The Democratization of the Message

In this mini series I have thought out loud about the current state of professional photography within a digital environment.  At first I was confused; has cheap, quick and unedited visual content killed photography? Or, has the relationship between digital technology and it’s offspring, Social Media enhanced the communication of visual information?

I am no longer confused.

While it may have been more provocative to say,  Social Media and all that is new in modern technology caused industry job losses and the production of forgettable images, I believe it’s the opposite.

Social Media has “grown the market” as many marketers say. More images taken, more information and even more creativity equals greater communication.  To back this up, I prefer to write about my own experience as a professional photographer. Usually we are the first to complain about the end of past business models (see last blog), but my current workflow is built upon social media platforms and it works beautifully. Before I describe how it works, it’s helpful to know that this is, in spite of added competition and a greater workload.

Here’s an example of just how powerful the photographer-social media relationship can be;

Recently, I photographed a dance competition that had over 269 performers. It was sponsored by one of the largest Dance Studio organizations in Canada. The name is unimportant, except to say that it’s similar to those Dancing with the Stars reality shows one sees on television. Crass, yes and very consumer oriented (Bernie Sanders would hate the idea-winner take all), yet the kids study hard, rehearse and appear to love the whole experience. Enough said about the competition. What matters are the pictures and how they are taken, collected and distributed using social media.

At this point, you may have thought I have forgotten about the purpose of this final blog. I did suggest that this  would be a continuation of, Globe and Mail photojournalist, John Lehmann’s experience with social media and it will be.

My recent dance competition shoot relied entirely upon social media and digital technology to work. In the past, this would fail as a business and creatively. So,how? Well, the dancers dance, judges to their thing and I along with a videographer capture the event. Both mediums (video and still images) go directly from our cameras to, instant uploads on facebook, instram and twitter. After a few hours, the video is also uploaded in edited mini clips, to youtube.  In between the image making, writers quickly add interesting comments about the performers, judges or dance themes in general to the images. The viewer gets instant pics, video and commentary. Images are also sent to computers and screens in a sales pavilion situated in the venue lobby where people can view and purchase the images of their kids, the routines and award ceremonies.

Wow. It’s quick and the images are of great quality and available immediately. Everyone shares in the experience. John Lehmann uses his cell phone to capture images in sensitive situations and where intimacy is paramount to the message. He too, uploads quickly for publication in the Globe and Mail online and across related SM platforms. His images are informative and of, high art. My example is strictly commercial yet both are examples of successful applications of social media and how it works well.

Interestingly, the Selfie is kind of responsible for all of this because SM enables the rapid and often informative messaging of important information to as many people as possible. To the parents of my dance photo’s, the pictures are important. Maybe not as important as the Western world witnessing an uprising in China, but equally as important to the parents of those dancing kids.

Social media has made all images equal and the value of the images, written words, links, video, artwork an branding is left to the consumer-SM has democratized communication like never before.

In this mini series I have thought out loud about the current state of professional photography within a digital environment.  At first I was confused; has cheap, quick and unedited visual content killed photography? Or, has the relationship between digital technology and it’s offspring, Social Media enhanced the communication of visual information?

I am no longer confused.

While it may have been more provocative to say,  Social Media and all that is new in modern technology caused industry job losses and the production of forgettable images, I believe it’s the opposite.

Social Media has “grown the market” as many marketers say. More images taken, more information and even more creativity equals greater communication.  To back this up, I prefer to write about my own experience as a professional photographer. Usually we are the first to complain about the end of past business models (see last blog), but my current workflow is built upon social media platforms and it works beautifully. Before I describe how it works, it’s helpful to know that this is, in spite of added competition and a greater workload.

Here’s an example of just how powerful the photographer-social media relationship can be;

Recently, I photographed a dance competition that had over 269 performers. It was sponsored by one of the largest Dance Studio organizations in Canada. The name is unimportant, except to say that it’s similar to those Dancing with the Stars reality shows one sees on television. Crass, yes and very consumer oriented (Bernie Sanders would hate the idea-winner take all), yet the kids study hard, rehearse and appear to love the whole experience. Enough said about the competition. What matters are the pictures and how they are taken, collected and distributed using social media.

At this point, you may have thought I have forgotten about the purpose of this final blog. I did suggest that this  would be a continuation of, Globe and Mail photojournalist, John Lehmann’s experience with social media and it will be.

