...So now getting back to this idea that it's your "hits" that make you famous. You've now heard of 30-year-old Polish photographer Marcin Ryczek, a native of Lublin now living in Krakow.
Turns out his photo of a man feeding swans from a snowy riverbank, taken from Grunwaldzki Bridge in Krakow, has been featured all over the world. It got him interviewed in Spiegel Online, for one thing. (Der Spiegel, which means "mirror," is one of Europe's largest weekly newsmagazines.) Here's an excerpt, in which Marcin talks about his picture's remarkable reach so far:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where has it been published so far?
Ryczek: It's on nearly all of the important social networks in the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Israel and many other countries. On reddit.com it got some 3 million hits within 24 hours, and the Polish TV station N24 even aired it too. Actor Jared Leto and novelist Jonathan Carroll also praised the photo.
We're talking about him here too, of course. He's undeniably more famous to me than he was before he took that picture. (I'd never heard of him before.)
Of course, one photograph, even a viral one, is not enough to make a career; if Marcin doesn't follow it up with more good work he won't be known as a famous photographer in the long run.
Still, consider a few things:
I get contacted by dozens of PR agents every week, seeking publicity for their clients and their clients' products. I have to ignore most of them, either because they're not a fit for our audience, or they just don't grab me, or I don't have room to mention them or enough time to learn more about them. The point is that those clients are paying for publicity—and they're not getting nearly as much as Marcin Ryczek. The level of publicity he's getting essentially can't be bought. There are million-dollar ad campaigns that achieve less.
Next, think of all the ways he could continue to leverage the photo's popularity if he wanted to. Part of the reason single photos become their creators' "avatars," as one commenter so aptly phrased it the other day, is because once a photograph achieves this kind of fame and public awareness, the photographer can continue to spread its fame and use it for added and continued publicity. What's required is to continue to associate the photo to the photographer's name, and to continue to extend the reach of the picture's recognition.
He has instructions for purchasing prints on his Facebook page:
I set all the details associated with the sale of prints. Already this week I would like to set the size and price. If you are interested in buying and sell information, please send me a email with your name to the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Presently I will answer. Best regards, Marcin
I'll bet he's sold a few, too. A poster? Well printed and well placed, it could do very well on its own terms and also continue to gain still more publicity for the photo and its creator.
Of course, to effectively leverage a hit, you've got to be ready. Mainly by having a body of work to stand behind the "hit." Assuming he has that, he might also use this photo's success to get his portfolio looked at by museum curators and book publishers, or as a "foot in the door" for gallery representation. Assuming he wants that, of course.
Even a true hit is worth much less if there's nothing else there. And, of course, it's not worth as much if there's never another one. (Then you're Thunderclap Newman. Although I still love "Something in the Air.") But on the other hand, a hit is precious and rare. Even the greatest singers and bands only have so many. (I do think the pop music analogy is pretty robust, even after rolling it around in my mainly empty head for several days.)
I realize that this post—and this issue—is mainly of concern only to a subset of readers, namely younger photographers of ambition. And, granted, it takes a huge amount of luck to have a true hit, a sensation. It's absolutely not something you can make happen just because you want it to happen. It is, in the classic sense, a "big break."
But if you should chance to be so lucky, you can be prepared to leverage it:
- Help it along: work to extend the reach of the picture's fame even further.
- Make sure your name is associated with it as often as possible. It doesn't count if the picture becomes famous but no one knows who took it.
- Know the opportunities. And have a plan. Use your flash of fame to get your foot in whatever doors you want to be opened to you.
- Have your other work prepared and ready to show to anyone who wants to see more. You never know when you're going to need that.
Now I have to go listen to "Something In the Air," and hope it doesn't roll around in my head. Love a good bass line....
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Gerard Kingma: "I was thinking about chiming in before, but I didn't want to sound ungrateful for what fate threw at my feet. In 2003 I took a picture of a sheep followed by three lambs against a clear blue sky. The moment I pressed the shutter, the middle lamb jumped up. The image won me the Travel Photographer of the Year 2005 award, Single Image category (a trip to the Bahamas for two and Photoshop CS2 were the prizes). The image was picked up nationally and I've sold it quite often. Within a year I was totally fed up with the image. Nobody wanted to look at my other pictures, for which I'd worked harder and which I valued more. 'Oh yeah, I've seen your work, you're the Jumping Lamb guy.' (So you haven't seen my work, I thought.) That comment went stale very, very quickly. Well, to cut it short, I was grateful, but after a while I really wanted to move on, so I decided I didn't want to be the Jumping Lamb guy anymore and instead of trying to milk ('leverage') the image for what it's worth, I decided to focus on the images I wanted to take, I took the image down from the front page of my website. It's still there somewhere and prints are still for sale, but please, no more Mr. Jumping Lamb."
Gerard's Photostream is here and his website is here. And although this is counter to Gerard's intentions, the jumping lamb picture is in the Groningen set at his website, in case you're curious. I will say I had never seen it before. —Ed.
Will Frostmill: "What is remarkable to me, is that when I first discovered that picture (via Twitter), it was so obviously a classic that I thought I had seen it before. Like, years before, like as a poster in a store. I am totally serious. I think this tells us something important about hits: they fit so thoroughly into the created world that their 'meaning' is inescapable."
Ben Donald: "The press this snapshot received (and receives) is way out of proportion. Personally I would have probably deleted this right in camera."