NFTs Part 3 – The 10k Project

(Part 2 is here)

If you barely dip your toes in the NFT community, you will encounter Punks and Apes. You will see many influential people using them as their PFP (profile picture or picture for proof), and there’s a never-ending discussion about their floor price and utility. The Punks are 10,000 computer-generated pixel art pictures of… punks. They were created by larva labs in 2017 and given away for free to anyone who wanted to claim one. The lowest price to buy a punk right now is $122,808 (floor price) and the total lifetime sales of punks changing hands are nearly 2 billion dollars. Apes are BAYC (Bored Ape Yacht Club), another 10,000-piece NFT collection of computer-generated cartoon primates created in 2021 that initially sold for 0.08 ETH ($190 at the time) and are now worth $233,209. The Apes are famous for their utility which means owners get perks (coins, dogs, mutants, land), and they own the IP (Intellectual property) to their drawing. These extremely successful NFT projects have spawned thousands of copycats, and this is also where you will find most of the scams taking place. Projects where the founder disappears with all the money or just pump-and-dump behavior are rampant with 10k and PFP.

In January of this year, @fellowshiptrust announced they were bringing the world’s first-ever 10K+ photography NFT collection (Note: when this tweet first appeared, the link did not have the photographer’s name) to the blockchain.

Given the action around Punks and Apes, this looked like an excellent idea for the photography community. Fellowship seemed to know this was an opportunity to make history, and project information was filled with hype: “The release of this project will mark a turning point in the history of photography.” In addition to the hyperbolic writing, there is a process for selling the NFTs to achieve maximum FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), where VIPs were given the opportunity to pre-mint the NFT (this is called a whitelist) before the artist behind the project was even revealed. It’s common for 10k NFT projects to work with VIPs and create whitelists for early access because it all generates a feeling of exclusivity. When a project is popular and sells out, this guarantees an increase in price once it becomes available to the public, similar to what happens with IPOs on the stock market (oversubscribed). The people who got in early can flip the NFT for a profit.

If that weren’t enough, project creators taking a cue from Punks, build rarity into the NFTs and withhold revealing what you minted until a project has a chance to sell out. You have a one in ten thousand chance of getting something rare at the reveal, and that lottery-like feeling drives the floor price of collections. Photography archives have this already built-in because a small percentage of images are popular or appear in important collections or books.

So, once Fellowship assembled the whitelists and images were pre-minted (with a placeholder) it was revealed that the photographer was August Sander, and the public was allowed to mint any remaining images. The entire collection sold out in minutes. A big reason for the project’s popularity had to do with the price. It was offered for free “just gas”. This means you don’t pay a fee to mint, just the gas fee for the NFT to be written to the Ethereum blockchain (usually around $20).

As soon as I found out it was August Sander, I went to the project website and read up on the collection. August’s great-grandson Julian Sander had put the project together to create a permanent archive on the blockchain where I was told information about the images could be added by the community. I liked the idea of utility and owning a piece of the archive and the possibility that I could interact with other photography fans and even the estate because of my ownership. I also thought about winning a valuable August Sander NFT that I could flip for a premium.

So I went on Opensea.io and bought one, paying the lowest available price of 0.042 ETH ($98 at the time plus $50 for gas).

Then the reveal happened, and not only did I not get a famous image mine was this terrible scan:

Whoever got the well-known bricklayer image flipped it for 3 ETH ($10,000).

The secondary sales continued to climb and surpassed 400 ETH.

Then in mid-march, the entire collection was taken down from Opensea.io At first, people thought it was a glitch of some type. Then on March 19, Julian Sander released a statement confirming what many were already discovering with simple google searches: “It was suspended because a third party, which claims to have certain rights in August Sanders’ photographs, submitted a complaint to OpenSea. I believe the complaint is not valid, and I am liaising with my legal advisors to get this resolved as soon as possible, and for the collection to be reinstated on the platform. This is my top priority right now.”

That 3rd party is https://www.photographie-sk-kultur.de/en/august-sander/reproduktionsbestimmung-august-sander/ SK Stiftung Kultur, and if you google “August Sander Estate,” you will see that back in 2017 Julian and SK Stiftung Kultur clashed over ownership of the archive.

How is it possible nobody mentioned this? Many well-known people championed this NFT release, including Christie’s own Darius Himes, who was reportedly involved in bringing the project to @fellowshiptrust and interviewed Julian on his Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CZ0UoULIqIj/). Still, nobody thought to bring up who owns the actual copyright to the estate?

And this is the nut of the problem with NFTs and this project in particular. Nobody seems to give a shit about copyright. When the project was removed from Opensea.io everyone involved simply said the project is still on the blockchain and is visible on marketplaces like rarible.com, where DMCA takedown notices have no effect. A central tenet behind NFTs is decentralization, so there’s nobody to complain to when your images are stolen. In one of the twitter spaces, I listened to Julian say that photographers have too much power and the DMCA is a problem. He went on to say that placing the collection on the blockchain was fair use arguing that owning a print gives you the right to sell it as an NFT (this changes the nature of NFTs from artist issued originals to eBay for anything in your possession). The members of Fellowship seem to agree with this sentiment as nobody is concerned that this is a legitimate copyright violation and they shouldn’t have put the project to live forever on the blockchain in the first place.

One other aspect of the project being glossed over is the claim that the NFTs were given away for free. Yes, you could mint one with no fee given to Julian or Fellowship, but when I asked Alejandro Cartagena, founding member of Fellowship Trust specifics of the project, I was told that they kept 4.5% of the 10,395 images. Also, 10% of the secondary sales (over $1,000,000) go to Julian (7.5%) and Fellowship (2.5%). In online conversations, I’ve listened to Julian talk about wanting to profit from the work and that the money will determine its value. Anyone saying the project was given away for free is being disingenuous. Not to mention that involvement in a historic project like this has enormous value beyond simply making money off it.

