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Editor’s note: Dan’s words of advice were featured in liveBooks latest report, “8 Blogging Truths for Creative Professionals.” More of Dan’s honest and heartfelt narratives can be found on his blog at http://smogranch.wordpress.com.
My earliest memory of writing is from elementary school. In a small, spiral bound notebook, I managed to compile hundreds of pages about a group of mushroom people.
I was convinced of its brilliance. Then I promptly lost the notebook. Note to us all: backup your work. I didn’t write for the next twenty years, but as I began my photography career, something changed in me and writing on a daily basis became a part of my life. But let me be painfully clear. This was not a choice I made. This was something I had to do.
There was something inside of me that needed to come out and photography was not enough, still isn’t enough. I remember my first, adult journal, or diary, or whatever you want to call it. One of those black and white speckled jobs from the supermarket, a “composition book,” I think they call it.
I began to fill them.
As some of you may recall, we recently conducted a survey centered on blogging and the habits of bloggers. We wanted to know why you blog (or don’t), how often you blog, how you promote your blog and more. The results revealed key insights into the blogging world of creative professionals, and we gleaned several important truths which we have captured in our new paper, ’8 Blogging Truths for Creative Professionals.’
The ’8 Truths’ help guide you through the world of blogging, provide advice on how to leverage your blog to help grow your creative business and feature tips from influential bloggers in the creative community such as Vincent Laforet and David Airey.
From our survey results, it is clear that most of you experience frustration with how to approach blogging and our belief is that this then deters you from setting up your own blog.
Now, I know that you (like us) hate the idea of ‘shameless self promotion’ – but I think this is one of those exceptions and you will be happy to learn that we now offer a solution to this problem with liveBooks Companion Blogs. No longer is there any need to spend hours trying to find a template that ‘kind of’ looks like your website, or toil through the troubles of hosting your blog in cyberspace.
While this is an answer to just one of your blogging qualms, we know there are several other concerns you and thousands of other creative professionals face on a daily basis, which is why we encourage you to take a peek at our latest blogging report. Let us know what you think about the report. Do you agree with the truths? Do you have any truths to add to the mix?
If you want to read the paper in it’s entirety – follow this link and request the paper.
Miki Johnson: How did the idea for Photo Brigade come to you?
Robert Caplin: As a fairly new blogger myself, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of how to actually build a following and bring traffic to my personal blog. After months of research and good old trial and error, I found the best way to increase my traffic and find readers was by sharing my link by way of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and referring links or stories on other blogs, such as this one. I quickly realized that if I combined my Facebook and Twitter networks, I was suddenly reaching a much larger potential viewership, which only multiplied when someone else decided to share or re-tweet my link.
Suddenly, not only was I reaching thousands of people through my personal network, but I was also reaching the networks of those who were kind enough to share my link with their followers. The viral nature of social media can really work to the advantage of photographers to get their work seen by the masses. So it went to figure that if photographers as a whole worked together to build a vast shared network, all would benefit by the added traffic it would bring their websites and blogs…and that’s how the The Photo Brigade came to me.
MJ: How long did it take you to make it a reality?
RC: Not long actually. My original idea was to start a blog, but that would take a while to design (because I wanted to do it properly) and it would take time to actually build a following. It occurred to me that I could test the concept quite easily by simply making a Facebook Page where I could easily share direct links to the cool blogs I was reading and people could easily subscribe to the feed by becoming a fan.
I also started a Twitter account. Over the next week The Photo Brigade page gained hundreds of followers and within weeks had over a thousand. I should also mention that this happened completely unsolicited and 100% organically, proving how well social networking can get the word out. It was obvious that not only was there a desire for a service like this, but also a genuine need.
MJ: It seems like a lot of work for something you do on the side of your own photography business. What makes it worth it?
RC: Well, to be honest it has taken a good chunk of my time to build … but that was the hard part. I should also note that I worked with my wonderful designer Laia Prats to create the brand and build the blogs using custom templates she tediously tweaked and designed. I couldn’t have done it without her help!
