Getting things straight for the competition rounds was the subject of our last meeting, covering Resizing (large file) images for Reflex Open Competitions, colour space and getting images printed and framing the results (there is more than one way). The club, being members of the WCPF, follows the template for competitions laid down by the PAGB. This standardises competition rules across member federations across the country.
As we have covered this before I will leave you with the links above, before moving on to an argument that we have touched on, but still bares closer scrutiny as it is fundamental to photography in general and to certain types of photography in particular. It is prompted by two events, one referred to in last week’s blog, that of Reuters announcing a shot-in-jpeg-only policy and an interview in the Guardian of Don McCullin published Friday (27 Nov 2015).
The issue is of the veracity of the photograph, how “true” is it? McCullin talks about the difference between digital and film and his issue is the ease of manipulation the digital allows in comparison to film. He is a man of the black and white, an aesthetic both elegant and brutal in its pairing down to form and shape and shade. His point about being left alone in the dark with his images on film I thought quite poignant, especially given the subject matter he is best known for. This flexibility is the same issue that Reuters have, if expressed from different perspectives, of producer and market broker, but the issue is of trust. Trust is a marketable quality, by which I mean it is a quality that buyers and consumers look for in an organisation. Reuters need to be confident that the photographs they are peddling are truthful representations.
The Art/Science Truth/Fiction debates have been with us since the beginning of the medium and it will go on as long as the medium persists, that is to say there will always be dissenters. That isn’t the thrust of this post, nor McCullin’s point, neither is the truth/fiction argument one that Reuters are trying to conclude – they never will because they cannot because the capacity to manipulate, i.e. post production, will always be there and the photographer’s choice of angles, setting, subject will necessarily be a selective truth concreted in the raw image data.
Trust not truth, then. It isn’t an either or, one does not exclude the other, and Reuters and McCullin, whilst making different points, are talking of the same or similar problem. Truth, in essence, is a statement of fact. Trust is an emotional response that dictates the truth for each of the people involved in an interaction. That means multiple and often conflicting truths. That which is true and that which we believe to be true. Reuters want and need their clients to believe in the integrity of the photographs and in McCullin’s field, photojournalism, that is an absolute. It is one that has been fraught from the off, Roger Fenton‘s photograph of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” as it has come to be known after Tennyson’s famous poem on the Charge of the Light Brigade, is thought to have been staged for the emotional feel rather than battlefield veracity. In 1854 any real-time action photograph would have been pretty impossible due to exposure times. Not so 1938 and the fallen Spanish soldier we talked of (Robert Capra) back in September; lack of veracity got Brian Walski fired from the LA Times and Piers Morgan from the Daily Mirror.
All these were “War” photographs, I use the inverted commas because, whereas they are indeed photographs of war and its collateral damages, war is just the situation they were taken in, moments of humanity glimpsed through the blink of a shutter in a situation stripped of it. What has that to do with club photography? I mean, the club “battles” I have been at haven’t really got beyond the “Canons to the left of them Nikons to the right” level of drama, though all the judges we have had have had stories of metaphorical battle scars from less than impressed entrants and manipulations are deliberate and for effect. Well McCullin also touched on this in the Guardian interview, not camera clubs, you understand, when he talked about the colour reproduction and how it has, in some cases, become garish, certainly unreal. Landscapes, his preferred subject do seem to be going this way. There is one in a current photographic publication, held up as a tour de force to be, I assume, emulated and inspirational. It popped straight back into mind when I read McCullin’s comment: “These extraordinary pictures in colour, it looks as if someone has tried to redesign a chocolate box”. That is a matter of taste, though.
All this could be the influence of the Art World, of which there are many and not always complimentary opinions (in both directions), and comes back to the Art/Science and Mere Mechanics debate, at least in part. The fact is that fashion is an important driving force in setting trends. Changes in technology have democratised photography, and has greatly enabled what the average citizen can do. It doesn’t mean that the average citizen is any better a photographer or producer of images, but the potential is there. How much, then, should the producer of an image be able to say they created to make it theirs? The internet has made a vast and perpetually growing well of images available to an web connected individual. Social media makes sharing very easy. Sometimes people’s idea of sharing goes a little too far. What we enter into competitions we assert that the work we enter is our own. Local photographic clubs don’t often make national newspapers but one did over the summer and the whole club was thrown out of the PAGB competition over the claims of one member to the intellectual property rights of his entry. Trust, plays a part even at the micro level we operate within our clubs. Which is where we came in ….
N E X T M E E T I N G
Skies and how to improve them ….
Two articles caught my eye this week, one in the Guardian, one at Digital Photography School, both of which I posted to the Clubs Facebook timeline, both on the same topic – photography as a business. Now, in particular, I don’t claim to know a huge amount about photography as a business, it seems a good way to turn a passion into a millstone very easily, but I do know a fair bit about business in general and have made a decent living out of that knowledge for more years than I really care to count.