Finally, one aspect of NFTs that I absolutely loathe is the idea that as Alejandro put it to me, everything is “publicly accessible on the blockchain for anyone to read and verify.” When I asked him about randomization process or people minting then selling the NFT’s on the secondary market, I’m told it’s all visible online. The truth is that most people own multiple wallets where they move NFTs and ETH around so you can’t track them. Finding out who owns all the different wallets and following the path from one to another to the marketplace is quite tricky to verify. There are bots buying and selling, people selling to themselves, and money being traded behind the scenes, making it impossible to know what’s real. The transparency of NFTs is a joke.

I’m not sure why everyone involved in this project fumbled so hard. People associated with it refuse to admit they knew about SK Stiftung Kultur before the takedown notice was issued, and all seem perfectly complacent with the idea that the blockchain doesn’t care either. Overall, I’m just disappointed that my NFT purchase doesn’t give me access to the actual August Sander Estate, and instead I’m stuck with Julian, who, as the Great Grandson of the famous photographer, seems bitter about where the archive ended up.

Black Photographers Matter

Guest post by Amy V. Cooper

This past week has provided a huge swell of excitement about the potential for change not just in our country, but in the photography community. It has been amazing to see so many
businesses not only supporting Black Lives Matter, but also pledging to review their own
practices and biases, launching internal reviews and initiatives, and, for a few, publicly
announcing the steps that they will be taking to address racism and the lack of diversity within their companies.

We have seen white photographers create a database for finding Black photographers; photo editors, designers, consultants and agents offering pro bono services and mentorships to Black photographers. Resources for finding Black photographers like Authority Collective, Diversify Photo, Color Positive and others are being amplified.

Photo courtesy of Alexis Hunley

It’s not breaking news that the photography, media and advertising industries in the U.S.have a great deal of work ahead to further diversify. “I can’t find them” is no longer an excuse for not hiring and representing Black creatives.

It’s time to get to work.

With input from Black photographers, I’m offering these suggestions toward becoming a more inclusive and diverse industry. We are not suggesting that photographers be hired solely on the basis of race – nobody is asking for or wanting this. But Black photographers need to be seen and feel seen.

This is not about handouts. It’s about opportunity.

I am proposing that we work harder to include Black perspectives in our spaces and offer more opportunities for them to be seen, supported, educated, mentored, empowered, amplified, celebrated and paid.

I am proposing that we hire Black photographers to shoot more than race-related reportage and subjects or experiences that we think are germane to theirs.

I am challenging us to consider more Black photographers for shoots and triple bids, give them more of our time and invite them into our networks.

As a former editor and art buyer, I know that it feels risky to take a chance on someone when their current portfolio might fall short of our explicit expectations, but now is the time to start taking some risks so that more Black photographers have the opportunity to gain the experience that they need in order to compete with non-Black photographers.

Here are actions we can all take:

  • Offer scholarships, mentorships and/or paid internships to Black people.
  • Intentionally network and ask for meetings with Black creatives.
  • Accept meetings and respond to emails and DMs from Black people.
  • Do our homework to research and discover more Black creatives within our industry.
  • Hold others accountable for inclusion, ask questions and take inventory of diversity
    within our spaces. This is going to be uncomfortable and hard—do it anyway.
  • Create policies and diversity initiatives with practices to maintain momentum and
    responsibility beyond periods of protest.
  • Ask your friends and colleagues what they are doing to expand the diversity in their
    networks.
  • Amplify Black voices and issues in ways that are not self-serving.
  • Reach out to schools and colleges that have more, or majority Black students, or are in more diverse neighborhoods. Volunteer your time, expertise or money.
  • Listen to Black people. Make them feel welcome. 

Photo courtesy of Cedric Terrell

More Specifically:

Photographers:

  • Find, hire and/or mentor Black assistants, producers and stylists.
  • Cast Black talent, including those with darker skin and natural hair.
  • Find hairstylists who can properly style natural hair.
  • When joining organizations or directories and signing up for festivals, competitions and conferences, ask about diversity policies and pay attention to diversity in panels and reviews. If diversity is missing, speak up and invest your money elsewhere if not addressed.
  • Offer your services to Black-owned businesses and amplify their products, over-
    delivering to those clients when possible.
  • Take stock of the diversity in your own portfolio. Explore more diverse subjects,
    locations, cuisines, etc.

Photo Editors, Creative Directors & Art Buyers:

  • Add more Black photographers to your bookmarks and personal directories then utilize those directories.
  • Follow Black creatives on social media; invite them to your office or virtual office for portfolio reviews. Teach them about the process of working with your company and in your industry.
  • Initiate conversations and standards for reviewing and hiring more Black photographers and vendors within your company.
  • Feature Black creatives on the contributor’s page or bold the bylines. Advocate for them and amplify their work to other editors and buyers. If they are not ready, help them grow, introduce them to other photographers, crew and resources.
  • Mentor Blacks who want to be photo editors, creative directors and art buyers.
    We need a lot more of those. 

Photography Producers:

  • Add more Black people to your crew and vendor list.
  • Mentor or provide paid internships to Black creatives.
  • If you haven’t already, start building more diverse crews – before your clients start asking for them.
  • Find hair stylists who can work well with natural hair styles.
  • Talk to your vendors, casting and location scouts about their diversity initiatives.
  • Create production guidelines to address discrimination on set.
  • Ensure equal pay for Black crew and talent.
  • Offer to produce test shoots for Black photographers.