My recent dance competition shoot relied entirely upon social media and digital technology to work. In the past, this would fail as a business and creatively. So,how? Well, the dancers dance, judges to their thing and I along with a videographer capture the event. Both mediums (video and still images) go directly from our cameras to, instant uploads on facebook, instram and twitter. After a few hours, the video is also uploaded in edited mini clips, to youtube.  In between the image making, writers quickly add interesting comments about the performers, judges or dance themes in general to the images. The viewer gets instant pics, video and commentary. Images are also sent to computers and screens in a sales pavilion situated in the venue lobby where people can view and purchase the images of their kids, the routines and award ceremonies.

Wow. It’s quick and the images are of great quality and available immediately. Everyone shares in the experience. John Lehmann uses his cell phone to capture images in sensitive situations and where intimacy is paramount to the message. He too, uploads quickly for publication in the Globe and Mail online and across related SM platforms. His images are informative and of, high art. My example is strictly commercial yet both are examples of successful applications of social media and how it works well.

Interestingly, the Selfie is kind of responsible for all of this because SM enables the rapid and often informative messaging of important information to as many people as possible. To the parents of my dance photo’s, the pictures are important. Maybe not as important as the Western world witnessing an uprising in China, but equally as important to the parents of those dancing kids.

Social media has made all images equal and the value of the images, written words, links, video, artwork an branding is left to the consumer-SM has democratized communication like never before.

In this mini series I have thought out loud about the current state of professional photography within a digital environment.  At first I was confused; has cheap, quick and unedited visual content killed photography? Or, has the relationship between digital technology and it’s offspring, Social Media enhanced the communication of visual information?

I am no longer confused.

While it may have been more provocative to say,  Social Media and all that is new in modern technology caused industry job losses and the production of forgettable images, I believe it’s the opposite.

Social Media has “grown the market” as many marketers say. More images taken, more information and even more creativity equals greater communication.  To back this up, I prefer to write about my own experience as a professional photographer. Usually we are the first to complain about the end of past business models (see last blog), but my current workflow is built upon social media platforms and it works beautifully. Before I describe how it works, it’s helpful to know that this is, in spite of added competition and a greater workload.

Here’s an example of just how powerful the photographer-social media relationship can be;

Recently, I photographed a dance competition that had over 269 performers. It was sponsored by one of the largest Dance Studio organizations in Canada. The name is unimportant, except to say that it’s similar to those Dancing with the Stars reality shows one sees on television. Crass, yes and very consumer oriented (Bernie Sanders would hate the idea-winner take all), yet the kids study hard, rehearse and appear to love the whole experience. Enough said about the competition. What matters are the pictures and how they are taken, collected and distributed using social media.

At this point, you may have thought I have forgotten about the purpose of this final blog. I did suggest that this  would be a continuation of, Globe and Mail photojournalist, John Lehmann’s experience with social media and it will be.

My recent dance competition shoot relied entirely upon social media and digital technology to work. In the past, this would fail as a business and creatively. So,how? Well, the dancers dance, judges to their thing and I along with a videographer capture the event. Both mediums (video and still images) go directly from our cameras to, instant uploads on facebook, instram and twitter. After a few hours, the video is also uploaded in edited mini clips, to youtube.  In between the image making, writers quickly add interesting comments about the performers, judges or dance themes in general to the images. The viewer gets instant pics, video and commentary. Images are also sent to computers and screens in a sales pavilion situated in the venue lobby where people can view and purchase the images of their kids, the routines and award ceremonies.

Wow. It’s quick and the images are of great quality and available immediately. Everyone shares in the experience. John Lehmann uses his cell phone to capture images in sensitive situations and where intimacy is paramount to the message. He too, uploads quickly for publication in the Globe and Mail online and across related SM platforms. His images are informative and of, high art. My example is strictly commercial yet both are examples of successful applications of social media and how it works well.

Interestingly, the Selfie is kind of responsible for all of this because SM enables the rapid and often informative messaging of important information to as many people as possible. To the parents of my dance photo’s, the pictures are important. Maybe not as important as the Western world witnessing an uprising in China, but equally as important to the parents of those dancing kids.

Social media has made all images equal and the value of the images, written words, links, video, artwork an branding is left to the consumer-SM has democratized communication like never before.

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The Super Journalist

“If Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers such as the Sun-Times’ John H. White can’t hold down a job in journalism, maybe it’s a sign that the collapse we’ve all been fearing is finally upon us.”

Lindsey Bever, 2013/Summer Intern, Chicago Sun Times (excerpt from article; Identity Crisis in Photojournalism, Jackie Spinner).

 

We know that media positions have been lost in nearly every major publication, from the Chicago Sun Times to Sports Illustrated. Yet, there are more images to see, in more publications by more photographers. My last blog provided links to 3 established reporters and photojournalists who regularly publish using digital technology in innovative ways. They have adapted to this uncertain environment.

