The Digest – June 24th, 2012

©Roberto Tondopo – via Photoville: Established 2012; Population Growing [LightBox]

It’s been a busy week. We finally published Issue 4 which is sort of a relief. I’m very happy with the way it turned out and as is typically the case, I’ve learned more in the process which will hopefully be reflected in Issue 5. I also spent a few days at Photoville which is generating some much deserved buzz. They really put together a wonderful festival with a great vibe. If you’re in New York this week, be sure to check it out. You won’t be disappointed. I’ll be writing more on it later in the week.

It was an interesting week online as well, so let’s jump into it. Hopefully your head won’t hurt too much when you finish.

I’m always fairly active on Twitter and Tumblr (sometimes Facebook) if you want to keep up with what I’m up to during the week.

Paid Content Online

The story started when Mediastorm introduced their pay-per-story model which I highlighted in The Digest last week. As I expected there have been some vocal responses this week. I haven’t said much online but have talked about it with a few people over the course of the week. I think sometimes with this debate emotions get the best of people because we’re dealing very directly with their livelihoods. I’m going to highlight a couple items but this is an ongoing debate, so expect much more this week.

Early in the week, David Campbell wrote an excellent post about ‘paying for multimedia.’ I had the opportunity to sit down with him a month ago when he was in New York and had a great conversation about many of these issues. I generally agree with his perspective and insights, including on this particular matter.

….the least productive thing is to turn any resistance into a moral rebuke. We might think people who readily pay three bucks for a coffee but bemoan $1.99 for a visual story are “mistaken and shortsighted.” In the end, however, it is the producers not the consumers who are responsible for getting people to part with their money. I think if the stories are engaging and easily accessed – as they are – then a paying clientele will be found. The issue will be the size of the paying community.

Finally, let’s not turn this into a debate over free versus paid, as though those two things are unrelated. MediaStorm is in part successful because they employed the idea of free to leverage the web over some years, building a great portfolio and an engaged community around their work. We have to work with the open dynamic of the web, not against it, and Pay Per Story is consistent with that logic by focusing on particular kinds of projects.

Yesterday, Joerg Colberg weighed in and furthered the argument that paying for content online is a moral issue.

This is what really gets me: We’re usually talking about very small amounts of money here, but the proponents of free treat the issue as if it was a major investment that needed to be thought through very, very carefully.

Here is more why the onus might not exclusively be on the content producers: Maybe paying something might be a nice way to support an artist whose work one has enjoyed, mostly for free, for such a long time? Because, let’s face it, even though the Grover Norquists of the world would deny this, there is more to this issue than just money. There is the question of worth – the non-monetary kind. That aspect gets usually ignored here since you can’t easily place a dollar or euro value on it.

Like I said last week, $1.99 seems like small change when it’s one content producer, but what happens when everyone is charging this way? Do you really think people are going to make 40 decisions a day about whether to spend a dollar or two on content? In the same article, Colberg again used the example of buying a latte. The slope here is so very slippery. If we’re talking about how people spend their money, then this goes far beyond what we spend on the consumption of media and art. How much money should we be spending on art and media? What financial sacrifices should we make to support them?

I think most people in the documentary community do support as much work as they can, but let’s face it, there’s much more work being produced than can be supported financially so unless there’s a sudden surge in popular interest for this type of work, it’s going to be tough going no matter what.

Campbell and Colberg had a rather intense exchange on Twitter which can be viewed on Storify. I’d expect more exchanges in the week and will probably add more thoughts as well. I’m not sure this relates much but David Carr wrote a piece about “Digital’s Ever-Swifter Incursion” on the NYTimes. 

Traditional ideas about what is opinion and what is news, what is advertising and what is editorial, and the separation between content makers and consumers, are evaporating each day. Those consumers will decide where the line is drawn, not those of us who are vested by belief or self-interest in the old order.

Bruce Gilden – via [LightBox]

Links of Note

“Adam Green’s Totally Sincere Guide to Becoming an Artist” – Rather self-explanatory.

1. Decide upon Artist as your destiny and begin to value your own visions with esteem and conviction. You can’t really start until you think that way about yourself.

2.  Work 75% with the things that come naturally to you and don’t assume that just because a certain idea occurs naturally to you that it is obvious to anybody else.