Stylists:

  • Find, hire and/or mentor Black assistants and stylists.
  • Source products from Black-owned businesses and designers.
  • Educate yourselves on Black hair, skin care, and products. Refer a more experienced stylist for a job if you are not qualified.
  • Offer your services for test shoots with Black photographers.

Photography Reps & Agents:

  • Understanding that less than 10% of major agency rosters are made up of BIPOC, work harder to diversify who you represent.
  • Mentor and introduce less experienced photographers to more experienced photographers, producers, stylists and consultants who can help them elevate their portfolios.
  • Offer portfolio reviews and more thorough responses to Black photographers’ inquiries.
  • Take Black photographers with you on agency visits and consider offering paid internships.
  • Consider creating an informative auto-reply or FAQ page to educate younger photographers or refer them to consultants.

Consultants: 

  • Introduce Black photographers to editors and art buyers. Amplify their work.
  • Encourage your white clients to diversify their portfolios and networks.
  • Connect with schools and colleges that are more predominately Black.
  • When you are asked to teach, review or be on a panel, evaluate the diversity of that panel or event. Speak up and ask for accountability if diversity is missing. Offer suggestions to include more Black creatives in the event or program. If diversity is not addressed, decline to collaborate until it is.

Photography Associations & Clubs: 

  • Diversify your boards, teachers, members, speakers and mission statements.
  • Amplify Black creatives on your platforms and in your newsletters, webinars and podcasts.

Directories & Sourcebooks: Pay to play directly affects diversity in all industries.

  • Amplify Black photographers and offer scholarships.
  • Diversify the decision makers who accept or reject applicants.
  • Diversify your webinars, podcasts and newsletters, and ensure the initiative
    continues after periods of protest
    .
  • Promote Black photographers to your network of art buyers.

Photography Festivals & Competitions:

  • Diversify your panels, judges, instructors, speakers and featured photographers.
  • Offer more attendee scholarships and ask sponsors to be a part of that.
  • Question the diversity of your sponsors’ ambassadorships, representatives and
    mission statements.

Technical Equipment Companies (Cameras, Lighting, etc.):

  • Diversify your ambassadorships and branding.
  • Sponsor Black photographers, offer scholarships and mentorships, provide teaching and training opportunities.
  • Donate equipment to, and volunteer in schools with majority Black students.

Schools/Colleges/Teachers:

  • Invite more diverse guests and Black creatives into your classrooms.
  • Hire more diverse instructors.
  • Invite Black students to audit your classes.
  • Teach about Black photographers and give your students assignments to report on more diverse photographers. Show them that not all successful photographers are white men.

Galleries & Museums:

  • Diversify your collections and amplify Black artists.
  • Offer mentorships, reviews and other access to Black photographers and
    communities.

Advertising Agencies: 

  • Update and clarify your diversity policies to your employees as well as your
    clients.
  • Advocate for better representation in front of and behind the camera.
  • Hire more Black employees, creative directors, art buyers, producers and writers,
    please.

Photo courtesy of Martine Severin

I understand that hiring, charging and offering discounts on the basis of race or ethnicity will require attention to legal guidelines. I am aware that we are going to have to uncomfortably navigate the complicated waters of tokenism and exploitation. And I realize that some of these suggestions may sound discriminatory in the exclusion of non-Blacks. That is certainly not my intention.

I am asking all of us, including myself, to work harder to empower and amplify Black artists so that we may have more balanced, consistent and truthful visual representations in our media and lives.

Let us remember that it was in fact an image, a video of George Perry Floyd Jr., that woke up so many people in our country to finally call for change. The photography industry will no doubt be a powerful agent in this revolution. It’s up to us to make it happen. Let’s get to work.

Amy V. Cooper is a Photography Consultant and Editor offering mentorships to Black photographers and to BIPOC interested in becoming photo editors or art buyers.

Getting Us Closer To The Truth In Photography

Harry Fisch organizes Travel Photography trips with Nomad Photo Expeditions and recently won the places category in the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest. 72 hours later he had lost it. The winning image was disqualified because he had removed a plastic bag in post. A blog post about what happened (read it here) has an email from the editor telling him that cropping the bag out or simply leaving it in would have had no impact, but digitally removing it violates the rules. Ouch. Harry is a good sport about it and concludes that had he been on the jury, he would have done the same saying, “rules are rules.”

Many people will argue that photography can never tell the truth. That the lens, image processing, where you stand, and what you chose to include in an image all alter the facts. This misses the point entirely. The point of truth telling in photography is for the photographer to make an image that gets us as close to the truth as they can. That is the goal. Now that the mechanical limitations of photography (film and printing) are gone we are less reliant on the camera to tell the truth, so that obligation falls on the photographer. You must build trust with your viewers and editors so they believe what you are saying.

This is an unusual position to be in, because photographers often relied on the camera and film to do this. Inherent imitations of the medium prevented them from doing too much to alter what happened (although many pushed it as far as it would go). Limitations may be returning to cameras. A new software development by the the human rights organization Witness aims to make it easiter to verify the authenticity of video, photos, or audio created and shared from mobile devices (story on Nieman Journalism Lab). “The app collects metadata that it will bundle and encrypt with your photo or video — including generating an encryption key based on the camera’s pattern of sensor noise, which is unique to each camera.”

