Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Photographic Paradigm Shifts

Stop reading this blog post right now and go here, for a fascinating article at on a former Baltimore Sun photographer who turned his talent in photography, a buyout from the newspaper industry and a free lighting seminar into a business that’s grossed $1 million in ticket sales for a 29-city photography tour.

Yeah, this is another one of those Horatio Alger Internet stories that could never happen to you in real life because, well, it just doesn’t happen.

Except it did. And it does.

Read it now.

David Hobby is bringing his photographic skills to the masses, and for cheap. In fact, according to Slate, the most popular item on his blog is a free course on photographic lighting.

He’s connecting with amateur photographers hungry to become better. He’s networking with other photography enthusiasts who are “very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge,” passing all of that knowledge on to others.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, that’s what Uncharted wants to do.

Except he’s doing it for free.


Networking, networking, networking. Getting out, talking with people, getting them to visit his blog, getting them to contribute, getting them to help, getting them connected with people who want help. And he’s not forcing everyone under one roof, i.e., his own.

He’s thinking in a new media way: collaboratively.

Here’s what I like, and what old media – including, in some ways, Uncharted, is finding frightening. And, I hope for Uncharted, opportunistic:
How Hobby went from being a workaday newspaper photographer to an internationally recognized guru is a story tied up with seismic changes in the photography profession. By teaching a horde of novices the skills necessary to shoot photographs of a quality that was until very recently only within the grasp of an elite few, Hobby has played a significant role in the transformation of the profession. In the last few years, the market rate for many types of professional photographs has dropped by as much as 99 percent.
Amateurs becoming better and taking over. Scary Idea No. 1. At least for those used to and comfortable with the status quo.
To get a sense of just how bad things are for professional photographers right now, the story of Robert Lam is instructive. When Time needed a photo to illustrate its "New Frugality" cover story in late 2009, it purchased Lam's image of a jar of change from stock-photo agency iStockphoto. The going rate for a Time cover had typically been $3,000 to $10,000. Lam was paid $31.50. Nevertheless, Lam declared, "I am happy"—the payment was more than he'd expected the photo to generate, and he was delighted to have a Time cover in his portfolio. Veteran professional photographers were livid, calling Lam an "IDIOT," among other unkind words.
Scary Idea No. 2 here, or the idea of amateurs being pleased to exchange a portfolio addition and a token payment versus professionals who want and expect handsome pay – and are loath to welcome into their ranks those who buck the system.

And finally:
That sentiment is alien to the old guard in the professional photography world, where, Hobby says, "there's a lot of information-hoarding, and [a sense that] if I teach this person how to do this, he'll become my competition." Once the dust settles from all the change he's helped bring about, Hobby thinks there will still be legitimate careers for professional photographers. "You'll have fewer rock stars, and a much larger middle class," he says, a group of photographers who will find ways to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.
Scary Idea No. 3: The rising professional middle class, supplanting and usurping the professional class.

This all reminds me of something else that I read from a fantasy novel by Harry Harrison, of all people. Go here and search on “Mark Forer” for a description of the economic model on the planet Chojecki, where people work using the talents they have and the abilities they enjoy using for “wirrs,” or a “work hour,” the planet’s unit of exchange. Because everyone works at what they enjoy and because to live comfortably only a few wirrs a week are required for basic shelter, food, and other necessities, the people of Chojecki enjoy their lives living much as David Hobby does, working on what interests them, not having to worry about money, being happy for a “minimal” reward on a project well done because all that’s required is a minimal reward . . . but that’s getting off the subject.

(I haven't gone all radical on you; the "anarchy" the above link refers to is the libertarian ideal of direct democracy, not the Molotov-cocktail sort.)

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