Now that the blog has been designed and content has been uploaded, the rest is really quite simple. There’s no lack of amazing photography out there. Given that The Photo Brigade was built to promote the work of freelancers, those photographers have been happy to share their work. Also, with a number of shooters submitting work, it’s almost as though it’s running itself. As Photo Brigade grows, I’ll be implementing some really great tools and resources for photographers and editors alike … but you’ll have to stay tuned to see what those are!
MJ: What has the response been like so far, from contributors as well as viewers, especially editors?
RC: The response has been very positive! The website is receiving steady traffic and it’s growing by the day. The same goes for contributors. Everyday I’m receiving emails from photographers from around the world, some I know and others I’ve never heard of, sharing their latest blog posts of their work.
Editors are a little harder to track and gauge because they’re obviously not submitting work themselves, though I’ve received a number of emails from editors praising the blog. There are also editors and directors of photography from major media outlets who follow the Facebook feed.
MJ: How do you choose photographers to feature?
RC: The featured photographers have either submitted their work from the submissions page, or I’ve reached out to the them personally. Because we receive many submissions, not every submission is featured. The best way to be chosen is to have a blog, as our mission is to encourage blogging. In your blog post we’d like to see a number of strong images with a well written explanation about the photography. We will pull 2-3 images as well as take some of the copy and post it on Photo Brigade teasing the blog.
It’s also encouraged for the photographers to supply a Twitter account so we can plug their account when we tweet to our followers about the post. By doing so, we’ll raise awareness for the photographer, and also help build the photographer’s social network. Many are adverse to using Twitter, but it’s one hell of a marketing tool. It would be silly not to tap into the millions of Twitter users out there, many of whom are photo editors and image buyers. We’re all about viral marketing and social media — the more we link to other people, the more visibility our blog gets, which trickles down to the photographers we feature.
It’s important to note that photographers should not be discouraged a submission isn’t accepted. Please continue to submit whenever you have a post you feel is worthy!
MJ: You just added three university blogs. Why was that important and how do you see them growing?
RC: While I was answering these questions, we decided to start one more! My friend and fellow photographer Chip Litherland is helping me run the Colorado Photo Brigade, which will feature the University of Colorado at Boulder. I decided to branch out further and focus on universities because there are so many photography students producing amazing work on a daily basis. I figured I could use the same concept to create a community of students, alumni, and faculty to showcase the work coming from each school as well as former students.
Obviously I’m only a team of one, and don’t have time to moderate all these blogs and make a living myself, so I enlisted the help of eager students at each university who are closer to their classmates and can encourage them to blog. The regional branches also create a wonderful place for everyone to see the end product of what each institution is producing. Each post is tagged and categorized…so if you want to reference a particular class (photo 101) or search only for alumni work or just the class of 2002, you’ll be able to. Check out our regional blogs: Ohio, Missouri, and Rochester, all with their respective Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Many more to come!
Miki Johnson: What compelled you to start your blog? Did your goals for it change over time?
Shane Lavalette: I began blogging when I was in high school, at that time using my blog as a place to publish my own photographs as I was first learning the technical aspects of the medium. When I moved to Boston to study photography more closely as an undergraduate, I felt a need to be more private/considered with my own images and decided to use the blog as a space to archive the work of others – highlighting artists, photographic books, exhibitions, and conducting interviews with other photographers. So, I suppose that some of my goals with it have changed over time but ultimately it has served the same purpose, functioning as a platform for learning.
MJ: Were you surprised by how popular the blog became? What do you think are a few reasons your blog has been successful?
SL: Somewhere along the way the readership grew, which was a nice surprise. In writing my blog, my tone has always been very personal — I write about what I’m looking at or spending time with, not what I imagine others will want to see. I never set out with the intention of making a site that was flashy or felt like an online magazine. This might be some of the appeal for readers, that it’s simple and approachable. I’m not sure. But it’s really fantastic that it has grown to be a resource for others and that it continues to promote dialogue.