The current practice of submitting RAW files for verification (to magazines and contests) may soon be assumed by software that does the verification for us. I expect this will be taken to the next logical step and any work that’s done in post will be recorded and encrypted by the software as well. Eventually news organizations and contests could set a “score” that’s some percentage of allowed manipulation to the pixels of an image that they consider ok. Maybe the software will disable certain tools used in post processing (this is Hal, I’ve disabled the clone tool). Regardless, the goal will be the same. Getting us closer to the truth. And the burden will return to the limitations of the software and not the photographer. That will be a good thing.

Update: the contest was incorrect [corrected], it was not Traveler’s but National Geographic magazine’s, which is officially called the National Geographic Photo Contest. And Harry Fisch was the Places Category Winner not the Grand Prize Winner of the overall contest [corrected].

Photo LA – Sustainable Business Models

I’m speaking on a panel today for Photo LA from 3:30 – 5:00 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. If you are attending come say hi. Here’s the info:

Sustainable Business Models: Continuing the Conversation

Monday, January 21, 3:30 – 5:00pm

Panel discussion moderated by Richard Dale Kelly, featuring Allen Murabayashi (Chairman and co-founder, PhotoShelter), Rob Haggart (Editor, Photo Editor and former Director of photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine), Stephen Mayes (Managing Director, VII photo agency) and Robert Henson (Founder, Evolve Images).

More info here: http://www.photola.com

Eyeist Looks To Disrupt The Traditional Portfolio Review

Eyeist is the first Web-based photography review service founded by Allegra Wilde, a Consultant to the Photography Industry; Micah and Jesse Diamond, both veteran professional photographers; that launched in October. I’m involved with the company as an advisor (full disclosure) and if you visit the site you will see me quoted and featured in a video they made, but really all I ever did was say “that’s awesome,” they came up with the idea and built it.

I don’t gain anything from sending people there except I hope to correct what I think has become a horrible trend in photography: photo contests. Not all are bad, but I’ve judged a few recently and several things are quite alarming. The amount of people entering is staggering and a significant chunk of entries are mediocre to not-good-at-all compared to the “ringers” who enter and clean house. Which means people are spending lots of money on photography contests and getting nothing out of it. No feedback, just throwing the money into someone’s pocket. And, really what I believe most people are seeking is feedback in some way. The longshot of winning a photo contest offers the possibility that you will be told an image you took is great or worthy of consideration in some way. This seems like an incredible waste of money. If it’s feedback you seek then a portfolio review is your best bet and Eyeist is a fairly inexpensive and very slick piece of software for doing this. Like any disruptive company it’s the software that makes things more efficient and lowers the cost for everyone involved. You and the reviewer don’t have to travel. The review is recorded for reference and the software makes it easy to sequence and talk about the images. Your allotted time is spent reviewing the work not pulling portfolios out and chatting with your reviewer.

While Eyeist is certainly a portfolio review service, I don’t think it will disrupt the traditional portfolio review. I hope it disrupts photo contests, the vast majority of which don’t do much except offer the winners a nice marketing vehicle to reach out to prospects with. It can also serve as a way for people to test the portfolio review waters to see if they are ready for the investment of time and money on a traditional review. I know many people are disgusted with the commercialization of the portfolio review space, but there are still altruistic events that offer exposure and support to photographers where the reviewers and event organizers are equally invested in the process. Like many industries effected by the internet, Eyeist uses software to disrupt and make the review process more efficient and inexpensive. That’s a great development for everyone.

Report On Copyright Reform Is Published Then Retracted

Late on Friday November 16th, the Republican Study Committee, which is the caucus for the House Republicans, released a document debunking various myths about copyright law and suggesting key reforms. By Saturday it was taken down after, according to Tech Dirt, Hollywood and the recording industry got wind of it and hit the phones.

It’s worth reading to better understand the position of those who want serious reform. Certainly, since the creation of the internet and all these devices for storing and viewing copyrighted work, some reform is in order. The battle to come is over the amount of protection the creator receives vs the public’s ability to use the work. It’s a fine line and in my opinion too much shift in the public direction will have serious consequences for content creators.

rsc_policy_brief_–_three_myths_about_copyright_law_and_where_to_start_to_fix_it_–_november_16_2012

Full Tech Dirt story is here.

The Looming Battle Over Licensing

I’ve noticed a few stories and blog posts lately where people suddenly realize they don’t own some of the things they buy (latest one here). Licensing is nothing new to photographers, but most people assume they own the books, movies and music they bought . When they suddenly discover that they cannot freely copy and distribute it (even among devices they own), that they only bought a license, there’s usually a WTF moment. It’s really easy to understand why this licensing deal and in general, an understanding of copyright law was never properly explained to the masses. Copying and distributing books, movies and music was really difficult and expensive so there was no need to get into the details of it. Now that it’s easy to copy and distribute work, everyone is paying for the lack of attention to the subject.

So, what can those in the licensing camp do about this? Do we dig in and force consumers to understand how licensing works and let them know it’s not going away? Or do you find a business model that works without licensing, where everything is sold once?

If you agree that licensing needs to stick around for the business of photography to continue then you know that the only way to protect licenses is to plant software in devices that prevents you from doing certain things. Anyone who’s used itunes or kindle books knows how this works. You try and do something with a book, movie or song you purchased and your computer tells you it’s not allowed.

Cory Doctorow and outspoken critic on licensing has argued vehemently against the software that controls the license: DRM. In a recent piece titled “The Coming War on General Purpose Computing” he takes this anti licensing and anti DRM thinking one step further by arguing that eventually everything will be controlled by software and that big brother will be upon us before we know it if we don’t address the issue of hidden software on our devices. “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” is not some science fiction fantasy, it already exists. You’ll only freak out when you can’t open your fridge because Bloomberg put you on a diet.

