Portuguese photographer Massimo Listri has spent decades traversing the globe to document the spectacular architecture, sculptural elements, and furnishings of historic libraries. His new book, The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, includes views inside such rarefied locations as the Palafoxiana Library in Pueblo, Mexico and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, France. Listri also includes descriptions and histories of each library. The 560-page tome is published by TASCHEN and available on Amazon and the TASCHEN website.
Klosterbibliothek Metten, Metten, Germany
Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, France
Biblioteca do Convento de Mafra, Mafra, Portugal
Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Admont, Austria
Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbria, Portugal
Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Japanese musicians Ei Wada, Haruka Yoshida, and Masaru Yoshida create reverberating drum beats on the outstretched tape of cracked open reel-to-reel tape recorders from the 1970s and 1980s. The group, appropriately named Open Reel Ensemble, produces an intriguing timbre that more closely resembles a synthesizer than an analog drum. The group has created the soundtrack for Japanese designer ISSEY MIYAKE‘s last four seasons. You can listen to more compositions by the trio, including this song that mixes their unique drumming technique with a keyboard, on Youtube.
The Kei Truck, or kei-tora for short, is a tiny but practical vehicle that originated in Japan. Although these days it’s widely used throughout Asia and other parts of the world, in Japan you’ll often see them used in the construction and agriculture industries as they can maneuver through small side streets and easily park. And in a more recent turn of events, apparently they’re also used as a canvas for gardening contests.
The Kei Truck Garden Contest is an annual event sponsored by the Japan Federation of Landscape Contractors. Numerous landscaping contractors from around Japan participate by arriving on site with their mini trucks and then spending several hours transforming the cargo bed into a garden.
Other than using the kei truck there are very few limitations and landscapers have incorporated everything from benches and aquariums to elements of lighting into their designs. Judges then rank the entries based on planning, expression, design, execution and environment.
We’ve included a few of our favorite entries here but you can see more on the website of the Osaka branch, as well as this PDF from the Hanshin branch. (Syndicated from Spoon & Tamago)
Images from the series “The Darkest Colour,” photographed by Yannis Davy Guibinga, featuring Tania Fines and Madjou Diallo, and with bodypainting by Jean Guy Leclerc. All images via Yannis Davy Guibinga.
Self-taught Gabonese photographer Yannis Davy Guibinga is known for portraits that highlight the diversity of cultures and identities in the African diaspora. His works are often richly hued, with subjects positioned against bright gradient backgrounds or adorned in warm tones.
In his project The Darkest Colour however, Guibinga moves away from his multi-colored photo shoots to focus entirely on the color black and its relationship to darkness, mourning, and death. The series is set in front of a matte black background and features two nude models whose skin has also been painted black. The works seek to unpack the negative aspects of the both the color and its symbolism.
“Black is generally the colour associated with tragedy, death, and mourning, and the act of passing away is considered to be a tragedy in many cultures,” Guibinga tells Colossal. “‘The Darkest Colour’ seeks to redefine association of black and death with tragedy and sadness by representing the act of passing away as more of a relaxing experience.”
The 22-year-old photographer is currently a student in professional photography at Marsan College in Montreal. You can see more of his portraits, like his series 2050 which explores the future of fashion from a black woman’s perspective, on his website and Instagram. (via WideWalls)
Any photographer today who finds themselves engaged with photography and photographers online, in print or in person, will find it difficult—if not impossible—to escape the presentation, distribution and critical dissection of the photobook. Social media is full of photographers promoting their self-published works as experts reveal the ‘secret’ to creating, dissecting and understanding one. Websites and blogs are dedicated to showcasing them and every month another competition or festival is announced encouraging you to enter your dummy or finished book with the hope of recognition and/or potential mainstream publication. But this was not always the case.
