigns, but also be savvy enough to help develop and implement them.
Over the past two years I have had the pleasure of working with UNESCO and the United Nations on a handful of educational projects. This work, combined with an increasingly international student body at Parsons, ongoing projects in Russia, and workshops with Chinese fashion executives, have only served to illustrate the need for the aforementioned. The world is shrinking rapidly, and many of our competitors are already looking for ways to deliver messages and media across diverse platforms in a global marketplace. To be successful we will need to do the same.
Thomas Werner; Educator, Curator, Consultant
[By Michael Clark]
Every four years, I start working on a new five-year plan to help me make sense of the industry, consider my place in it and to help chart the path I need to take to achieve my goals. From my conversations with camera manufacturers, it is my understanding that they intend to build cameras that can replicate a scene as well as our eyes do and from what I can tell, they are not far off from that goal.
Hence, the question for most professional photographers, and the one I posed to myself in my latest five-year plan, is how do we survive if the whole world can produce good images? Please understand that I don’t mean to infer that excellent cameras make excellent photographers. We all know this is far from the truth, but we also know that “good images” are good enough these days for increasing majority of clients.
Over the last few years I have done some serious thinking on this subject. What I have come up with is that we as professionals have always had to be more than just great photographers. We need to create stand-out, top-quality images but we also have to be professional, easy to work with, excellent problem solvers, fun to be around, and we will have to expand our skill sets into areas that have a higher barrier to entry – like high-end video work. In this social media landscape, we will also need to build a following of people who are not in the photography industry, so that our clients have a built in “bonus” marketing stream just by hiring us. In the end, art buyers and art directors still need to rely on professionals who can come back with the “goods.”
Being a professional photographer has always been a service industry, and now more than ever, what type of service we provide and how well we are equipped to help solve our client’s problems is just as important, if not more so, than it has ever been. More than ever, we need to make ourselves an indispensable part of our client’s team. Perhaps this really is nothing new, succeeding as a pro photographer has always been about hard work, exceeding your client’s expectations and delivering jaw-dropping work. These days the industry is just more crowded than in years past, which means it is even harder to stand out from the crowd.
Our individual personalities now matter more than ever. Working as a pro photographer these days it feels more like a popularity contest than at any other time I can remember in the last eighteen years. Maybe it always was a popularity contest. I’d like to think that the best work rise to the top, but I don’t think that is the case. Those photographers who have excellent relationship skills, those who are very persuasive, and have the talent to create excellent images will be at the head of the class. Going forward, I can see a time where only a handful of the top photographers in each genre are able to make a full-time living and everyone else is scrambling for work or working part time to make the ends meet. With that in mind, the big question is “how do you make yourself indispensable?” I believe the answers lay in the paragraphs above, and working harder than your competition in every respect.
Michael Clark is an internationally published adventure photographer and author. If you are dying for more info check out his Newsletter, which is a quarterly magazine that goes out to over 6,000 photographers and clients. See more of Michael’s work at www.michaelclarkphoto.com.