If photographers agree that protecting licensing with software is a good thing then what about when the software is spying on you? I’ve heard from quite a few people that turning in your RAW files is becoming a common practice in some genre’s of photography. Companies that trade in the veracity of photographs need to know what was done to the image in post plus where and when it was taken. I can easily see a software solution to this problem where GPS, timestamps and changes to the image are all recorded. Software spying might not seems so great when that happens.

There are no easy answers to this problem but Cory Doctorow’s piece is worth reading and considering the implications to the business of photography, because there will be a battle over DRM and software used to spy on you. And, that translates to a battle over licensing.

Filmmakers Struggle With The Transition From Film To Digital

You will probably get a laugh watching these filmmakers talk about making the transition from film to digital, because 5 or so years ago in the photography world it all seemed worth discussing, but now it seems like a waste of energy… and they made a documentary out of it.

Sustainable Business Models: Issues & Trends Facing Visual Artists

Continuing on my post from yesterday where I wrote about photography as a commodity (Mark points out in the comments that a better term is fungible product) several of the panelest from the ASMP symposium on sustainable business models have posts up on the strictly business blog that I want to highlight. If you cannot attend in person there will be a live video feed (here) starting at 9am EST Thursday the 27th.

Richard Dale Kelly on organizing the event:

In organizing the Symposium, Sustainable Business Models: Issues & Trends Facing Visual Artists, ASMP’s Education Director, the late Susan Carr, and I focused on three key areas. We decided to start the day with working professionals who, through their own practices, have discovered sustainable solutions they are using today. Next, we wanted a conversation with users and distributors of visual content who are working at the highest levels of the publishing, advertising and technology sectors who could give us a glimpse of the opportunities behind the curtain. Finally, we brought in industry observers to discuss the challenges facing the professional in creating a sustainable career.

Liz Miller-Gershfeld, VP, Sr. Art Producer at Energy BBDO talks about the “new normal” at an agency meeting:

At the table were creatives and account people from the agency side and a team from the digital end of things. On the phone were teams from the promotional agency, the PR agency and international marketing counterparts. There were a few more voices on the phone.  I’m still not clear who they were, perhaps a wrong number, probably not…  Today clients have multi-channel marketing plans and multiple agencies to accomplish them…and we all have to play nicely.

I need a photographer who has deep human resources…
I need a photographer who can ask good questions…
I need a photographer who can simplify complexity …
I need a photographer whose producer can, at any given time quantify (in terms of time and money) what the inevitable changes and additions mean…
A photographer who is always thinking of the most efficient way to solve any problem and is able to articulate it from that perspective…

But perhaps most importantly, I need a photographer who can hold the idea that we brought to them – the one the creatives have spent the last few months and weekends developing, presenting, refining, presenting, selling, testing, presenting, resuscitating, presenting, refining and reselling…  A photographer who can hold it like a torch, amidst all the chaos and needs, in their unique style; the reason we came to them.

more (here).

Fiunally, Stephen Mayes CEO of VII Photo talks about the many business models being tested now:

But there’s a hugely expanded appetite for photography and with this comes new opportunities; the greatest obstacles to commercial expansion are the limits of our own imaginations and our fear of uncertainty. I see more and more brilliant business innovations, often sparked by young entrepreneurs with low overheads and little to lose.  Some of them are experiencing short-term success, some are not and it’s still too soon to judge which will sustain as the world moves forward.

Right now we’re experiencing the best of times and the worst of times.  There will be winners, some by chance and some by vision and sheer hard work, but there will be no rewards for the faint of heart.  We can’t step backwards, only forwards, even if it means letting go of some dearly held ways of thinking.

More (here).

thx, Peter.

What Happens When Photography Becomes A Commodity?

I believe much of photography is already a commodity and I plan to speak about it during the ASMP Symposium next Thursday the 27th in New York at the Times Center. The topic for the event (more details here) is “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists” which is a topic I’ve been thinking and writing about since I started this blog. the ASMP goes on to say “the rules of the game have changed and it’s no longer business as usual in today’s crowded visual arts marketplace” which to me leads to an obvious conclusion: photography is a commodity.

Commodification is a scary thought. It means you are competing on price and racing to the bottom.

Ok, so that’s the bad news. But, there’s an upside. Before we get to that, let’s destroy this cliché that I hear all the time how “photographers brought it on”, because they didn’t do something to prevent it. All the bitching and whining about weak willed photographers who wont hold the line and clients who wont pay the fees. Commodification is a natural market process. You cannot stop this.

To see the upside you need to take a more nuanced view of photography. You need to consider photography services a value chain and the act of taking a picture, what I like to call being a “camera operator”, as one part of this value chain. You also need to understand that commodification occurs when the improvements to a product overshoot the needs of the client. Better equipment and techniques matter little to the majority of clients. There will always be exceptions, but sadly, it seems we are all past the point of good enough (even if in some parts of the industry good enough is distirbingly low). Nevertheless, don’t dwell on it. Technology that blew your mind ten years ago is now completely commodified. It can’t be stopped.

The upside is that if you have commodification, somewhere else in the value chain a reciprocal process of de-commoditization is at work. In the book I’m reading now (The Innovator’s Solution) author Clayton M. Christensen goes on to say that “commoditization destroys a company’s ability to capture profits by undermining differentiability, de-commoditization affords opportunities to create and capture potentially enormous wealth.”

You just have to find the spot in the value chain where performance is not yet good enough, where you can differentiate yourself by being better than the others. Exciting, right?