I have collected photobooks for many years, but I can vividly remember the first digitally printed photobook I purchased back in 1998. It was published by The Photographers Gallery in London and featured the work of the Magnum photographer Paul Fusco documenting the final train ride of Robert F. Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington D.C. It was titled RFK Funeral Train and I bought it on a limited-edition print on demand basis — only 200 were printed on a Xerox DocuColor 100 Digital Color Press. The printing was not good; it was crude and soft and the spine was weak. But today, due to its scarcity, it is a collector’s item.
At the time, I remember being dismissive of the book. The images were powerful and the layout of the book delivered the narrative simply and effectively. But I had to pay in advance, wait weeks for it to arrive and then make a second trip to pick it up. Most significantly, however, I did not believe that the process by which the book had been printed did justice to the images it contained. Of course, little did I know that what I had purchased would become a template for the future of the photobook.
I have deliberately mentioned the name of the printer used in the creation of the first edition of RFK Funeral Train because it is the process of digital printing that is fundamental to the explosion of independent photobook publishing we are experiencing today. The Photographers Gallery was not an established publishing house and neither are most of the people behind many of the photobooks currently being published. Digital printing is now the norm, and paying for a book and waiting for it to arrive is an experience that none of us question.
To help me explain where we are today with book publishing I often use the metaphor of football — soccer if you prefer — leagues, where the publishers are the teams and managers and the players are the photographers. The metaphor of league tables is not to denote quality of work but to explain an approach to the game and the medium of photography based on the financial clout of the teams involved.
The premier league includes the big-name established publishing houses that are looking for big sales, established profiles and/or a financial donation from the photographer to balance their level of risk in publishing a photobook. In the premier league, sales are king and the marketing department—amongst other various employees at the publishing house—expect to be involved in the name, cover and occasionally content of the book. However, the bigger your donation, the bigger your say will be, as the publisher’s financial exposure decreases. You should also expect Amazon metadata utilization to be part of both of these decisions.
The first division includes all of those publishers who are established, but not supported by non-photobook big sellers within their portfolios. These imprints will have limited distribution power outside of the photo community but may well have a level of prestige based on their previous publications which may be perceived as a stepping stone for a photographer’s career path. These publishers can also expect you to make a financial donation to publish your book. Either through your own funds, via a crowd-sourcing site and/or through a grant or bursary. These publishers are serious about photography and the intentions of the photographer in achieving the finished book they want, but are often restricted by their lack of distribution and marketing power.
The second division is made up of the many, mainly American, academic and museum publishers creating books connected with archives, exhibitions, academia and research. They exist within their own worlds reliant on independent funding and with no requirement to record substantial sales outside of their immediate sphere of influence. They do not need reviews, sales or to see a profit.
All of the players in these divisions may expect a level of independent funding to publish and will risk as little of their own money as possible. Where that funding comes from depends on the publisher, the work and the expectation of the photographer of the finished artefact. The sales expectations of the publishers—whatever league they are in—will rest in the very low thousands at best, even for ‘big’ name photographers, and marketing spend and activity will be minimal, if it exists at all.
I live in a medium-size UK city outside of London filled with photographers, filmmakers and associated creative industries, and yet the two main chain bookstores in the city — Waterstones and Foyles — have only eight feet of shelving between them dedicated to books associated with photography. Photobook sales outside of specialist book stores and galleries reside firmly online, and it is this fact that brings me to the third division, where photographers are fully utilizing the new digital tools available to them.
It has never been cheaper or easier to create and print a photobook. It has also never been easier to set yourself up as a publishing company. Choose a name for your publishing company, set up a blog, buy some ISDN numbers and create accounts with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with which to build an online community, and slowly but surely with persistence and hard work you will be able to create a publishing profile. I’m talking about creating a publishing company here, not ‘just’ self-publishing your own work. The same rules apply to publishing your own work, but I want to make you think about that process differently.
