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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

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I found the article about the current state of commercial photography quite depressing .. if you're trying to start a business as a professional photographer

He was also featured last week, Thursday maybe?, on the ABC World News with Diane Sawyer -- at the end of the broadcast. Naturally, some of the "locations" were those featured on the previous blog post.

what kind of camera Mike? I'm at work and can't watch=)

Well, it seems obvious that one would need a really small camera to shoot in small towns.

Michael Paul Smith's fame continues to spread. ABC News also did a segment last night:

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/elgin-park-tiny-town-draws-millions-online-visitors/story?id=10224783

If you go to his new website:

http://elginpark.smugmug.com/

you'll see that the shots there are available as 8x10 or 8x12 prints for $20-24. I'm sure they're not up to Mike's or Ctein's standards, but whether you think they're art or craft that's a bargain.

At the risk of fanning the flames, I think they're both. I recently toured a Richard Meier house where one of the works on the wall was a square panel that was one uniform shade of gray. If that's art, Michael Paul Smith is Leonardo da Vinci reincarnated.

In terms of major media I think the World's Best Photography Magazine beat CBS News to the punch (no surprise):

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/automobiles/collectibles/14SCALE.html?scp=5&sq=michael%20smith&st=cse

--Darin

He was also featured on ABC World News over the weekend. I was amused to find that, on the _one_ day I decided to watch ABC News, they would put on that story!

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/elgin-park-tiny-town-frozen-time-draws-millions-visitors/story?id=10224783

I absolutely love the piece about Michael Park Smith. It is amazing. Sure isn't about the camera, is it?

Lotta chins dropping after looking at that one. A $75 sure shot.

Well, small towns need small cameras. I guess he needs the large depth of field. Does he not bother with tripods or was that just for the filming?

The Times article on professional photographers' declining fortunes rang painfully true. It brought solace in one respect, however: it ain't just me.

"Some by foolishness rise, others by virtue fall." - Shakespeare

Of course! It is essentially a 1/24 scale camera. It would be a lot harder to do that with a full size DSLR

The CBS folks milked the intro to great effect and set up the viewers for a very nice surprise. Well done, and congrats to Mike.

Ironically, his town is missing a photo studio.

I was tricked by the CBS intro as well, and pleasantly so. Impressive and inspirational work, thanks for the link!

Using the best tools for the job is always a best practice. Maybe using a high res DSLR would spoil the illusion.

Yeah, but, yeah, but, yeah, but... did you notice the lens on the PowerShot? Still, this story really is about the photographer and his vision--and his toys. Not his photographic gear.

Wait a second here... The Flickr Lady with over 500 images with Getty can only sometimes pay for a dinner out or sometimes pay the mortgage with her monthly earnings? Scary.

I thought it odd that the voice-over identified the camera as 'a $75 Sure Shot' while the image on screen clearly showed it was a Cybershot.

But as others remarked, a nice little fluff piece on a deserving subject.

Patrick

"Wait a second here... The Flickr Lady with over 500 images with Getty can only sometimes pay for a dinner out or sometimes pay the mortgage with her monthly earnings? Scary. "

Most people aren't making a living in any creative field. For every band that makes a comfortable full-time income you have hudnreds that play gigs for beer and gasoline money. Most authors don't actually earn enough from their book sales to support full-time writing. Classical musicians usually get more income from teaching than actually performing. Why would photography be any different?

"Wait a second here... The Flickr Lady with over 500 images with Getty can only sometimes pay for a dinner out or sometimes pay the mortgage with her monthly earnings? Scary. "

"Most people aren't making a living in any creative field. For every band that makes a comfortable full-time income you have hudnreds that play gigs for beer and gasoline money. Why would photography be any different?"

Hi Janne, you are almost right, but the difference is that while the hundreds of small band that play gigs for a beer don' t take away anything from the full time band, in the photography field people like the above "Flickr Lady" are replacing the professional photographer . . . the result of this is:
1) Small payment for licensing an image
2) Low quality of photos in adds, magazines etc etc . . .

Paolo

By the way . . . I would challenge everybody to take photos with a non-digital camera and in a non-esotic place (Africa-India-Asia etc), and I think at least 80% of "photographers" would barely be able to expose correctly a roll of 36!
It would be a nice and interesting experiment!

Paolo

Getty Images' story at Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getty_Images

scary...

Janne, Why shouldn't all those artists be able to make a living. Surely writing a good book, taking great pictures and playing great music is of much more value to society (not monolithic corporations or their stockholders..) than cube workers who take orders for Viagra or push insurance papers around. Gotta be a lot more beneficial than the work done by the majority of lawyers. Certainly of more value to our culture than career politicians.

Why shouldn't talented people have the expectation of basic survival?

I wonder how apt the music analogy is. There's always been a lot of demand for photography. Most of it is for a photographer to produce something specific for a client - I have to believe that dwarfs the market for 'fine art' photography (might be the wrong term, but I mean photography that someone does because it's what they want to do, then hope for a buyer). Weddings, products for catalogs, advertising, magazines, newspapers, baby portraits, school portraits, corporate communications, the list goes on and on. I wonder how the market for music compares. The market for music produced in hopes of sales has to be much bigger, while I envision the market for music created specifically for a client to be much smaller. It's present in ads on TV & radio, but not in print media, and then I think it's easier to license music written for other purposes than to license fine art photos, so I wouldn't think the market for 'stock' music would be as big.

