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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.
One of the most important features of the blog format is this ability to have a comment thread, this feedback with the readers. As a photographer I’d never had that before. When you publish something, you know people write letters to the editor and maybe weeks or months later you might get a few letters. But that’s very rare and remote. Now it can be instantaneous. We forget very easily what the average person who’s not a journalist, when they pick up a paper or they go online, how they approach the imagery. This is what Michael’s site is all about to begin with, but it’s especially important with the original photojournalism work we’re doing.
It’s been educational for me that this is what “normal” people think about when they look at pictures, which is not the way we as professionals look at pictures. We’re really jaded. And we have a huge opportunity educate our audience; they can be really surprised. If I put up a little diary entry, for example, of how I work in Iraq, or being on the campaign trail, readers are amazed. For photojournalists, we think, of course, you have to get a fixer, you have to get a flak jacket, we don’t think twice. But the average person, they’re not thinking about that at all. They only see the results of our labor, they never really understand how we go about doing it. And when you give even the most basic of explanations, then that whole conversation starts. We have found specifically on this blog a tension and dynamic between photo people and political junkies, because it is a political blog. It’s telling how people who are really politically savvy can be very naive photographically, and vice-versa.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t read the comments on my images. Photographers are like children in that sense. We crave praise and hate criticism. And we’re insecure about ourselves. I mean, if some total stranger says, wonderful picture, you feel good, even though you have no idea who this person is and why they say that. And also if some other stranger says it’s terrible, you feel bad, even though they might be blind for all you know. So I read all the comments on BAGnewsNotes, and I will on RESOLVE too!
But most of the comments on BAGnewsNotes are more of a political nature, using the photographs to inform the debate. At least I don’t have to worry too much about my “photographic” pride, especially at something like the DNC, which we’ve all seen so many times. How do you take pictures at a convention that aren’t boring? I think I spent most of my time just trying to make good pictures. I read the comments, but that doesn’t change what you do the next day because you know you just have to go out there and try to make interesting pictures.