A publishing company is judged by the titles they publish and the people they publish. So why not put your work in the company you want it to be seen in, whilst also showcasing the work of photographers whom you respect and admire? Two examples of how to do this have been created in the UK by Craig Aitkinson with www.caferoyalbooks.com and Iain Sarjeant with http://anotherplacepress.bigcartel.com. Both of these photographer/publishers are one-person operations based on passions for specific areas of photography. Their books are published as small print runs, well-designed and printed and positioned at low, affordable price points. They are self-financed, but their titles sell out thanks to intelligent online marketing and an engaged community that share the publishers tastes in photography.
These publishers are taking control of the publishing of their own work by including it alongside that of other photographers they choose to collaborate with and whom chose to collaborate with them. In the case of Craig, this has included collaborations with Magnum photographers Martin Parr, George Rodger and David Hurn, as well as Homer Sykes, John Bulmer, Arthur Tress and Simon Roberts, amongst many others. Whilst Iain collaborates with those exploring landscape photography such as Dan Wood, Cody Cobb, Al Brydon, Lark Foord and Nicky Hirst.
These books have an audience but the ease by which photobooks can be made today can too easily seduce photographers into creating and paying for books that are ill-conceived and under-developed. In this case, the expectation for such books to sell and/or raise the photographer’s profile is always going to go unrealized.
What is considered to be self-publishing today was termed ‘vanity publishing’ in the past, and—as the use of the word ‘vanity’ suggests—those publications were considered to have little more reason to exist than to fulfill the expectations of their creator. Today we are comfortable with self-publishing, but it is too easy to step over the line into the vanity project without being aware of the fact, and it is at this point that the audience is lost.
I often write about the importance of narrative to today’s professional photographer and the book is the most obvious vehicle for that understanding of narrative to be showcased. For the story to be told, and the construction of that story to develop through images, the storyteller requires a sense of narrative purpose. And yet this responsibility to communicate is too often ignored, resulting in non-communicative confused photobooks.
A book exists away from the photographer, and therefore it needs to be able to speak for itself. If it does not do so it fails in its basic purpose for existing.
Of course, the first step in creating a photobook is ensuring that you have a story to tell. Without that, everything I have outlined in this article is irrelevant as part of your process. But it is not irrelevant in finding a story, developing a process and understanding the realities of photobook publishing.
There is no great secret to creating a successful photobook, just as there is no great mystery to publishing. Success in both depends upon a level of understanding of the hard work required to create an engaging visual narrative and the process in presenting that narrative to a potential audience. The digital environment may have introduced a number of short cuts and made the once impossible achievable, but the ingredients of a successful photobook remain the same today as they have always been: a good story, strong images and a route to market.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015). His next book #New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2018.
You can follow the progress of his documentary film, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay at donotbendfilm.com.
UGEARS continues to reveal the mystery of mechanics with twelve new mechanical models available exclusively on Kickstarter. Some designs are inspired by real-life prototypes, while others are original re-imaginings of historical mechanisms and the creatures from your wishlist.
All UGEARS models are made of sustainably sourced wood and are powered by rubber bands, gears, cranks, and gravity. No glue or batteries are required; simply follow the detailed step-by-step illustrated manual with instructions in 11 languages to complete your model.
The Horse-Mechanoid, the Tower Windmill, Aviator, V-Express Steam Train with Tender, a Secret model, the Archballista-Tower, the Stagecoach, the Roadster, the Bike, the Heavy Boy Long-Hauler with Trailer, and Flexi-Cubus will be your companions on an exciting mechanical journey through history.
The UGEARS team is continuously working on fascinating new self-propelled wooden models. With your support, UGEARS can develop more new DIY models all over the world.
Whether you’re a hobbyist, looking for an original gift idea, or are simply curious, UGEARS mechanical models provide hours of fun and the joy of creating. The UGEARS mission is to give an unforgettable time of working together on things that are popular for all ages.