 

So, which is it?

 

Is social media and digital technology to blame for job losses in media? Or, have these tools spawned a new version of media that is more accessible and perhaps even democratic?

 

And most importantly, does anyone care?

 

Well, the answer to the last question is easy; I care and apparently millions of other people do too. This, we know from iphone sales (to photographers), instragram’s success and many colleges now offer photography courses. This is new. And I haven’t even mentioned the benefits enjoyed by media junkies who currently have access to multiple perspectives. The more complicated question lies in the first two points raised above.

 

Social media and digital technology have enhanced photojournalism in ways that only software engineers could have imagined. Kevin Systrom and Michel Krieger, the founders of Instagram recognized the limits of taking and instantly sharing images (see my last post) This excerpt from the British Journal of Photography provides insight into the motivation behind instagram’s development;

(The New Economics of Photojournalism, Olivier Laurent),

 

“When we sat down to start designing our product, we looked at digital photos and realised very few exciting things had happened in the last five years,” (2010),

Systrom & Krieger, Instagram Founders.

“mobile phone users found that even though the megapixel count on their devices kept going up, most of their images lacked a specific “mood and tone”. Enter Instagram’s filters.

“The developers also found that people didn’t always know how to get their images from their phone to their friends. “Some of your friends want to follow your every update in life; others like seeing some occasional posts on Facebook,” they said. “We made it super-simple to share photos, not only with your followers in the Instagram community, but with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, all with a tap of the switch.” Systrom and Krieger also made sure the “uploading, sharing and viewing experiences” would be “as smooth and speedy as possible”.

Systrom & Krieger, Instagram

There it is.

Problem solved; how to seamlessly capture, edit and upload images instantly, and disseminate over a wide range of online platforms. Who knows if, Systrom and Krieger anticipated the applications specific to photojournalism, but it’s clear the obstacles of simultaneous image capture and distribution were solved. Of course it’s the Photographers who contribute with technical skills and creativity.

In the not so distant past, writers wrote articles and photographers took pictures There was a distinct division of labour between these disciplines. This line has disappeared, leaving us with the single dutied, Reporter-Photographer. Sure many media organizations maintain old formats, however many more require reporters to capture the subject in context. The photojournalist remains, although the role has been transformed along with expectations. Today, we want to know when and how the story evolved in both pictures and words. Often, the journalist is part of the story or at least the back story. Frequent updates about the reporter/photographer (Super Journalist) are required by editors and readers especially via twitter.

To illustrate this merger of roles (Spinner calls them Super Journalists), it’s helpful to examine the workload of a White House correspondent. It’s one of the most demanding and prestigious jobs in journalism. Work days are long and competition is fierce. Again, I refer to an article by Jackie Spinner (Identity Crisis in Photojournalsim, American Journalism Review).

Spinner describes the experience of Washington Post reporter and White House newbie, David Nakamura. During the summer of 2013 President Obama took a trip to sub-Sahara Africa and Nakamura went along. Of course he covered the trip, but more importantly editors set up an instram account so he could upload live images and text. By the time Nakamura returned, his instragam subscribers had increased from 250 to 30,000. Notice, I did not mention his writing. The images captured a new audience and ultimately his readership also expanded.

There is nothing significant in the photography of the Nakamura example except that it illustrates the power of the online image and the relationship to social media as a vehicle. Also, Nakamura is not technically a photographer, although he fulfilled that role. Another example of can be found in the work of Canadian, Globe and Mail photojournalist, John Lehmann.

Lehmann has covered, everything from pro sports to sensitive issues (Residential Schools) and he is an award winning photographer. More importantly, he utilizes both “big” digital cameras and his smartphone for professional and personal work. Each type of equipment offers advantages and disadvantages; the smart phone was used to photograph a sensitive issue about forgotten refugee’s in Hong Kong and his massive digital camera, provided the power to capture amazing images of surfers at Tofino in British Columbia.

Lehmann’s experience is featured in an terrific youtube video. He explains how the simplicty of the iphone enables him access to subjects while maintaining intimacy.

Next time I plan to discuss the photographic process that is currently used by professional photographers. Social Media platforms make it possible to achieve high artistic and journalistic standards like never before. The only question is; does the viewer know how to read the images?

Links to sources and full articles from this week’s blog;

http://ajr.org/2013/12/04/photojournalism-new-era/

The New Economics of Photojournalism: The rise of Instagram

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/04/photojournalism-in-the-age-of-new-media/73083/

https://www.instagram.com/johnlehmann/

The “Other Tank Man”; Photographs

Tank Man,  Tiananmen Square China Reuters Arthur Tsang

 

Gunfire. More Gunfire.