MJ: It sounds like your blog helped you connect with a lot of other artists. Was that beneficial for you as a student and now as a working artist?
SL: Most definitely. In the last six or seven years, blogs have become so common that most of the people I know have one, but at the time I created mine, there really weren’t very many that focused on contemporary fine art photography.
Since the photo world is relatively small, a few of these blogs began to support an online community. And through this community, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful artists, writers, curators, gallerists, collectors, etc. These connections have been helpful in terms of my career (as I transitioned from being a student to, as you call it, a “working artist”) and also have grown to be meaningful relationships in general.
I’ve always been really interested in print publishing and a little over a year ago I began Lay Flat, a limited-edition publication of contemporary photography. As a specific example of how the blog has helped me, for both the first issue, Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light, and the recently released Lay Flat 02: Meta there are a number of contributors that I was originally acquainted with through either my own blog or the online community connected to it. As a result, collaborating with these artists and writers felt like a natural transition.
MJ: You’ve said that Lay Flat allowed you to continue and expand your collaboration with other photographers. But it’s a lot of work, as well. Do you feel like what you’ve gotten back from this project has outweighed the effort?
SL: Lay Flat has certainly involved a lot of hard work but very aspect of the project has been rewarding for me. Growing up in small town Vermont, my interest in photography was initially sparked by looking at photographs in books (as you might imagine, there is a lack of art galleries and museums there), so in a lot of ways it makes sense that I eventually gravitated towards publishing.
It’s interesting to play the roles of a “photographer” as well as “publisher/editor,” but so far my experience is that these roles actually co-exist quite well. I don’t feel like one pulls me away from the other, though I’ll probably always identify more with the former. It is a big time commitment to begin a side project like this, but what you love doing doesn’t really feel like work.
MJ: Continuing on the topic of collaboration, you’re working with a different guest editor for each issue of Lay Flat. Why did that appeal to you?
SL: This was an idea that came up early on, while working on Lay Flat 01. I felt like it would be interesting for both myself as well as the life of the publication to work with a new guest editor for every issue, helping to push each one in a direction that I may not have taken it alone. This has been a valuable process so far and has made working on the publication even more meaningful to me.
With the new issue, I never would have arrived at the final result without the ideas and insight that came from guest editor Michael Bühler-Rose. Sometimes collaboration requires making sacrifices or compromises, but I think I’ve primarily seen how it enriches a project like this.
There’s a lot that I’m excited about with photography and a lot that hasn’t been explored in terms of publishing, so I’m looking forward to experimenting, working with some great artists, and hopefully making some beautiful and innovative things in the process.
Photo District News has announced its 30 new and emerging photographers to watch for 2010. Check out their gallery for a images and interviews with a wide range of photographers, including a few names you’ve probably heard and several that are brand new — at least to us.
We found out from Andrew Hetherington this week that legendary photographer Larry Fink has started his own blog. It includes rarely seen images from his archives along with meditations from the man himself (although it’s run by his studio manager). New York-based photographer Robert Caplin also launched a new blog this week, The Photo Brigade. It showcases the work of talented freelance photographers and is sure to be a top destination for editors very soon.
Thank you for joining us for the inaugural IMPACT online exhibition, a new project exploring the blog medium as a venue for photographic work. RESOLVE is excited to be hosting this experimental new project.
By clicking on the links below the IMPACT logo, you can move through the exhibition, viewing galleries of images, all related to the idea of “Outside Looking In.” Each “gallery” will include a series of images a photographer has uploaded to their blog along with this same IMPACT logo.
At any time you can click on the IMPACT logo to be taken to back to this post, where all the participating photographers are listed. (The “next” button actually takes you to a random gallery, so keep clicking if you get a repeat.)
By allowing viewers to move between different photographer’s online galleries, we hope to gain exposure for their work while providing a multifaceted visual study of the chosen topic.
We also wanted to remind viewers of the important role photographers play around the world, so we asked participants to share images from a project where they had an impact or were impacted themselves. If inclined, they have also included a link to an organization that they believe is having a positive impact on the world. Please help us increase this project’s IMPACT by sharing it with your community.
