I laughed heavily when I read that this could be “..a unique bond between photojournalists and their audience.” Really? unique bond? Has photojournalism seriously stooped so low that they now have to collectively resort to begging using web 2.0 techniques in order to survive?
Don’t get me wrong, I realise that as an industry right now, we are collectively in the shitter when it comes to anyone trying to make a decent living. Papers and publications are paying less every month that goes by. You have collectives that are the talk of the town but in reality not exactly great business models (hey when you don’t have a mortgage, car, rent, family, possessions, 100 US a day is a lot) and more amateurs offering pretty decent content for free, the future isn’t bright.
So one has to ask, is adopting the virtual begging bowl, or the fancier crowd funding, method the only way to go?
Emphas.is launched with much fanfare in the blog’osphere with their statement that
It proposes a unique bond between photojournalists and their audience, and in the process aims to create a new financial model for photojournalism in the 21st century.
A very strong statement, especially when you take into consideration how poor many photographers have been from a business sense. The aim is to give you, the funder, exclusive access to the worlds top photojournalists. Ok great you say, but what do you get out of that? Many tout the Kickstarter method as being the right way to go, and a quick glance of things, it does seem that way. Larry Towell (hardly a new kid on the block) started his online begging campaign and walked away with over $12,000 in a number of weeks.
As a result, 67 funders will receive a nice postcard print, 7 will get a mixtape cd, 3 will get signed copies of his books (ok that’s not bad) and 11 will receive a 11×14 signed collectors print. From Larry’s perspective, not bad considering there are no specific outcomes he has to follow in order to deliver the goods. I’m not picking on Larry per se, he’s just that high-profile enough to be a very good example. Larry’s work has spoken for itself for decades.
As much as many people out there hate them, Mr Duck and Mr Rabbit are a breath of fresh air in this self-congratulatory back-slapping industry. They called bullshit on the approach here and here. Ben summed it up with this quote
Photojournalism in the Kickstarter vehicle is not sustainable when it acts like it deserves charity.
I’m not attacking those who have chosen the Kickstarter method, or indeed Emphas.is but the model itself. It’s not sustainable enough in the long-term. The Internet is a series of fads, from myspace to facebook to twitter and so on. Right now crowd funding is great and i’m sure those who’ve managed to elicit funds from the community are going to use them wisely, but what happens two years from now? Do the public have to fund Larry’s career choices every 6 months? Will I have to buy Tomas a new Leica every year when he fancies going to another communist country?
I think if we are looking at creating a new business model, we need to grow a backbone collectively and start convincing the editors, the publications and indeed anyone who is responsible for purchasing our work that paying a decent amount for the work is the way forward. I bet none of those working at the Guardian, the NYTimes or BBC are on salaries so small, they have to go out and beg friends for money, so why is it ok to expect those creating content for the publications to do the same?
I don’t see any of the big names getting together and saying “enough!” to those blatantly abusing the market right now? Where is James saying “no I’m not working for 100 US a day whilst embedded in some charming hamlet in Afghanistan?”.
The most ironic part of this process is that the same people who often flock to those in need, those begging for help to passers-by are now doing the same thing. They might not be in rags or in dire need of a meal but have become subjects that others should take pictures of and make into story about desperation.
Interesting times ahead, now whilst we are at it, spare us a few bob mate?
After a fantastic discussion with Tomas below, he’s posted a brilliant article with his view on the current offerings. I highly recommend you read that after you’ve read this and the comments below.