Lithuanian design studio Gyva Grafika has given a second life to a restroom by reinterpreting its tiled walls as building facades. Each tile features a unique view of a generic rectangular window, offering glimpses into the nuanced lives of individuals. Some windows are closed to the viewer with lace curtains; in others, a person or a houseplant peeks out. The creators share that the photos are from the neighborhood where the bathroom is located. They first made stickers to apply to the tiles, and then experimented with printing the photos directly on the tiles. You can find more projects by Gyva Grafika on Behance and their website. (via Design You Trust)
Brooke DiDonato (b.1990) is a visual artist from Ohio. Her photographs depict everyday settings and objects with a surreal twist, using visual anomalies as a framework to explore the psyche. By challenging the of assumed reality of a photograph, her images lead viewers through a storyline that is both real and constructed. DiDonato lives and works in New York.
Over the course of 18 months the pair brought the telescope to as many diverse locations across the city as possible, making sure not to focus on any specific neighborhood or landmark. Despite the range of individuals that snuck a peek at the orbiting astronomical body, each had the same reaction— complete awe.
“To be able to see it up close and feel like you could almost reach out and touch it, that’s what makes it real to us,” said Overstreet in the short film. “It makes you realize that we are all on this small little planet, and we all have the same reaction to the universe we live in. I think there is something special about that, something unifying. It’s a great reminder that we should look up more often.”
Recently Wu has evolved his process of working with the drones to form light paths above topographical peaks in the mountainous terrain. “I see it as a kind of ‘zero trace’ version of land art where the environment remains untouched by the artist, and at the same time is presented in a sublime way which speaks to 19th century Romantic painting and science and fictional imagery,” said Wu to Colossal.
The light from his GPS-enabled drones create a halo effect around some of the presented cliffs and crests when photographed using a long exposure. An elegant circle of light traces the flight of the drone, leaving a mark only perceptible in the resulting photograph. You can see more of Wu’s landscape photography on his Instagram and Facebook. (via Faith is Torment)
Maurizio Cattelan (born 21 September 1960) is an Italian artist. He is known for his satirical sculptures, particularly La Nona Ora (1999) (The Ninth Hour, depicting Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite), Him (2001), and Love Lasts Forever (1997).
From 1996 to 2007, together with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Paola Manfrin, Cattelan published 15 issues of Permanent Food: a magazine built by pages torn from other magazines.
In 2009, Cattelan teamed up with Italian photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari to create an editorial for W magazine’s Art Issue. In 2010, they founded the magazine Toiletpaper, a bi-annual, picture-based publication.As part of a public art series at the High Line in 2012, Toiletpaper was commissioned with a billboard at the corner of 10th Avenue and West 18th Street in New York, showing an image of a woman’s manicured and jeweled fingers, detached from their hands, emerging from a vibrant blue velvet background.In 2014, Cattelan and Ferrari produced a fashion spread for the Spring Fashion issue of New York Magazine.
In the project entitled 1968, A Toiletpaper collaboration between Maurizio Cattelan, Pierpaolo Ferrari and the Deste Foundation in Athens, Cattelan celebrates the works and time of Dakis Joannou and his collection of radical design. “1968 is a collection of dreams and nightmares, an inspiring compendium of colorful, ironic materials, objects, and bodies. Toiletpaper’s interpretation of the collection results in mind blowing photographs that trap us in a complex system of references, crossing layers, three dimensional and real time collages. 1968 is a rainbow, the memory of a storm and the positive projection of a newborn sun: the history plus the future, masterly shown in the drawings by one of the primary characters of the radical design movement, Alessandro Mendini, who adds a vital contribution to Toiletpaper’s visuals.”—P. of cover.
On opening night of the Maurizio Cattelan retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum of New York, a Hummer stretch limo with the words “TOILETPAPER” printed on the side was not-so-discreetly parked outside the museum. The images in the magazine might appear to have been appropriated from world’s most surreal stock-photograph service, but they’re all made from scratch. “Every issue starts with a theme, always something basic and general, like love or greed,” Cattelan has explained. “Then, as we start, we move like a painter on a canvas, layering and building up the issue. We always find ourselves in a place we didn’t expect to be. The best images are the result of improvisation”. Many images are rejected, he said, because they’re “not Toiletpaper enough”. What makes a Toiletpaper photo? “We keep homing in on what a Toiletpaper image is. Like distilling a perfume. It’s not about one particular style or time frame; what makes them Toiletpaper is a special twist. An uncanny ambiguity.” (Wikipedia)
For the longest time, you have been told that reality is something that can be bound by conventional standards. It has a height. It has a length. It has a width. It has a depth. For the longest time, we have agreed consciously or subconsciously to this general collective definition.