I have lots of thoughts on this that I will get into during the symposium but here’s one simple observation.

Not too long ago your personality mattered little in photography. You could be the most abhorrent dick-wad and land all the work you wanted if your photography was awesome. I see plenty of evidence now that this is not longer possible. An art director I sat on a panel with even said “the top 5 photographers for a car shoot are all qualified to do the job. it comes down to personality as to who will get the job” Personality is one tiny part of the value chain, but it’s now more important than the photography. That’s astounding.

Sad if you enjoy operating cameras, but very exciting if you enjoy the entire value chain of photography services. My favorite photographers to work with have always been the creative problem solvers. Now I can clearly see the de-commodization at work.

Meet Stipple – An Attribution Tool For Images

I’ve followed Paul Melcher’s Thoughts of a Bohemian blog for many years, because he had an insiders perspective of the stock photography industry and was a harsh critic of the old guard not keeping up with the digital age (similar to my own blogging on magazines back in the early days of APE). So, when I found out about his position at Stipple as the VP of image licensing I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the industry and this new company that looks to be very promising for photographers.

APE: Paul, give me a little background on yourself. I know you have been involved in the photography industry and particularly with stock for many years now?

Paul: Photography is in my DNA. As the son of a photographer who later became director of Magnum, I grew up surrounded by great photography and extremely talented photographers. After getting a degree in Economics and desperately trying to deny my calling by becoming a crime story journalist, I realized that images, more than text, was where I should be. My big break was when a French agency with an office in New York called upon me to manage their US office. I moved from Paris, France to Manhattan and quickly embraced the chance to redefine the way images were licensed in the US. From there, I worked at LGI, introducing the first digital news desk and making some of the first fully digital sales. The idea that an image could be taken on the West coast and sold to Newsweek on the East coast within hours was a revelation to me. I was hooked. Before, with Fed Ex or airplane cargos, it was at least a day. LGI was purchased by Corbis in the early 90’s and my hope was that with Bill Gates’ money and Microsoft’s technological knowledge, we could build the first fully digital photo agency. I was quickly disappointed and left after two painful years. It is not before 2000, with the creation of ImageDirect, the first fully 100% digital photo agency, that I could realize my dreams. At the time, magazines still wanted prints made from digital files. We simply said no. We offered CD’s or transmission but no prints. While we might have lost some sales, we were saving so much time and money by avoiding the analog pitfalls that it didn’t matter. After a year, magazines got used to it and after 3 years, Getty Images bought our company.

I then worked at various places, heading the North American bureau of Gamma Press, was VP of sales for DigitalRailroad, as well as stints at Rex Features and Abaca Press. I also consulted for various high tech companies looking to apply their advance research to the photographic world. 18 months ago, when approached by founder Rey Flemings to work at Stipple, I jumped on the chance to be part of what I see as the next revolution in photography. As you know, I also write my blog ( when I have the time ) “Thoughts of a Bohemian” and have two weekly columns in “Le Journal de La photographie”

APE: Stipple looks to me like it solves a very important problem for photographers and image buyers. Talk to me about stipple and how you see photographers using it?

Paul: Stipple solves the age old question everyone who has ever taken a picture has been asking : where are my photographs published and how many people are seeing them ? Today, when an image is published online, it is quickly replicated, blogged, re bloged, pinned, twitted, Tumblred, Facebooked. Even Google, with it’s formidable search engine, cannot keep track of the 250 million new images posted and the 150,000 new urls created each day.

With it’s free and persistent attribution tool, Stipple allows image creators to keep control of their images, wherever they might be. If this wasn’t enough, Stipple also offers powerful storytelling tools via interactive and discreet media tags. Appearing only on mouse-over, those tags can be of embedded videos, music, links, maps, wikipedia entries, Facebook, twitter updates or simple text. They offer photographers the ability to add information directly in the image. Finally Stipple introduces a new way to generate revenue that embraces and takes full advantage of the image sharing culture.

In other words, not only can photographer use Stipple to claim their images and follow their usage, but also use it as a formidable storytelling tool that enhances the way viewers experience their image. It’s the intelligent image.

APE: You’ve been a pretty harsh critic of the stock industry over on Thoughts of a Bohemian. Can you give me a very general “state of the industry” for stock?

Paul: First let me say that you are only a harsh critic of the things or people you love. The photo agency world used to be a place where photographers could freely and strongly practice their trade because they had agents that worked with them to not only create the images but sell them at the highest rates. When two experts connected, the photographer and the agent, it quickly became an incredibly productive symbiosis . Since the arrival of the corporates in the late 90’s, Getty and Corbis, this balanced environment has been destroyed and replaced by number crunchers and surveyors.

Today, everyone is trying to replicate Getty but it is not working. Getty’s model only works for Getty. Not even Corbis has been successful at replicating it, even after throwing millions, if not a billion, at the problem. The stock photo industry today is in survival mode, trying to protect their ‘sales territory’ while trying to find ways to save money. Exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. Let’s face it, the world of image licensing is exploding, or imploding, and will never be the same. Yet those poorly run companies react as this was a passing storm and all they have to do is hold on for a while. They are, and will be, more and more agencies closing in the near future with photographers suffering the most damage from it.

APE: Now what does the future hold? Obviously there’s a lot of photography out there and you’ve got a tool that can be used for licensing. Do you see potential there?