Distant Gunfire and the sound of heavy machinery grinding ever closer.

 

These were the street sounds heard by people in and around Tiananmen Square, China on June 5, 1989. College students occupied, Tiananmen Square, the city’s central quarter demanding democratic reforms. The Chinese, communist government reacted by calling up troops with tanks and heavy military equipment in an effort to brutally put down the student democratic movement. Subsequently, many student protestors were either killed or imprisoned and the movement was crushed.

 

One, now famous scene was captured in a revealing image taken by Reuters Photographer, Jeff Widner. Known as the “tank man” picture for it’s dramatic portrayal of a lone student protester standing symbolically , in front of a tank, the image generated massive social and political support throughout the world. Wideners powerful image is however, not the only picture taken at that moment. There were five photojournalists with Widner and they also caught images of the unfolding scene. Why we know of Widner’s picture and not theirs is the subject of this week’s post. (below; Jeff Widner with Tank Man image, reuters)

tumblr_lyc1t1kIJk1qjgsjb

 

There are varying explanations as to why Widner’s image made it to the covers of newspapers and magazines throughout the world. I am not sure which is correct, but I have read that, Reuters had the film taken by Widner flown directly to their editors. Whether or not they knew something was in those film rolls cannot be verified. And to be fair, to, me the iconic version is the best of those taken that day. Nevertheless, it was Reuters and Widner who made history.

 

Of course in our world images are disseminated frequently via all social media platforms. Most reporters, including print and interestingly, television anchors are required to participate in facebook, twitter and instagram updates. We know this, since it’s witnessed everyday. To state the obvious, had all five of the photojournalists present in Tiananmen Square, had access to social media, we might have had a variety of images from which we could evaluate the situation. But, my point reaches farther than that. Not only are designated photojournalists using social media, and for the most part pretty effectively, television reporters upload pictures along with their reports. This provides the reader or viewer with many benefits, from setting the context to, offering insight into the personality of the reporter. Neither of these important elements were present before.

 

Over the past few months, I have been glued to the television, online newspapers, blogs and social media from twitter to instagram. As a political junkie, my interest in the American election and the primaries has been stimulated by the plethora of fascinating content that’s now available online. In fact, I watch television online, with a split screen that shows twitter and instagram feeds from my favourite reporters. From this, I not only gain insight into the process of creating a news report (many reporters use their cell phone to film the pre interview process with candidates), but more interestingly, I see the physical and mental strain that is often experienced by the reporters. Lately, I have been following, Katy Tur, Hallie Jackson (MS NBC) along with the Politico team. Live reports are one thing but a frequent twitter feed along with cell phone video can be quite dramatic. Over the weekend, Katy Tur posted a twitter comment along with video while she was in the middle of a volatile Trump rally. Fascinating stuff.

 

Just Imagine, what Tank Man would have looked like in video and as a live feed with real comments, from all five photojournalists.

 

A few links to content mentioned in this blog;

 

The Other Tank Man

http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/05/30/the-other-tank-man-photographs/

 

Katy Tur, MSNBC; read her great analysis as well

https://twitter.com/KatyTurNBC?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

Hallie Jackson, NBC; she often uses images posted on instram to give readers a sense of the environment and location and her routine or schedule is fun to see.

https://twitter.com/HallieJackson

 

A primer for the next blog that talks about the use of social media in fine art and documentary photography;

 

The Selfie, Polaroid and a Daughter’s Question

Headlight Glare Fari Mal Stock Image

The digital age of photography owes a great deal to Edwin Land, creator of the instant image, or the Polaroid. Actually, it was his young daughter who asked why it took so long to develop their vacation pictures. Upon hearing her question, Land apparently, had a eureka moment and turned his efforts away from the science of anti glare glass in cars to the chemistry of, instant image making. The key word is, “instant” and behind that lies, easy and to me the word fun is implied. This all sounds very familiar.

In fact it reminds me of the Selfie and the simplicity provided by smart phones and tablets. Apple could easily develop an advertising campaign based upon, the Land story and his daughters desire for a quick memory of her vacation. Similar to Apple, the Polaroid camera system dominated instant and family photography from the 1960’s until the emergence of the digital age in the late 1990’s. On October 11, 2001, the company declared bankruptcy, ending one of the most successful runs in photographic history. Eastman Kodak, also an important company in photography, mostly made film. It was Polaroid, and the instant picture, that provided the, simple and  quick image.