Well, the nineteenth century came along and it started casting into doubt the centrality of artistic truth as changes in how the human condition is approached, namely in innovations in psychoanalysis, psychology and cognitive sciences. We have started to look at reality from a psychological perspective differently.
Add to the mix Albert Einstein’s revolutionary ideas contained in the Theory of Relativity, and it becomes quite clear that reality is not what we assumed it to be. In fact, we have become so disconcerted, so fazed by the concept of multiple sources of reality and multiple judgments that we have reached a point where it really all boils down to individual point of view.
In the sciences, this is embodied by the Heisenberg principle. According to this principle, the moment you start observing any kind of phenomenon, you start changing it. Observation in of itself changes the phenomenon. Now, this is not some sort of philosophical or even quasi-metaphysical or even more distant mystical revelation. This is hard science. There are actual hard mathematical equations that prove this.
In fact, modern physics have all sorts of workarounds against the Heisenberg principle because you don’t want it to throw off whatever truth claims you come up with from your study. This is a big deal, and the artistic element of this played out in the 1920s but really reached ahead in the 1970s. In the 1920s, the idea that reality can only be represented a certain way was really starting to crumble.
If you took Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and you created that work in, let’s say, the 1500s, there’s probably a good chance that you would at best gain the mild disapproval of art critics; at worst, you might find yourself burning at the stake because back then, if the authorities could not understand whatever ideas that you are championing, there’s a good chance they would be threatened so much by it that it can lead to severe risks to your physical safety.
Flash forward several hundred years and we’re in a completely different place. Now, the whole idea of truth is under assault. Whether you agree with this or not, it is the reality. Somebody’s truth is not necessarily somebody else’s truth because we are all looking at the same phenomenon from different perspectives. We have different experiences. We have different pasts.
All these differences add up to a tremendous amount of changes in how we perceive things, and the big difference from our mindset now from our mindset in the 1500s is that you’re not going to necessarily harm somebody or put somebody in some sort of outsider group because they have a different set of personal truths from you.
Of course, there is a logical limit to this. If you think that murder is perfectly okay, then there’s a problem because you’re going to be infringing on somebody else’s rights. You might kill other people or you might turn a blind eye when others kill each other. That seems to be the logical limit of this new postmodern ethic, which is harm. So, as long as nobody is harming each other, everybody is pretty much free to march their own tune.
This is the spirit that really informs the work of Arno Rafael Minkkinen. It’s all about the internal realities that we walk around with and how we read these personal narratives and realities into the works of art and also the natural phenomena that we care to observe.
Tango, Gao Youjun(高幼軍) is a Shanghai-born artist, illustrator and author. He graduated from the Mathematics Department of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. After he discovered he’d rather be an artist than a scientist, he pursued his dream of drawing by completing a masters degree at the Academy of Arts & Design before entering the prosperous advertising industry at the end of the 1990s.
After being challenged by a friend in 2010 to draw one cartoon each day and post it on the popular Chinese social media site Weibo, Tango quickly gained global popularity for his quirky cartoons, which poke fun at the everyday routines and oddities of modern life. Tango, a critic of censorship in his home country, has also used his art to explore Chinese and American politics and society’s obsession with technology and social media. His solo shows have captivated audiences in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brussels, Cheonan Korea, Paris and New York. Tango is today one of the most popular illustration artists in China (微博漫画红人) as well as a renowned advertising creative director.
