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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.
First up is Dan Lyons’ Newsweek post about Apple’s new tablet computer. The news is a few weeks old, but Dan’s reaction to it is a breath of fresh air. “Veteran editor Tina Brown, who now runs The Daily Beast, says we are about to enter ‘a golden age of journalism.’ I agree, and I think tablet devices will hurry that along.” Compare that to recent pieces like The Digital Journalist‘s “Revisiting The Death of Journalism: Ten Years Later,” or “Lament for a Dying Field: Photojournalism” from The Times and you’ll see why I’m excited.
Then I spotted this story about Vogue hiring Obama’s web strategists to help them “analyze the Conde Nast publication’s audience as part of a broader, revenue-generating push that ultimately will involve implementing paid subscriptions on Vogue.com.” Sentences like this make me so happy — “Vogue executives, keenly aware that the monthly magazine is just one of many ways people connect with the publication, had been looking for ways to capitalize on its influence” — because it means publications are finally starting to understand that it’s their name, their cache, the respect people have for them that is valuable in the online world, not just the content itself. This is a lesson many photographers could benefit from. And, of course, if magazines like Vogue actually figure out how to make money online, we can only hope that will trickle down to the photographers they employ.
Leave it to Fred Ritchin to put his finger right on the crux of this issue on his After Photography blog. He starts off by calling out Jonathan Worth, a photographer I’ve been following closely as he blogs about his endeavor to make money off of his photography by giving away the photograph itself (in this case a portrait of science fiction writer Cory Doctorow). Fred then moves on to the innovative approach the VII photo agency is taking to photo distribution, and wraps up with this little gem: “In a Boston Consulting Group poll published last week people in nine countries were surveyed asking if they would pay for online news: from 48 to 60 percent said they would, ranging from US$3 per month (Americans and Australians) to US$7 (Italians). Maybe we should take them at their word?”
And I’d like to leave you with this gem from Joe McNally, a letter he wrote to a young photographer trying to find their way. It’s an inspirational, well-written, wandering piece, as Joe’s usually are, that I think is brilliant advice not only for young creatives, but also for the media industry in general: “You are just beginning to write your pages, and the thing to remember about this early rough draft is that it hardly matters what you do exactly, as long as you continue to become something close to what you might imagine you want or need to become.”
I encourage anyone in any kind of decision-making position in the industry — from individual photographers to multi-national publishers — to embrace that notion and keep experimenting, keep innovating, keep striving for something better. You’ll know it when you find it.
When Joe McNally, a legendary photojournalist and lighting guru, stopped by the liveBooks office during some rare down time in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist setting up a video interview. (Thanks to videographer Drew Gurian.) Joe has contributed to National Geographic for 20 years and was a staff photographer for LIFE magazine. He works with huge commercial clients and produced a seminal portrait series of September 11 heroes. He’s also the author of two must-read instructional books and writes a very popular blog — which brings us to the video below.
Joe started his blog in 2008 after prodding from friends (and avid bloggers) including Moose Peterson, David Hobby, and Scott Kelby. Now the blog is an important part of his business, especially since “big pipelines” for assignments have dried up in recent years.
“Any photographer out there now is stitching together things,” he says. “Work comes now in all sorts of strange ways.” Smart photographers like Joe understand that blogs and social media are an important part of that patchwork. They bring in assignments, create buzz, and help build community with other top professionals. (If you haven’t seen Joe’s parody of Chase Jarvis’ Consequences of Creativity video, I recommend you watch that too.)
It’s not very often that I return from a photo festival with a cohesive message or even a consistent idea. But I spent a lot of time at LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville last week talking with the up-and-coming young photographers who are being given the chance to shape the photo industry in a tangible way. Starting out as a photographer today, especially as a photojournalist, means nothing is certain. So it’s reassuring to hear that young photographers understand that this time of uncertainty is also an opportunity for evolution.
One way photographers are facing many challenges is by banding together into artist collectives, such as Luceo Images, MJR, Aevum, EVE, and Oeil Public. In the video below, Matt Eich (Luceo), Tim Hussin, Mustafah Abdulaziz (MJR), and Matt Craig (MJR) explain what they’re excited about in photography now. I also had conversations along these lines with Matt Slaby (Luceo), Kevin German (Luceo), Danny Ghitis, and Michael Christopher Brown. Although rubbing elbows with legends is always fun, these young shooters are most excited about their contemporaries and the camaraderie between them.