Paul: Yes, a lot. It is always in times of great turmoil that great ideas emerge. Old and antiquated ways of licensing images, like RM and RF, are completely unfit to our world. You do not pay for potatoes based on what you intend to do with them, so why should you for photographs ? Because of this old world licensing model, images are now being stolen and re used at rates never seen before . Even mainstream publishers put your properly licensed images on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest without paying you an extra dime because, well, there is just no licensing model for such usage.

Instead of going against the flow, Stipple allows photographers to embrace it. If people are going to use your photographs without your authorization, why not take advantage of it ? Your image, published a thousand times, becomes valuable real estate from which you can easily profit. With an e-commerce tag, it instantly starts generating revenue, wherever it is. No more need to spend hours tracking where your images are, sending endless take down notices, alienating potential new clients with threats. In fact, with Stipple, the more people use your images, the better it is. And with its live analytics tool, you can, at any time, see where they are published and what traffic they generate.

APE: Anything else we should know about Stipple?

Paul: Yes. It is a great marketing tool. You can immediately see what type of images are the most popular and bring you the most traffic. You can than recalibrate you work accordingly by having a better sense of the public’s reaction to your work. You can also find out what type of images work where and better understand your market.

For photojournalists, it is also a great story telling tool : instead of lengthy captions, you can add information directly in the image, allowing inquisitive viewers to immediately get more information on specific parts of your photographs.
Stipple also works great for wedding photographers, who can add videos, locations, invites, but also more information on who made that beautiful cake or those flower arrangement.

Finally, last but certainly not least, Stipple is also perfect to proactively combat orphan works. Because the photographers ID is persistent and travels with the image, it allows for anyone to trace an image back to its owner with just one click.

I could go on and on about Stipple. The best is for photographers to experience it themselves, since it is free and currently in public beta. Anyone is welcome to sign up for an invitation ( they come quickly) at www.stipple.com.

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Have We Completely Run Out Of Ideas

What happens when we completely run out of ideas for pictures? When every iteration of an Avedon, Sander or Atget has been made? When every conceivable process and filter has been tried? Instead of well-made you get popular or infamous. You get book deals for blogs that scan sandwiches, that have disgusting fattening food pictures and run unflattering pictures of people who shop at Walmart.

Seth Godin wrote about this recently when talking about books that are cultural touchstones:

We can probably all agree that more than half of the culturally important cookbooks printed on paper have already been printed. From the Joy of Cooking to Julia Child to The Thrill of the Grill, there are some essential cookbooks that have laid a foundation for most that followed. Now that the original cookbook market has been decimated by TV, by free recipes online and by the growth of the ios app, it’s hard for me to imagine the pile of cookbook titles that millions read and trust to dramatically increase in size.

Similarly with photography, the culturally significant pictures are replaced with anything that reaches lots of people. That’s why something like this makes sense:

The POWERHOUSE Arena presents:

Jonathan Horton of the US Olympic Gymnastics team (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images) 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The POWERHOUSE Arena is proud to present Olympic Portraits by award-winning Agence France-Presse photographer, Joe Klamar. The exhibition consists of color portraits shot by Klamar at a Dallas, Texas hotel during the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Media Summit this May.

Many of the photographs were first met with harsh criticism from a bevy of news sites and photo blogs quick to highlight the images’ alleged defects—citing the off-hand poses, the stressed lighting, the scarred backdrops—and labeled the work an affront to the elite status of the American Olympic athletic team.

Such criticisms miss the work’s powerful and nuanced compositions and display of personality. Here we see real individuals at the peak of their athletic career in ordinary and impromptu poses, sometimes playful, some quite intense, in an unplanned setting. You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.

The POWERHOUSE Arena is proud to bring these images to a U.S. audience starting July 27 to coincide with the 2012 Olympics in London.

Exhibition dates: July 27 – September 4

 

A Sign Of The Times – Blogs Looking For Photo Editors

A logical trajectory for blogs is that they start out free and prove there’s an audience for the content, then they slowly improve the design, photography and writing so that they can improve their audience numbers and create an environment that’s conductive for advertising. The higher quality the content the higher quality of advertising you can attract and potentially you can charge a subscription as well. This is no different than the origins of Rolling Stone and Outside Magazine (as examples only because I know the history quite well), although I would argue that their content had to start out at a higher level because the cost of printing and distribution meant that you couldn’t easily correct mistakes or quickly roll out new content as the audience reacts.

So, I was not surprised to see Mashable, a blog with 20 million unique vistors per month and 4 million social media followers, advertising for a Photo Editor to “help take its on-site images to the next level.” (here) There are rumors that CNN is interested in buying the property for $200 million (here), so maybe it’s more to do with that than anything else. Regardless, I believe we are headed to a new era online where the quality of content becomes more important (unless you only want t-shirt advertising) and blogs battle it out for advertisers. It only remains to be seen if the quality will reach the heights that Rolling Stone aspired to when they realized they were onto something.

Who’s Gonna Pay For This Stuff?

There’s nothing like an intern who covers the music business (NPR’s All Songs Considered) admitting she doesn’t buy music (I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With) to get the internet re-fired up about paying for stuff, business models and the survival of artists in the middle of the information revolution.

The arguments can be divided into two oversimplified camps. Those who think market forces should be left to decide the fate of artists and their income:

The Internet Could Not Care Less About Your Mediocre Band

Musicians (and as a member of Gang of Four I include myself here) don’t automatically deserve to make a living. They are not a special subset of society that should be supported at all cost.

Like many, many people who have had their lives or businesses upended by the Internet, his nostalgia runs so deep he wants everything to be the way it used to be. Ain’t gonna happen.

And, those who think people should behave ethically or be forced to behave that way:

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered

fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights.