“My day is like my drawing, It makes no sense and is finally meaningless. This nonsense is the bittersweet truth, the most straightforward metaphor I’ve hidden in my illustrations.”
You might need your glasses for this one. Quantum physicist David Nadlinger from the University of Oxford managed to capture an image that would have been impossible only a few years ago: a single atom suspended in an electric field viewable by the naked eye. The amazing shot titled “Single Atom in an Ion Trap” recently won the overall prize in the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) science photo and imaging contest. You can see the atom in the shot above, the tiny speck at the very center.
To be clear, the photo doesn’t capture just the atom, but rather light emitted from it while in an excited state. From the EPSRC:
‘Single Atom in an Ion Trap’, by David Nadlinger, from the University of Oxford, shows the atom held by the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. The distance between the small needle tips is about two millimetres.
When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet colour the atom absorbs and re-emits light particles sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph. The winning picture was taken through a window of the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the ion trap.
Laser-cooled atomic ions provide a pristine platform for exploring and harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics. They can serve as extremely accurate clocks and sensors or, as explored by the UK Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub, as building blocks for future quantum computers, which could tackle problems that stymie even today’s largest supercomputers.
“The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the minuscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality,” shared Nadlinger. “A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”
You can follow more of his discoveries—large and small—on Twitter. (via PetaPixel)
Jindřich Štreit is a Czech Photographer. He is born 5th September, 1946 in Vsetín. He concentrates on documenting the rural life and people of Czech villages. He is considered one of the most important exponents of Czech documentary photography.
He began taking photographs in 1964, during his studies at the Pedagogical Faculty of Palacký University in Olomouc. Following his graduation he worked as a teacher in Rýmařov; later he became director of the school in Sovinec and Jiříkov. In addition to his profession, Štreit actively participated in public life. As a local chronicler he documented the everyday events and life of Czech villages under the communist regime.
In the late 1970s, he approach to photography began to change. He studied at the Institute of Art Photography in Brno. He graduated from the Institute with a cycle of theatrical photography. At the same time he continued expanding his cycle of everyday life of the villages in the foothills of the Jeseníky Mountains. Additionally, he helped organize cultural life in the region; he participated in organizing exhibitions and concerts.
As of 2010, Štreit works as a teacher at the Institute of Creative Photography of Silesian University in Opava
Freelance journalists voluntarily chose to endure innumerable difficulties and risks in their career, but debilitating penury should not be one of them. The financial reality for freelancers has become so bad that many are now practicing what I call “subsistence journalism”. Low pay and poor working conditions mean they have to make constant compromises in their personal lives in order to continue pursuing their profession. They live in shared houses in war-zones to keep costs down, and share fixers, translators, and taxis. Often there is no actual home to go to, with prized possessions stored in their parents’ house or a friend’s attic. Some even eschew relationships or children because the choice between subsistence journalism and familial financial commitments is so stark.
And yet, freelance journalism makes up more and more of the news we consume, even as the number of staff positions continues to shrink. How have we gotten ourselves into this mess? Despite the freelancer’s propensity to place all the blame at the feet of editors and news outlets, I think we have to take our share of responsibility.
The truth is, many freelance journalists are just not very good at freelancing. I realize this is not going to be a popular thing to say, and I may be dismissed by some as disputatious and cantankerous, but it needs to be discussed. The reason, I believe, that so many freelance journalists struggle in their career is simple: they focus too much on the ‘journalist’ part of their job title, and not enough on the ‘freelance’ bit.
There are many complex definitions of journalism, but in essence, regardless of medium, it boils down to “find story, tell story”. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we all know what it entails. The definition of freelance, in the context of freelance journalism, constitutes everything else we have to do: researching, planning, pitching, marketing, pricing, booking travel, buying insurance, risk assessment, archiving, invoicing, chasing payment, chasing payment again, paying bills, paying taxes, etc.