3.  Excavate exactly what it is inside your head and make that thing in the outside world.

‘Set Those Expectations Low’ – Michael Johnstone talking about, surprise, making money as a street photographer! Notice how so much of the conversation is dominated by the talk of money?

Photography in general is like the rocks on the lee shore: it takes the ambitious, munches them up, and sends them to the bottom. The only difference is that, even in the days of sail, the perilous shoals didn’t claim so many victims. Most ambitious non-commercial photographers I know work hard at it for a few years, then assess their success along with their conspicuous lack of recognition and wealth, and move on to making a living at something more sensible.

“The Alphabet of Light” – Kirsten Rian in Daylight talking about the current state of photography.

No period of time and no artistic medium is all at once static or all at once an eruption of brilliance. It’s both all the time. And that’s why we make art and that’s why we keep opening the books of the artists we appreciate and that’s why we value risk and expansiveness, because we realize how rare it is. But rarity is not the same as absence.

‘Web Sites Illuminate Unknown Artists’ – Here’s your online business model. Charge artists and photographers for the chance at big exposure and fame.

As these platforms proliferate, they also raise questions about the nature of art and creativity, the distinction between professionals and hobbyists and what it means to call yourself an artist when anyone with a cellphone can be a photographer, anyone with the right apps can be a designer, anyone with a Facebook page can amass a following, and anyone at all can dream up a concept and find a place to pitch it.

“Self-Portrait in a Sheet Mirror: On Vivian Maier” – A great essay about Vivian Maier by Joanna Scott in The Nation. Two pull quotes.

There is so much drama worth capturing on film; you don’t have the time or resources to turn all of your many thousands of negatives into prints. Anyway, prints aren’t the point of these adventures. It’s enough to delight in your own ingenuity over and over again, with each click of the shutter. You’ll leave the distribution of your art to someone else.

We can’t know the full story behind this self-portrait, or behind the many thousands of images left in a storage locker in Chicago. But we can look at the range of Maier’s work and see the tantalizing evidence of artistry and ambition, and we can look at the expression of the woman reflected in the sheet mirror and see her indisputable pleasure. This is no frumpy old bird woman looking at her own pathetic destiny. This is a woman who knows what she wants, who has chosen to do her work free of judgment and commerce, and who is in charge of the scene.

“Review: Lick Creek Line by Ron Jude (and a confession of love for a unique medium)” – Great review from Joerg.

After all, photography’s limitations create the space the medium cannot fill – and any story (to come back to the photobook) requires an empty space so the viewer/reader can find her or his place, so that the viewer/reader can insert part of her/himself.

“An Interview with Jennilee Marigomen” – This excerpt is fantastic. I can relate as I’ve spent many hours just randomly wandering the streets with my camera.

I remember this one day last year when I was walking home from my carpool after work on a Friday. It is normally a 10 minute walk. There was a beautiful sweet light coming through the trees during “golden hour” and I had my camera with me. I was in a pensive mindset the right music was playing in my headphones, and I was taking everything in. It felt meditative. I walked down the street and took photos of everything, for nothing in particular. The sounds of leaves rustling mixed with the camera shutter, the smells, the feeling of the wind on my skin. I was so engrossed in the moment and let my instincts take over. I wasn’t anywhere special – just a few blocks from home walking along a residential sidewalk, with an occasional passerby. It took me three hours to get home. It was perfect.

“The Folding of Time: Paul Graham’s The Present” – A longer essay on The Great Leap Sideways.

“What has united the vast, and diverse array of great talents who have made their work on New York city’s streets is an interest in uncovering and illuminating the peculiarities of their present moment, and doing so with whatever idiosyncratic strengths and sensitivities each individual photographer has been able to muster. The form they have given to that work brings with it a particular point of view, one that if effective can persuade us not only of the fact of what was depicted but of its necessary importance, its integrality to the particular historical moment of its expression. Straight photography has assumed this particular task in vastly differing forms for over a century, and the matter of our own particular present, of its plurality, its complexity, of its persistent threat of crisis and catastrophe, of its deep and ever widening divisions, can be made visible with stark clarity through the photographic act, even as the policies that govern that reality seem ever more blind to its nature.”



“Jessica Backhaus gives us an insight into her working practice as she explores the Foam Magazine theme, Wonder, in this film for Foam For You.”

My favorite from the week. Her work is wonderful.