Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Share and share alike - it's the way forward!

In my ramblings posted a few days ago, I briefly touched on the issue of working partnerships between photographers, with the promise that I would expand on my thoughts in due course...

Our industry is changing. For the better, I think. But it is changing nonetheless. Obviously we are now well and truly into the 'digital revolution', which is great (if something of a double-edged sword at times). Images can be shot cleanly and precisely, and delivered with a speed which simply wasn't possible in the past, and we can tailor a shoot minute-by-minute using instant on-camera or on-computer review. However, one of the flip-sides to these advancements is the fact that many people (formerly potential clients) are choosing to take care of photography themselves, in-house, because 'Dave in accounts is a keen photographer and is quite good with a camera”. Not such good news, then, for those of us who are trying to earn our livings from supplying good quality, professional imagery (or 'visual solutions' as I like to call it).

But more of a concern than this is the apparent paranoia and hysteria that has grown out of photographers' reactions to these changing times. Historically, we have always been a funny bunch; somewhat insular, we choose to keep ourselves to ourselves, and that includes our technical know-how and individual working practices. God forbid anyone should actually find out how we perform these visual feats!

Now, though, it's even worse – with the loss of potential clients (and therefore previously-guaranteed revenue) many photographers see their colleagues as a real threat. I experience this situation time after time. You try asking a guy at an event what his approach is and watch his initial (involuntary) expression; it screams 'reluctance' and 'I'm unwilling to share'! Why? After all, there are only so many ways to photograph a subject and, chances are, I've already thought of the same technique because experience tells me that's perhaps the best way to portray the subject.

I read something on a blog a few months ago addressing the fear that 'professional photography is dying'. Or dead, depending on how dramatic you want to be. Frankly, this is b******t (sorry - technical term!). It's complete nonsense. The world of photography – both professional and enthusiast – has never been in a more healthy or exciting state. Sure, we photographers face new challenges now, fresh obstacles that require a bit of lateral thinking in order to overcome them, but then... what?

I think the real issue here lies with the photographers themselves. Specifically, those who are reluctant to move with the times and realise that the world of professional photography is much more open now; it's a different animal, and one based on a willingness to share among your own kind. Simply put, the old way is the old way and things are evolving whether we like it or not. So guys, it's up to you to think openly and embrace the future.

Personally, I love this 'new wave' that the industry is following. Hey, I wouldn't be publishing a blog if I didn't! My company, and the way we operate, is all about educating our clients – not just about making great pictures for them. I will talk openly to anyone about the way we work, our equipment, the way we light our subjects... anything you like.

And you know what? People like openness. They don't like secrecy.

I had a meeting with another photographer some time last year, arranged through a marketing company contact we both share. The idea was that we would get together at his studio and, over a cuppa, have a chat about our working practices so as to see if there was any synergy there. If he needed a back-up I could step in on his behalf and vice versa - that sort of thing. Well, the first alarm bell rang when we sat down and the guy said - and I quote - "So, what are we talking about, then?"

Clearly he had no real interest in talking to 'the competition' because, as we all know, I was only there to see if I could muscle in on his patch. Oh please.

Just the thought of that day irritates me even now. What a wasted opportunity!

At the end of the day, it comes down to trust and professionalism; I have a number of photographers in my contact list who I know I can turn to if I can't make a job or if I need assistance. I know they won't try to pull a fast one - just as I wouldn't try to steal their clients behind their backs. Want an example? Check out this post which detailed a collaborative shoot undertaken with a fellow enlightened photographer.

As you can probably tell, I'm rather passionate about this whole 'open minded' approach to the way we work, and I'd be very keen to hear your thoughts on the matter, regardless of your profession. So please do take a moment to post me your thoughts by clicking on the 'Comments' link below; you can do this either anonymously or with identity, I don't mind. You never know, we might get a bit of a discussion going.

Oh, and if you've found this little rant of interest, please feel free to link to it - remember, it's all about spreading the word!


G. A Stratton said...

From your “rant”. “But more of a concern than this is the apparent paranoia and hysteria that has grown out of photographers' reactions to these changing times. Historically, we have always been a funny bunch; somewhat insular, we choose to keep ourselves to ourselves, and that includes our technical know-how and individual working practices. God forbid anyone should actually find out how we perform these visual feats!”

As I was coming out of the world of chemical photos into digital, I joined NAPP and attended one of the national meetings in Boston a few years ago. It was a strange experience to say the least.

The gurus were pushing camaraderie and sharing, but the experience at the personal level was quite different. Most of the attendees were very private and almost shy in their demeanor. There were groups who seemed to know each other but upon approach were quite cliquish. I’m not going to rejoin NAPP.

As a teacher, I always encouraged my students to work together as the learning experience unfolded. That translates to: help each other.

It also seemed to me that finding out how things worked was fairly easy to those who put the energy into the experience. Even as the new materials and equipment of photography become more complex and it does require more work to keep up, it is not insurmountable.

What I found to be the more important aspect of the medium, was what it said. I encouraged my students to speak with their own voice which would allow them to make pictures that spoke to that uniqueness.

Even more than technical expertise, I think that is what most of us want to protect, even if, like most young students, we don’t have much to say. When I do run across photos which exhibit that uniqness and speak to me, I rejoice.

Sorry I went off on my own “rant”. GS

Giles said...

Thanks for you comments, G.S. - very interesting, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on future posts also.

Regarding your NAPP experience... I think it is often the case with any of these organisations that attendees seem a little intimidated by exactly those 'experts' who are there trying to help them. I can understand that. Sadly, though, if they did but know it, these guys would openly talk to them one-on-one for hours, if time permitted.

Again, the 'groups' thing has just a hint of playground mentality, I think. A great shame.

I suppose the old cliché rings true here - that you only get out what you put in. I was always the one in class who made the effort to continue talking to my tutors after the lesson had ended, to go away and conduct further research, to challenge myself to learn. And old habits clearly die hard, I'm afraid, as I still have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge!

And you've hit the nail on the head in your closing thoughts... photography, much like any of the creative industries, really is so much more than the sum of its scientific and technical parts. It is an expressive art form, more often than not driven by passion, and one which lends itself so very well to individualism. This surely is what we should be promoting.