Everywhere you look the world of digital media seems in turmoil. Newspapers are folding, or struggling to put up online paywalls. Photographers are lamenting falling prices, declining markets, and widespread copying of their images. The movie and music industries are digging in their heels and suing their customers. Google is releasing new products every week. Countless social media, location-aware and now augmented-reality startups are sprouting like weeds. And is anyone making any money…?
In this time of drastic change it helps to step back, take a deep breath and try to get a long-term perspective on what is happening.
Life Goes On
First, always keep in mind what is not changing. People are still being born and dying. Marriages, careers, social and personal struggles and accomplishments, community and ecological issues, international politics and the long slow trajectory of cultural and geographic change are all still taking place. For photographers that means our subject is always in front us. What we photograph, the stories of life, the landscapes of our planet, continue as always. Whenever the world of the internet, business, media and communications seems too much, it is reassuring to ground ourselves in the real :: that is, everyday life all around us.
A Sea Change in Communication
What is changing drastically, though, is the media, our intermediary, the way in which we communicate what we see and hear and feel. Media is what links photographers and those who look at our images. It is the flux of technology, channels, curation, editing and distribution. In the past photographers dealt primarily with the middlemen – publishing companies, ad agencies, corporations and photo agencies. But it has always been the consumer who is the ultimate recipient, who buys the magazines, looks at ads, read the books and brochures. Ultimately it is consumer dollars which support photography (and writing too). With the internet photographers and consumers can be directly connected. Old markets are drying up but new opportunities are emerging, communicating with communities of consumers, photo aficionados, travel readers, citizens. The economics are completely different, but the possibilities tremendous. The key is providing something of value.
Photography is Social
The act of taking photos can be a lonely affair, a team accomplishment or something in between. The process is not complete, however, until the image is viewed, published, displayed, or shared with others. Photography is a social event. The internet of people, social media, is a natural outlet for images. The sheer energy of Flickr conversations, the abundance of images which decorate Myspace and Tumblr pages, reveal people’s fascination with and devotion to images. Rather than fight the people who are interested in their images, photographers would do well to embrace them, engage them and discover how to transform that interest into viable economic support.
When images are distributed via middlemen, it is usually someone else’s message which is communicated. Disintermediation opens up the possibility, the responsibility, for a more personal communication. The focus then shifts to the personality, trustworthiness, authority, point of view and voice of the photographer, whether fine artist or journalist. With the website as a hub, and blog, Twitter stream, Facebook pages and comment feeds, a personal brand can develop. Those who are successful will be those who are the most compelling, engaging or insightful.
Please feel free to add your comments below. In the next post I’ll discuss the impact on the economics of digital media and on copyright.