Luminance: On the Intersection of Business, Technology and Photography

Photoshelter’s two-day symposium Luminance, held at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center in Manhattan on September 12 and 13, brought together imagemakers and creative industry professionals for half hour TED-style talks designed to address both current trends and the future of photography.

Presenters were grouped in threes under themes such as the Manipulators, the Storytellers, the Futurists, the Merchants, the Instigators, the Time Warpers, and the catchall category, Everyone’s a Photographer.

The trio of presenters grouped under the theme of The Merchants offered an insightful look at the current landscape in three markets: commercial licensing, fine art auctions and the sale of editioned fine art prints.

Craig Peters, Getty Images’s senior vice president of business development, addressed the topic of copyright in relation to content licensing. Peters noted that today everyone has the opportunity to engage and attract an audience, but easy copying (what Peters called “the world of the right click”) limits the benefit to the owners of copyrighted content. He questioned the effectiveness of legislation to address this fast-moving and global issue. Peters broached the need to come up with new business platforms that look at the problem “through a technology lens” by tracking content and monetizing usage. Among the significant developments he mentioned: YouTube’s content ID—which allows rights holders to choose in advance whether to block, monetize or track the traffic to their video content that is uploaded by others—and Getty’s 2011 acquisition of image tracking company PicScout.

Sara Friedlander, vice president of post war and contemporary art at the auction house Christie’s admitted that painting will always bring higher prices than photography. However, she said, many qualifiers that can affect the value of photographs in the fine art marketplace,  including provenance, size, scale, uniqueness, hype and institutional support. Strong auction prices can positively impact an artist’s primary market pricing, yet artists whose works are sold at auction in the United States get no direct benefit from proceeds of the sale. As Friedlander noted, this differs in Europe, where laws for Droit de Suite offer artists and their estates a percentage of the resale price of their work.

Jen Bekman, founder of Jen Bekman Gallery, 20×200 and creator of the Hey Hotshot competition, described her aim in creating the editioned print enterprise 20×200 was to offer a low-cost and easy way to buy art that would become, she hoped, the gateway drug of the art world. Bekman wants buyers to have a story that goes along with the art, so she packages fine-art prints with a certificate of authenticity and writes about her artists and their prints. The sales stats she shared are impressive: 20×200 has offered more than 800 editions by 300 artists to date, and 18 of her artists have earned more than $100,000 from their editioned prints.

The Luminance attendees we spoke with all had long lists of favorite presentations. Arguably the symposium’s all-star presenter—NASA astronaut Dr. Donald Pettit—spoke to the “Everyone’s a Photographer” theme with humble eloquence while showing breathtaking images of the space frontier, created inside and outside of the International Space Station. A self-described “uber geek,” Pettit treated the audience to some of his do-it-yourself technical solutions to the challenges of photographing in space. He used an expansive black turtleneck cover to effectively minimize reflections when shooting four-layered glass windows inside the space station. A barn door tracker, which he fashioned out of analog gear no longer in use, allowed him to generate detailed night views of illuminated cities while in orbit.

Eric Cheng, director of photography for the light field camera manufacturer Lytro, was a hotly anticipated speaker in Thursday morning’s Futurists segment. Light field cameras record both pixel data and directional information about light in a measurement called rays, enabling a user to make focus decisions after the fact. While this technology is still in its infancy, Cheng noted that potential applications extend far beyond the photo industry proper to fields such as defense.

If you missed the live event, fear not, Photoshelter will be posting recorded sessions online in the future; check the Photoshelter blog for details.

– Jill Waterman

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