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September 2008

One Piece of the Puzzle

Things are changing mighty quick out there. I’m not sure if you would call it a revolution, because what we are doing is, in many ways what we did after LIFE magazine folded back in 1972.


When LIFE died (that first time) critics and naysayers proclaimed it the “death” of photojournalism. Indeed, many photographers did leave the business, but guys like David Burnett, and David Hume Kennerly (the last two photographers put under contract for LIFE) not only continued to work, but pioneered many of the practices that we are finding ourselves returning to now.


Burnett says he was bummed for six months after LIFE folded, but soon realized that he could do the same things he was doing for LIFE through the french photo agency Gamma.


“Photojournalism was doing fine. It was just LIFE Magazine that was having problems.” Burnett said today.


“They had become way to top-heavy. They had to print 8 million magazines each week and that’s what did them in.” he added. “If they only had to print a third or half of that they might have lasted a little longer.”


See any parallels?


Alan Chin photographed the DNC convention in Denver last week and managed to cover most of his expenses by working with the blog BAGnewsNotes.


“It’s not the same as working for NEWSWEEK or the NEW YORK TIMES, its very humbling.” he said. “We reached about 25,000 viewers a day, but those 25,000 WANTED to be reached.”


That’s the key, reaching viewers that want to be reached. Four million people might see a story I do for TIME today. Forty million might see a piece in PEOPLE, but what percentage of those readers are really interested in my photographs?


Alan was about three hours outside of New Orleans when I talked to him today. Just like the agency guys in the seventies, he’s not waiting for an assignment. He’s already there. This story is important to him. He’s invested a lot of time over the last three years since Katrina to document the situation. If he had waited for an assignment, none of his work would exist today.


The financial backing that use to come from magazines and newspapers is pretty much gone. It disappeared fast. Even six months ago it was still possible to get a little backing for something like a hurricane heading for New Orleans, or a political convention. I was originally planning to be in Denver last week, but was unable to get my lodging expenses covered. I was surprised. The money is simply not there now.


The costs of printing and distributing millions of magazines are suffocating many publications today. Thirty-five years ago LIFE was killed by this burden, but not photojournalism.


I think it’s possible to replace the financial backing that came from print with revenues generated by blogs.


As Burnett told me today, “Nobody really knows how this is going to work out (the internet/blog revenue stream). We’re just stumbling our way through it. The trick is to be as smart as the average 18 year old.”





TinEye Works


Picture 2



TinEye is like Goggle, but for images. You upload a picture and it finds where that image has been used on the web.


Their database isn't huge yet, but it continues to grow as their spiders crawl the web. For example, I can still find more stolen images through Goggle. Of course that's only the stolen images on which I have a credit.

TinEye uses recognition algorithms to create a digital signature for each image. Which I think will allow copyright holders to (someday) find a lot of stolen images.




Trying to Make an Image


To be perfectly honest, I was pretty frustrated at the Olympics.

Every photo agency in the MPC had video monitors outside of their offices showing the images that they produced throughout the games. Technically the images were very, very good. In fact, I'd say there has never been an Olympic games photographed at such a consistently high level.

Unfortunately, this high level of imagery is due more to the improvements in camera technology, not by any advancement in the vision of the photographers themselves.

I'm not saying that I did any better.

I often found myself photographing things the same way that I had twenty years ago. Now, there are a lot of restrictions at the Olympics, often moving three or four inches in any direction is not even an option. Also, not having a pool vest means that you are probably shooting thirty yards behind and over the heads of the guys that do (not to mention through the guys running around with TV cameras), but still no excuse.

Rob Haggart kind of sums up my feelings over at A Photo Editor today.

You see, the sports photographers (because they've done it a hundred times before) know where they are going to stand, and the pictures they can make from that spot. They've got the sports formula down. They know how to optimize their success rate in making what is considered a "successful" image in the editorial world.

A successful image is one that gets printed. That's the only criteria that counts these days (as far as the "industry" is concerned). 

I know I've been picking on the sports photographers lately, but this applies to all types of photography. One could make the exact same observation at the Democratic Convention taking place in Denver right now. Its not just sports, but in all of the editorial photography genres.

We've gone from making images to just simply taking pictures. 

The editorial market is imploding at an unbelievable rate. So far, the response has been to give the public more Kenny G while ignoring Miles Davis.

No wonder the images are forgettable and leave the viewer feeling... nothing.