Gazi Nafis Ahmed: Inner Face
Daniel Beltra: Tropical Deforestation
Fabiano Busdraghi: Physics, adventure, poetry and photography in Antarctica
Shiho Fukada: No Retirement Plan
Sean Gallagher: Desertification Unseen
Bill Hatcher: New Zealand Masters of Sport
Ed Kashi: A “Fady” in Madagascar
Michael Kircher: Adventure for Healing
Pete Marovich: A Look Inside the Old Order
Sara Mayti: The Sound of a 4.16
Thomas Peschak: Saving the Most Important Fish In the Sea
Ian Shive: American National Parks
Jeremy Wade Shockley: The Mountain Kingdom
Art Wolfe: The Ganges River
Rachel Wolfe: Jamaica
The biggest news in the photography blogosphere this week has to be the launch of a new photography blog that aggregates a selection of top photography blogs in one place (phew, that’s a lot of “blogs”). On Monday, Rachel Hulin, Kate Steciw, and Danielle Swift launched The Photography Post, which includes visual feed from dozens of top photo blogs, as well as a blog, a store, and a “Museum of Online Photography Collections.” Users can view the blog feeds by category or “like” their favorites and see only those. No wonder it’s already been featured on several top blogs, including cultural clearinghouse NotCot.org.
Dazed & Confused magazine released its March issue, a.k.a. the “Augmented Reality Issue,” yesterday. Certain pages of the magazine include QR codes that readers can hold up to their computer camera to start exclusive fashion videos, which can also be paused anywhere to reveal designer credits for the outfits. You can check out the details and a sneak preview of how the videos work here.
Miki Johnson: Please tell us about the [OR]EDU project.
Liza Faktor: [OR]EDU is a new project for talented and highly motivated young photographers and photo students that was launched in 2009 by our foundation, Objective Reality. The project came from my personal experience directing a photo agency, editing an online magazine, and running offline workshops in Russia and CIS. Through it all I felt a growing frustration at the impossibility of doing business on the international level in this huge territory.
The idea of [OR]EDU is to find young photographers (from Russia, CIS, and the Baltics for now, but with a plan to take it international very soon) and connect them to the working professional photographers, editors, and curators around the world. Photographers are chosen by a competition, and then go through the series of thematic workshops where they are coached by “masters” through a blog where assignments are made and critiqued. Our goal is to help emerging photographers develop and maintain a personal vision, and to market that vision as a product.
So far, we have produced two seasons of the workshop. In 2008-2009 we received a total of 472 workshop applications. Originally intended for Russian photographers, the program gained much wider attention and drew participants from Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The first 55 workshops participants created photo essays and produced their own multimedia or exhibition projects.
Looking back at the start of the project, it seems like a scary and exciting adventure. We were programming all the interface ourselves and we had to work with limited resources. I’m very grateful to all the masters who joined the project at an early stage and struggled with the software — many of them taking on blogging for the first time. Among our masters were award-winning photographers Lucian Perkins, Alexander Gronsky, and Rena Effendi, and editors Michael Regnier of Panos Pictures, Andrey Polikanov of Russian Reporter, Barbara Stauss of Mare, and Rebecca McClelland.
MJ: What is a typical Objective Reality class like?
LF: Each workshop lasts for one or two months, during which the students are given two or three assignments from a “master.” Once they’ve completed the assignment, they upload it to the website, where it becomes part of the class blog, where they receive comments and critiques from the master. The whole process is open to the public, but only members of the class can write and comment on assignments.
For now we are able to run no more than three or four workshops simultaneously, otherwise our small stuff would not be able to keep track of everyone. The workshop themes are usually organized around a certain market sector, like editorial or art, or a particular kind of work, like a personal project or multimedia production. Assignments include daily life editorial, developing virtual exhibitions, multimedia technique and storytelling, and producing a documentary project.
MJ: Why was it important to you to offer photography classes online, not just in person?