My father had a Polaroid Land camera and he took it everywhere. I remember his excitement when the timer was added to the new version. Then, he could take selfies and group shots that included him too. There was a problem though; how to share the pictures. Since each one was an original, it was impossible to share, except to lay the pictures out on a table for people to see. Sometimes he pinned pictures on the wall or stuck them to the fridge. The quality was bad and the images were pretty small. Still, this was an instant image and it had a unique look. Really, the images on Instragram are very similar in tone, colour saturation and with soft focus.

Instax Mini

Apparently, the fine art and commercial photographers also saw the value of inherent in the Polaroid. The famous, photojournalist, Annie Liebovitz took one of the most iconic images in Rock music, using a Polariod. She described the experience in a PBS Documentary;

“In 1980 Rolling Stone sent Leibovitz to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had recently released their album “Double Fantasy.” For the portrait Leibovitz imagined that the two would pose together nude. Lennon disrobed, but Ono refused to take off her pants. Leibovitz “was kinda disappointed,” according to Rolling Stone, and so she told Ono to leave her clothes on. “We took one Polaroid,” said Leibovitz, “and the three of us knew it was profound right away.”

You can read the complete transcript here;

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/annie-leibovitz-life-through-a-lens/16/

The Leibovitz image was published in print form yet today it would be disseminated via social media and in several formats, or at least on Twitter and Instagram. The important point that links the Polaroid to social media and modern photography is the simplicity and immediacy offered by both formats. Smart phones and instant film are the ultimate in, simple and immediate. Social Media represents the missing link. While the polariod was quick, there was no way to share the experience that the image portrayed.

To me the Selfie is symbolic of the merger between, past photographic techniques and modern photo journalism. In the next blog post, I will offer some thoughts about social media and how the smart phone has both killed photo journaism and fine art photography and saved them.

As always, I’ll leave you with a few links that will be relevant to next weeks blog post;

Globe and Mail Photo Journalist, John Lehmann and the Smart phone in Documentary Photography.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw6K3pv3ew0

 

Meet the top 15 Photographers on Instagram; Many use social media for business and art.

http://mashable.com/2011/06/30/instagram-most-followed/

The End of Photography?

robert-cornelius-18391I have to confess that I am a little confused and pretty much stuck. Asking a photographer about social media, and it’s relationship to commercial and personal (art) photography is perhaps one the most loaded of questions. Aside from recommendations about camera gear (“what camera should I get”?), it’s the question I get asked the most. Nearly everyone requests links to my blog, website or flickr and instagram posts. It is an important question and I believe social media and the related digital platforms have both killed and saved photography.

In this blog, I hope to chronicle what it’s like to, live and work as a photographer in an age of consumable imagery. My experience is a little different because this is my second career, having spent the bulk of my professional life as a corporate marketing consultant. There is a quiet (or not so quiet) technological and social revolution underway and I, like many photographers, find myself disoriented by these changes. Perhaps an open discussion using social media will aid in making sense of it all.

So, to start off I’d like to talk about the most prolific photographic subject. Of course it’s the Selfie. Perfect because it connects so many aspects of social media, from image capture (and the motivating factors) and dissemination to technological innovation and corporate survival. It’s also one of the first waves of the digital age, having replaced the instamatic camera and kodachrome film. Even if you have no idea what Kodachrome is, you must have heard, this;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLsDxvAErTU

If you thought (as I did) the selfie was new, you are in for a surprise. The name is, but, even the pioneers of photography took selfies. Using massive, slow and fragile systems they struggled to achieve, what we now take for granted; an easy way to capture an image coupled with an even easier way to share.

At the top of this post is the first portrait by Robert Cornelius ( c. 1809-1903). Ok, so he did’nt get the wide angle view we see today (iphone), but this is a Selfie. Cornelius was at the forefront of technology. His father’s influences in chemistry and as a silversmith provided the perfect environment for technological innovation. Sadly, his equipment was massive, and unmanageable. It would take 100+ years to develop the digital point and shoot camera that now supports accessible photography.

The simplicity of iphones an androids, has resurrected photography albeit at a price. Push button photography, best illustrated by the ubiquitous Selfie, along with the “snap shot” , have emerged as symbols of consumerism. Or is, this too much of a simplification, or a lazy perspective that one often hears.

In the next installment I’d like to explore the evolution of the Selfie, and how it’s original application has evolved into fine art and photo journalism. Not surprisingly, social media platforms including and similar to, Instagram, Flickr and Tumbler play a big part.

In the meantime, here is a link to an interesting article that covers the History of the Selfie in detail, from the painters (Van Gogh) to, the infamous Kardashians and President Obama.

http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/history-of-the-selfie.html#