Michael Shaw, creator of the BAGnewsNotes blog and a RESOLVE contributor, is also excited about these young photographers and the collectives they’ve started, because they treat blogging as a vital, necessary part of their careers and distribution plans. Sometimes they strive to be featured on blogzines like Verve Photo, DVAFoto, and Flak Photo, which highlight great work by (mostly) emerging photographers. There are also blogs like That’s a Negative and We Can Shoot Too, that focus on work by photographers in specific places (Portland, OR, and Los Angeles, in this case). Other times they use the blog format to promote the achievements of their own members, as with the Luceo and MJR blogs.
Despite Michael’s quip about “older photographers,” I do have to mention that Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey, one of the dons of photojournalism, is also on the front lines with his online magazine, burn, which is working toward assigning original photography to emerging and established photographers — something Michael has been doing for years at BAGnewsNotes. David presented a very fun, sexy video promo for burn at the festival that includes an annual Blurb book and lots of other intriguing possibilities for new distribution models.
Q: What social networking tools do you use? Do you immediately adopt new ones or do you assess how useful they’ll be before you dedicate your time to them?
A: Right now I use Facebook, Twitter, and of course… the [ b ] School.com. And no, I wouldn’t say I am an early adopter. I kind of check things out and I may not even sign up the first time I see something. I never had a MySpace account (seemed like it was mostly for 13-year-old girls). A lot of my friends joined Facebook a good 6 months or so before I finally gave in. Same thing with Twitter. But now that I’m on there, I use Twitter and Facebook every day, and I am stoked about what we’re building at the [ b ] School, a social network designed specifically for wedding and portrait photographers.
Q: How should photographers think about tools like Twitter and Facebook in relation to their photography business? Are they like advertising? An extended bio page? Ways to grow a contact list?
A: They are just new ways to connect with people: friends, clients, colleagues. Just like with blogs, sites like Facebook and Twitter give people a glimpse at your real life and personality, but in a more organic and real way. My status updates on FB and Twitter drive a considerable amount of traffic to my blog, my website, or to wherever else I choose.
I also figure since I’ve done the work prepping an image in Photoshop for my blog, why not also post it on Facebook where I can tag any friends or clients who are in the image, which then prompts them to check out my work. And of course every image I post online includes a watermark of my [ b ] logo and website url — that way if the images gets reposted anywhere else on the web, at least people will know where it came from…www.beckersblog.com.
Q: You have 4,500+ followers on Twitter. How did you make that happen and how do you utilize those connections?
A: I assume a lot of people followed me when I posted a link to my Twitter page on my blog. I also have an embedded widget on my blog that shows my latest tweet as well as a link to www.twitter.com/thebecker. I usually get well over 5,000 blog hits per day, so as people join Twitter, the ones who frequent my blog usually follow me too. I don’t tweet every blog post, just the ones I find most interesting, and then it is also automatically uploaded to my Facebook status. So whether you are one of my 4,500+ followers on Twitter, or one of my 4,800 Facebook friends, my updates will show up on your page with an easy-to-click link that will take you straight to the content that I want to share with you. They say “your network is your net worth,” so I am constantly trying to grow my network.
Q: How do you use your blog and what do you post there?
A: My blog is actually about my entire life, not just photography. When I first started blogging back in 2005, it was just a way for my folks and a few close friends to see what I’ve been up to and check out my latest work. Then in 2006, as blogging got popular and more and more people were blogging, it did prove to be quite a useful tool to sharing information and driving traffic to my sites. My blog gets about nine times as much traffic as my actual website, www.thebecker.com. Blogs are very search engine friendly, and I’ve got quite a few bookings out of some rather random searches that drove someone to my blog.
While I do try to post a few images from every single shoot that I do, I also just post about things that are going on in my life — whether it’s about my niece and nephew, something fun I did with friends, a movie review, a poker story, or just anything I find interesting and feel like sharing. It’s kinda like reality TV. I think people in America are very voyeuristic and like to see what other people are doing… it’s human nature… kinda like a soap opera.
Q: If I were a skeptical photographer who just didn’t see how a blog, Facebook, or Twitter could be worth my time, how would you convince me?