Alfred P Sloan (an economist) possibly was the man who coined the phrase “The business of business is business” a fine example of the circular argument – one that supports itself by ignoring everything that isn’t itself therefore must be true on its own terms. It’s catchy because it’s hard to argue with. It does, however, contain an element of truth, as most circular arguments do. In this case you might be able to make a business out of a hobby but you can’t treat a business as a hobby (unless you have a lot of money to throw away, in which case it’s still a hobby not a business). As Mark S, Mark O, Dan T, Simon C and others have all made the fundamental point that it is the client whose taste, needs and wants prevail. Their cash pays your bills. You get their cash by giving them your interpretation of what they want. The point is, they still have to want it when the cheque clears in your bank. That is the point at which the job, the business of business, is complete. Never, ever, before (says the man who has rebuilt two credit control systems from heaps of paper, believe me only about 2.5% as interesting as it sounds).
That said there are probably more opportunities to monetarise your photography than ever before – and more people in on the game. The market is crowded. 150 photographers listed on Yell in Bristol (though some of those may be multiple entries). You need to know your market and you need to know how to keep motivated. One of the first things that people come to realise, especially in service industries like photography, is the amount of time that the business of business takes up. This is one of the big differences that mark out the amateur (and the semi-pro in a lot of instances) from the professional. The amateur can put a lot of planning into a shoot, the professional has to put a lot of planning into every shoot. Always, always do your own research. Post processing done to a deadline is very different from post processing done at leisure. As Benjamin Franklin put it in Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One (July 1748) “Time is money”. If that image is taking you more than ten minutes to process isn’t it a lost shot? If every shot is taking you 10 minutes, and you have 400 of them, have you got 67 hours to spare and run the business? Sleep?
And what do you charge? There is as much to that as art as there is science. You have to be pretty well established to get away with fee £x00 (or £x000 even £x0000 depending on your reputation) + production costs and talking to a client with pretty deep pockets. You are probably not a wedding or baby portrait photographer either. The temptation is to get too close to cost just to get the gig. Bad choice, worse habit. And the tax returns and associated paperwork? Billing? Chasing? Sales and Purchase ledgers? Equipment? Is this what you became a photographer for? We haven’t even started on getting new business, the most difficult and most expensive type of business to get (you really want referrals and repeat business). Going into business for yourself is a lot of hard work.
But there is no doubt that it can be rewarding. You are your own boss. You get to do some of the things you want to do and if you are smart you use the challenges from the commissions you don’t feel inspired by (but need to take to pay the bills) to spark your creativity, to take new techniques and to work them into the shoot (when appropriate), but keep in sight the fact that the customer is always right. It is not their privilege to pay for you proving that you can’t operate out of your own or your gear’s limits.
Most of all you need drive, not just to get up and go on sunny days but on the rainy days too. But if you’ve got an idea then here’s a place to start.
This week’s creative round of the competition – entries for the fourth and final open round due by next Thursday – provoked a conversation around the issue of whether we need a judge. We thought we did, the judge differed, reportedly, though he was out running, which is a fine zero carbon option for transportation, unfortunately, it didn’t get him to St Anne’s on time. Indeed at all. Our thanks to Ian and Julie for their hours of organising and commiserations that it was nearly all for nought. Not quite though, for it was decided that we would go to that worst of all systems (apart from every other one that has been tried – at least according to Mr W.S. Churchill) and hold a democratic vote to decide. So judging without the feedback. There are arguments around bringing in outside judges into club competitions for sure and I wonder whether the results were any different as the images submitted were strong as ever but, again few in number. The more you enter the more you are going to get feedback on. The more you act on that feedback the more you will improve – OK this was a bad week to make a good point. Results will be posted when available.
It, has, though, been a busy week. The Photo Marathon practical, yet again thanks to Ian and Julie, was held last Sunday based at the Severn Stars. It was well attended and proved a fascinating challenge. The ten categories, or for you 90’s aficionados, “Things that make you go Hmmm” were:
Entry number; parallel; full circle; exit; black and white; old school; drama; secret; lost and Superpower.
It was a reasonable start and a baffling end for me, but then I’d only had four hours sleep before I had to be up and out (well that’s my excuse), but I finished and so I think did everyone else. The results, again by popular acclamation, will be judged on March 20th. Must say I enjoyed the challenge, as did everyone else I spoke to.
Further to the week before last Four on getting Published, Getty Images, in an effort to combat, or at least ameliorate, the effects of image piracy (as they would have it, the more cynical would say monetise at the expense of the less favoured but greatest number of contributors) announced a not so small change with a BIG BIG potential impact for freelancers and contributors, discussed here in last Friday’s Guardian. Basically they are making 35 million images royalty free in turn for the embed code in your website that links to their image bank. Well they say to their image bank but once it is there it will be to anything they choose, like adverts, videos or other images, it is speculated in Andrew Hern’s article, and certainly you agree to the trawling of your visitor’s information by Getty and/or it’s licensed third parties by using it.
This matters because Getty is the largest provider of images to the market and where they lead others will likely follow. Interviewed in Forbes Magazine, Shutterstock CEO Jon Oringer strongly disagrees with this viewpoint, saying that the images are only for not-for-profit and Getty reserve the right to run their own advertisements – though one wonders what that might involve for when Getty choose something that goes against the NFP’s stance on a matter. In more depth the British Journal of Photography are running series of articles on this, the first of which was published on March 5th.
This coming Thursday a PRACTICAL! Bring your camera, tripod, flashes, crash helmets as necessary for an evening on trick photography.