LF: We started to concentrate on the workshops in 2005 and produced them in quite a few of the Russian regions over the next two years. By the end of 2006, we came to the conclusion that it made no sense to continue the workshops in their existing format. Out of 10 or 15 students, only one or two were ready to move on to higher level classes. Not to mention the travel costs photographers had to pay to travel from their hometowns to the regional workshops.
We decided it would be much easier to mobilize promising photographers on the internet. Most photographers who want to move beyond the limits of their local region are already actively using the internet, which is their only source for self-improvement and information. Plus the online format allows us to work with masters from around the world with no added cost for their travel.
MJ: What have the results of the workshops been so far?
LF: In addition to satisfying a pure desire to learn more, the workshops offer a real professional motivation to young photographers; many students are now working with the leading Russian and foreign magazines and agencies they connect with through class portfolio reviews. We have also realized that we are becoming a repository for high-quality stories by workshops participants. They are documenting important social issues and everyday life in our largely under-reported region: life in small towns; ethnic and sexual minorities and members of subcultures; health care; internally displaced people; homeless children and orphans; migrant workers.
These stories are being told less and less due to the global media crisis. It struck us that the work our students were producing could be as important as what they learned while they were producing it. We decided to develop a new media component on the website, which presents photographic projects by the workshops participants and provides a platform for contributions from other professional photographers and citizen journalists as well.
We are also working to integrate the workshops with other exciting internet projects. We engage with social networks and bring in interesting blog posts from resources like RESOLVE (only available in Russian) to draw in new traffic and help the images produced by the students be seen outside of our website.
MJ: Having worked for so long with photographers in Russia and CIS, have you found common problems that these photographers face? Is there style or philosophy of photography that has emerged from this region?
LF: Generally, I do not sympathize with the “national” idea or division of photography. Really exciting and original Russian photographers are not dramatically different from American or French photographers. If you looked at the work and personalities of Yuri Kozyrev or Alexander Gronsky or Rena Effendi, it would be hard to tell their nationality.
What is typical for most of the post-Soviet countries today, and what led me to start a foundation and take on the educational projects in the first place, is the lack of context, on many levels. By that I mean a poor or almost absent photography market infrastructure. Support for emerging photographers in the forms of academic schools, workshops, and grants is inconsistent; job opportunities with publications, agencies, and galleries are slim; and the criteria for judging photography are vague in the absence of national-scale contests and critique. As a result, there’s a very limited number of real professionals.
Naturally, these problems are not uniform across the whole territory — the situation is better in Russia and the Baltics than in Tajikistan or Moldova for instance. But in reality there is almost no serious photographic discourse going on, which makes it difficult for young photographers and editors to develop their careers.
As often happens, the top news this week in photography is also the top news in the world. On Tuesday a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, centralized in the capital of Port-au-Prince. We’ve been impressed by the response from photographers — not necessarily rushing to the scene to make photos (although you can see some great examples of that at the New York Times and The Big Picture), but making donations and encouraging others to. LiveBooks client Nick Zantop alerted us to his comprehensive list of legitimate charities helping with relief as well as a Facebook group providing up-to-the-minute information. We also saw that William Greiner is auctioning off a print with proceeds going to the Red Cross, Clark Patrick started a Cause on Facebook to support Doctors Without Borders, and Brian Smith blogged about five simple ways to support the victims.
The Wall Street Journal released a ranking of 200 jobs last week based on several criteria. The fact that photojournalist ranked near the bottom at #189 not surprisingly caused a stir in the blogosphere. Fred Ritchin at After Photography and Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer both took to task the criteria by which the ranking was made. What do you think? Is being a photojournalist worse than being an emergency medical technician or a nuclear plant decontamination technician?
Magnum photographer Dennis Stock, best known for his iconic images of James Dean, died on Monday. There is a lovely remembrance of him on the Lens blog as well as great multimedia autobiography at Magnum.
To finish up with some good news, Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) launched The Independent Photo Book last week, a blog where photographers can send their independently produced and sold books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse. We posted about this in our ongoing discussion on the Future of Photobooks when it launched — 39 items have already gone up since then.