A: Well, it’s not really my job to convince you. There are lots of people who just give me blank stares when I try to explain what Twitter is and why it is useful. Not everyone gets it and that’s okay. In the last 6-9 months, I know of at least a half-dozen bookings I got as a direct result of social networking.
A couple came from tagging images in Facebook, having it show up on the bride’s friend’s news feeds and them seeing my work and finding my blog. And I am talking about old high school friends…not even someone who is still close to the bride or was at the wedding, just someone who used to know one of my brides. Facebook keeps them connected, my work gets out there, and I book jobs. Every once in a while I’ll, tweet about dates that I am still available and ask for photographers to send me referrals. I don’t do it too often as I don’t want to wear out my welcome, but I have gotten jobs that way, and likewise given out solid leads through Twitter.
Miki Johnson: How did ILCP decide it wanted to focus more on social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as online community building?
Trevor Frost: As a young photographer and explorer, I’ve had to spend many hours networking to get to where I am now. So when I joined ILCP as the Director of Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions, I thought it would be great to make a online avenue for others like me to meet and work with the accomplished photographers, scientists, and explorers that make up our organization.
ILCP already does a good job at facilitating communication between members, especially our emerging league and experienced fellows. But ILCP members have little communication with others who aspire to be photographers or conservationists, yet are not quite skilled enough photographically to be a member of the ILCP. By providing a social media platform for this communication, we can link less experienced photographers, explorers, and scientists with members of our group who are very experienced. This will help support new talent, create a community beyond membership in the ILCP, broaden the reach of ILCP, and, we hope, lead to higher conservation achievements.
MJ: What online tools is ILCP utilizing to extend its communication?
TF: ILCP is focusing on Twitter and our new online magazine/blog to generate a community and to catalyze connections between conservationists, scientists, and photographers. With the online magazine/blog we hope to create a digital outlet that photographers will want to be published in, something they want to put on their resume. We also hope it becomes a platform for communication and critique, and offers a place to publish stories that have been rejected by traditional media.
On Twitter we are starting off by posting links to websites and news stories that feature ILCP or its photographers, affiliates, and partner organizations. Eventually we will expand this to include a wide range of interesting conservation topics. People only want to follow Twitterers with the most interesting updates.
One major goal of all of this is to drive increased traffic to our websites and multimedia pieces, which help disseminate conservation messages. The increased web traffic should also help us forge new relationships with corporate partners by offering an opportunity for brand exposure. At this point ILCP’s involvement in social media is in its infancy. Aside from our followers and fans increasing on Twitter and Facebook, we have not seen direct benefits yet. We do, however, expect to see benefits over the course of the next year.
MJ: Why did ILCP decide to focus its resources on social media and online tools?
TF: When people ask how they can help non-profits they almost always hear: Please donate. This is frustrating. People want to get their hands dirty. Many of the most successful conservation projects involve citizen science and participation. When people have a chance to work along side well-known scientists or photographers it, makes them VERY excited about the subject and, I believe, it motivates them to become more involved, including donating money.
ILCP membership is based heavily on one skill — the ability to produce stunning images. Thus the ILCP can seem elitist. We realize there are many photographers who take brilliant images and work very hard on conservation who are not quite to the standard of ILCP, but who could still benefit from working with ILCP in some way. Using social media, we can create an extended ILCP community without actually extending membership.
We hope that this will help our followers grow as photographers and conservationists, so at some point they can join ILCP as a member. This also fosters communication, moderated by ILCP, between emerging photographers and the extremely talented members of the ILCP. All of this empowers conservation. The bigger the army, the better!
MJ: Have ILCP members embraced this new social media initiative?
TF: I don’t have any concrete numbers or names but in the last two months I have noticed, especially on Twitter, more of our members tweeting. Even some of members with more years under their belts.
There are certainly a few of our members who are quite skilled with social media tools. Not surprisingly, most of them are our younger members or emerging members. A few names that come to mind are Chris Linder and Ian Shive. Both have helped ILCP produce the first Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition blog (Borderlands RAVE) in addition to a few other projects.
There are two upcoming Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVE): one to the Flathead basin in British Columbia in July 2009 and one to the Yucatan Peninsula in September 2009. Stay tuned for a RAVE website with field dispatches, the ability to track expedition members, and live photos and video.