 

This leads us to a similar argument in photography after MediaStorm announced a new pay per story business model (Why We Switched to a Pay Per Story Model) we have similar arguments in both camps:

Paying for multimedia: MediaStorm’s Pay Per Story scheme

Pay Per Story is not a silver bullet strategy. It’s not a self-contained, all encompassing business model that’s going to right all that’s wrong with the editorial sector.

“This is about [failed] business models, not morals,” says Mike Masnick of Techdirt, and I agree. [source]

– David Campbell

Paid Experience

There’s a lot of talk in photoland how you can’t really charge money for this kind of multimedia, and anyway, it would be wrong to turn this into a moral issue. I actually don’t subscribe to that idea. It is a moral issue, because we are talking about the income of actual human beings here

Of course, the photo business is a bit different than the music business. But the basic, underlying problem is the same: Unless there is an increased willingness to pay for content online, the livelihoods of content creators are in danger. In the long run, this means that if this current situation does not change, a large fraction of the content currently online will simply disappear, and the web will become dominated by corporations that can afford to give away some crumbs for free.

– Joerg Colberg

 

There are many parallels that can be drawn between music and photography. In the past both benefitted from a high cost to create and distribute the work, which created a monopoly and allowed them to ignore market forces. The biggest problem is that consumers have been trained to expect these very expensive products at very little cost. So, while I agree that it’s nice to have market forces in play and the monopolies disappearing, the monopoly will continue if we don’t retrain consumers to pay artists for their work. The long tail and freemium mostly benefit corporations that can afford to let pennies add up to dollars.

If you want to live in a world with artists you have to support them. I think that attitude is slowly catching on.

A Stream Of Content May Be In Your Future

A story in Business Insider titled “Meet 9 Incredible Instagram Users That Advertisers Are Dying To Work With” got me thinking about photographers producing a stream of content and how that can easily attract lots of followers. It’s easy to be dismissive of social content because the quality can be quite low (sunsets and boobs seem to do quite well) but the trick to attracting followers is to be reliable and consistent.

The Sartorialist is a great example of someone who has attracted a large audience by being there for them day in and out.( Note, he also pioneered street style blogging so there’s more to it than just daily postings.) J Crew sent him on an 8 city tour… to produce a stream of content for them (here).

I’m also reminded of a recent effort by Craig Cutler to “create new personal work once a week, every week, for a full year, no exceptions.” That effort was turned into an exhibition and no doubt put him on everyone’s creative radar for reliably producing content that will attract fans to a brand.

You should be thinking about projects that can show your ability to reliably produce content. Brands need you.

Photojournalist Danfung Dennis Makes A Splash In Tech With Immersive Video

Photojournalist and Academy Award Nominated filmmaker (Hell and Back Again) Danfung Dennis and his fledgling immersive video company Condition One just received half a million in seed capitol from tech visionary Mark Cuban. As was first reported on GigaOm in a story titled “Is Condition One the future of video? Mark Cuban thinks so” Danfung just graduated from TechStars’ New York class last Thursday and is “embarking on a pilot program with Mercedes, Discovery Communications, XL Recordings, The Guardian and Popular Science.”

You can download an app showcasing the technology in the itunes store (here). It’s exciting to see a photographer pushing the limits of technology for storytelling.

Dennis believes this video can be used in a number of settings, from live music and sporting events to more traditional documentaries. He said creating video with Condition One results in a much more transparent portrayal of an event or story because it doesn’t involve traditional editing and framing techniques.

“There is less control and less ability to filter and it’s harder to construct a narrative,” Dennis said. “We’re taking the power of a still image and the narrative of film and marrying it with virtual reality to make a new experience that’s highly interactive.”

 

The Future For Editorial Photography Is Sponsored

I recently reached out to David Clifford a photographer who works out of Aspen, CO, because I saw a couple videos he made that fit a trend I’ve been seeing with sponsored editorial content. Or at least it’s a trend I’d like to see more of, because I think it’s going to be a significant new source of income for editorial photographers. I already see ad agencies trying to produce this type of content (see this Nike video with 6.3 million views for proof), but I think it’s going to be more effective for companies to pair up with editorial photographers, give them products or people with interesting stories and tell them to go produce something worth watching.

One of the videos David produced (Lucky) won best overall in the 1st Annual APA Members Short Video Contest. His background as the former photo editor at Rock & Ice and Trailrunner magazines makes him the perfect person to talk with about this continuing trend.

Here’s what he told me about the videos:

Everything is moving to the motion realm and I’d been shooting a fair amount of video but nothing that I could put my name on. It was all video clips or I’d shoot something for a client and I’d just be a cameraman. So, I had the opportunity to make a couple videos. One was for Bluewater ropes and the other for a client that in the end didn’t want to pay the usage fee so it became a promo piece. The Bluewater one is interesting because the athlete was in charge of producing something and he came to me to collaborate on it.

With these videos I ended up created this hybrid space for myself where it’s not full editorial and it’s not fully advertising, but it can do either and serves both really well.

The clients I showed the films to responded really well and I recently got hired by Mountain Hardware to shoot in the Grand Canyon where I did 75% video and 25% stills.

I see this being a huge part of my career. People are thinking more in terms of video than stills. In my recent dealings with those in charge of producing content, the photography is an afterthought. Having the whole package is important.

What’s also interesting is that it’s impossible to shoot video and stills at the same time, so you end up hiring someone to do one of those and you become more of a director, which is a little bit weird, because it’s hard to let go of the control.

I feel like the tools have democratized the process and made it so anybody can produce content so it comes down to how good are you at finding the light, how good are you at telling a story and how good are you at managing a project.