Finally, I think automation has made commercially viable photography an awful lot easier than it's made commercially viable music.

As for the artists (the ones who produce what they want and hope someone buys it) I agree that the parallels are there ... it's tough to make a living because of supply & demand. You have to be really good because plenty of others are, too, and there just aren't that many buyers. They may be facing increased competition now that the craft has become easier, too, but it's the ones out satisfying the demands of the market that I feel more sorry for.

Then again, what industry isn't outsourcing to save money ?

Surely writing a good book, taking great pictures and playing great music is of much more value to society (not monolithic corporations or their stockholders..) than cube workers who take orders for Viagra or push insurance papers around.

Get out your cheque book. The nice thing is that each of us has the opportunity to decide what's a "great" book, picture or piece of music and pay the creator for it.

@Kirk
Yes they should be able to. But are they all really good enough to spend money on ?

Here's an idea for a poll, how many original prints have you bought at full price in the last 5 years ? Compared to CDs ? Books ? DVDs ?

I'm sure that original prints are low on the list.

Paolo: when you hire a band for beer money you're not hiring a band for real wages. When you get the neighbour's kid who's a whizz at Illustrator do do your coffee shop menus, you're depriving work to a working designer. It's exactly analogous.

Kirk: Who decides who is worthy of a living wage? I know you don't suggest that anyone who manages to get a publisher will get a living grant or something (that'd be a system fun to game! "We've now published part 18 of 'This is a book. This is a book. This is a book...'") but what are the alternatives? We've settled on the market for this as for most things: if enough people like your book you will earn a living wage.

More fundamentally, I suspect the "90% of anything is bad" is really inevitable. Most people, no matter how good, will not be appreciated enough to make it, simply because we all, collectively, define "good enough" to be the top 10%, no matter what the level is.

Paolo - I'll echo what Janne said a little bit. The bands playing for beer money are absolutely taking as much away from music, and other professional musicians, as photographers who shoot casually and give away photos are are from photography pros. Think about a band trying to work on original material and make a living, perhaps wanting a major label album some day. They would try to charge a real, reasonable wage to play a local club. Now what if that club instead can pay a part time cover band a lot less, and still attract just as large a crowd? That happens, and it's a very similar situation to what is going on with photography.

"I think at least 80% of "photographers" would barely be able to expose correctly a roll of 36!"

I'm assuming that you're point is that knowing how to shoot film is a requirement to be a "real" or "proper" or "pro" photographer? If not I apologize. If that is your point, I think you're completely wrong. The ability to shoot film correctly is not in any way a requirement to be a professional photographer any more.

The Times article is, as usual, not the cutting edge, but telling a well known story. Sometimes it just ain't news if it has not been noticed by someone on the Times staff.

If you think the Times article can get you down about future prospects for professional photographers, try out following the articles in the Digital Journalist on a regular basis. At least they are promoting still photographers learning the skills sets to transition to digital video journalists.

http://www.digitaljournalist.org/

Maybe we could just play fair and add up the subsidies to the oil and gas companies, the banks, the military industrial complex and the agri-business monopoly and give everyone in the country a percentage equal to what we've squandered making all those markets less market driven and let each person decide what sort of art they want to make. I don't remember writing a check to Monsanto or Lockheed because I thought they were the bomb......the cream doesn't rise to the top because there are too many entities at the top sucking the cream off for free.

Every time your taxes go up to pay for a boondoogle or bail out that's probably one less book or print or concert you'll be able to buy. Maybe it really is a zero sum game.

I guess I’m puzzled by the notion that photography should be able to provide its professional practitioners with a “living wage.” Says who? Alternatively, if this is somehow true, then why isn’t also true for each and every activity that someone, somewhere wishes to engage in professionally? What makes photographers so special that the fundamental law of supply and demand should be suspended for them and no other group of workers?

Mind you, I’m sympathetic to those people whose previously well-paid jobs are in the process of becoming less well-paid or even disappearing altogether. Twelve years ago, I was a victim of this process myself and it was several years before I managed to get myself back on track financially, a process that ultimately lead to the dissolution of a relationship and a change of career.

Even during my darkest days, though, I never thought that what had happened to me was unjust, unfair, or inappropriate, and I never thought something should be done to preserve my previous standard of living (which, incidentally, has only just recently begun to approach what it had been back in my mid-‘90s heyday). Once it became clear to me that the world had changed and there was no turning back, I knew the only solution was for me to quickly figure out how to adapt and change with it. And so that’s exactly what I did.

Professional photography is undergoing a profound change these days and like it or not, the herd is in the process of being thinned, as it should be. Personally, if I had any designs on “monetizing” my photography (and I don’t, at least not to the extent that I would be able to quit my day job as a result), then I would focus my attention on finding ways to improve and expand my skill set, raise my profile, increase my customer base, and achieve better results using fewer resources, than I would pining for photography’s so-called “glory days.”

But that’s just me, I guess.

I actually studied photography and was awarded a degree from RIT in 1970. Then I decided that, for me, making images for myself was much preferable than making them for someone else. So I became a middle school science teacher for thirty years and used my Leica and Durst enlarger just for personal satisfaction. It was the best road to take.

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