There are consequences associated with under-performing in each and every one of those freelance tasks, but it is poor pricing that paves the way to poverty. Deciding on a day rate shouldn’t be complicated, and there are lots of great tutorials available to freelancers to help them calculate what they should be charging. The general rule is to work out how much you want/need to earn annually, then work out how many days you want to work. From there, calculate how many of those days will be taken up with all those freelance tasks (marketing, admin, etc) and subtract them from the number of days you have allocated for commissions. The remainder is the number of days you have to earn your annual target. Divide that annual target by your available work days, and you have your basic day rate.
But this is where I believe the big mistake is made. Too many freelancers charge only for their time. As I see it, freelancers have three major commodities: time, skill, and knowledge.
Time—as we have seen—is limited, and so we must charge for it carefully to ensure that we earn enough to complete all our other freelance tasks.
Skill is the ability to perform our job, and the more experience we have, the better we are at that job. This is why a fresh-faced young journalist finds it harder to get those challenging commissions than a grizzled old hand. Skill has real value, and it’s what every commissioning editor is looking for (even if they don’t want to pay for it).
Knowledge is built up when working specific stories or beats, often over long periods, and its worth is inestimable. I covered the war in Afghanistan for years, and am still deeply immersed in the story. I’ve met and interviewed various high-profile players in the political world, and I have good contacts in the military. I also know business people, farmers, fixers, translators, etc, and this knowledge gives me an insight into the challenges the country faces. This is why I regularly get contacted by commissioning editors looking for someone to cover a particular Afghan story.
So, I believe we need to take a more complex view of our pricing. I also believe as freelancers we need to talk to each other more openly. I’m not suggesting price fixing, but an honest conversation about what we think is a fair price for our work. Too often freelancers hide the fact that they are being paid badly, whether through embarrassment or shame, but pretending otherwise does our entire community a disservice.
As an example, I received a phone call about a commercial job relating to the filming of a war movie in the UK at the end of last year. A very charming PR woman whispered sweet nothings in my ear, telling me how amazing my Afghanistan archive was, how appropriate it would be to have a photojournalist experienced in war to photograph their movie set, how desperate they were to work with me, how they hoped it would be the start of an exciting relationship, etc, etc, but when I quoted them my price for corporate work they suddenly started telling me that they normally get a unit photographer to do it for £400, all inclusive, and they would also need to own the copyright to all the images. Well, I’d like to say I demurely declined, but those of you who know me will have a better idea of how the conversation went. Suffice to say I told them their fee was an insult, I wouldn’t take the job, and I would actively discourage others from working with them.
A few weeks later I saw another news photographer I know post photos of himself covered in mud after a hard day’s shooting in the film’s trenches. I mentioned my own exchange with the company, and said I hoped that my rejection had made them realize the error of their ways and that he had been paid properly. His defensive reply suggested to me that that was not the case. The exchange was unfortunate because I wasn’t trying to criticize, or impugn his reputation. I just wanted to highlight the fact that these jobs may seem glamorous to some, especially the young trying to carve out a career, but the sad reality is that pay is collapsing more and more each year while the demands for copyright increase. Posting selfies of the job, telling what fun it was, and receiving replies from people saying how lucky the photographer is, only serves to further hide the problems in our industry.
Freelancers have far more power than they realize. They just need to rethink what they are selling because it isn’t words, or photos, or video. It’s their time, and skill, and knowledge. Clients will always try to get the best deal possible, but if a freelancer can articulate what their value is, there is more likelihood of getting paid accordingly. And if the client still says they can’t raise the price, then freelancers really need to start saying no to badly paid work. Because, in the end, subsistence journalism simply isn’t sustainable.
John D McHugh is a multimedia freelance photojournalist, filmmaker and a board member of the Frontline Freelance. John D has worked extensively in Afghanistan since early 2006, he produces half-hour films for the People and Power strand on Al Jazeera English, as well as continuing to produce photojournalism and multimedia for magazines and newspapers. He is also a founder of Verifeye Media which is a technology driven visual news agency for freelance journalists
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