Bryan was a natural choice to moderate the discussion on photobook funding, since his post, The Netflix of Photobooks, includes a forward-thinking collaborative funding option with real potential:
“I wonder if some type of joint venture could be organized amongst bloggers and photography organizations to share photography books? I’m not talking about Steidl books here, more like the the Photography.Book.Now winners and other on-demand books. I would love to look at all these books, but there’s no way I can buy each of them. But there maybe a few that I would buy if I could see them first.“
His comment alludes to several larger questions: It’s easier than ever to create and print an entire book yourself, but will those books ever sell enough copies to be a financial boon to the photographer? To do that, there needs to be a much more efficient and wide reaching way to connect interested buyers with individually produced books.
Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) have taken a fundamental first step toward helping bring buyers together with at least one kind of photobook — independently produced ones that can’t be bought through online chain stores. Just yesterday they launched The Independent Photo Book, a blog where photographers can send their books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse.
One remaining question for the endeavor, and one I’m sure Jörg and Hester will address as the project continues, is how do you draw people from outside the small photography and blogging world into the site?
Bryan’s comment also highlights a deeper problem with selling a physical book in the online world. I agree that I’d be more likely to buy a book if I could hold it in my hands first. I’ve settled before for being able to see a digital version of every page (instead of the one or two you can see on Amazon, etc.), but the ideal is to look through the physical book. As David Bram points out on the Fraction blog, “The print quality of the book is as important as the content of the book itself. If the photographs are not well printed in physical book form, the potential buyer needs to know this.”
What would be a good way to get books into potential buyers’ hands? What about a traveling pop-up shop that brings independently produced books to towns around the world? Are there photobook festivals that are affordable and approachable for industry non-insiders where you can see a large number of books in a short period of time?
Assuming that photobooks continue to be financial viable for larger publishers, though, most will likely continue to be bought online through major bookstores like Amazon. Todd Walker (the mediator of our CONSUMPTION discussion) suggested an interesting dilemma that stems from this process. Since books purchased online are often reduced to a “thumbnail” image, is this a system that disadvantages complex images, favoring simple, graphic ones that read well at smaller size?
The increasing ease with which photographers can create their own books also helps them take the step up to these larger publishers and markets — so the self-published book might not turn a profit, but it can help procure a larger run that might. Nathalie Belayche gave an example of this model in her post on Food For Your Eyes:
“Robin Maddock couldn’t wait to find a publisher for his book Our Kids Are Going To Hell and so he did a Blurb book, as a dummy and to make a test. A few months later the book was redesigned and came out with the help of a brick-and-mortar publisher.”
Jonathan Worth, whose blog explores alternate funding models for photographers, weighs in with this:
“The generation currently breaking into the industry have inherited a fond nostalgia for analogue processes (think Holga, Lomography or witness the dramatic rescue of Polaroid ). Developing and exploiting this demand is one of the areas that photographer’s business practices can and should focus looking forward. The book is just one element of this.” Are there photographers who are working this angle right now?
All of these models rely on the same assumption — that a photographer has the money to print a book in the first place. What about funding the initial investment needed for printing, especially not print-on-demand?
Bryan suggests the microfunding model could be a powerful tool. One encouraging example is the 13th issue of Hamburger Eyes (a San Francisco-based street photography magazine), which was funded through Kickstarter last summer. The magazine met it’s goal in only three days and even took in an extra $1,000, allowing them to print a larger magazine than ever before.
In this situation a magazine has an advantage over a book since it has serial issues that have gained them a loyal following. How can photographers build the same kind of audience for a single book (that is likely to include just their own work, not lots of potential funders’, like Hamburger Eyes)?
I would look at something like the We English blog that Simon Roberts created in the year running up to the publication of his book by the same name. Although he worked with publisher Chris Boot, he built a loyal audience by asking for ideas on how to photograph “Englishness,” offering a print to the first 150 people who sent him ideas.