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October 30th, 2012

PPE 2012: 8 Dos and Don’ts for Crowd-Funding Campaigns

It seems like nowadays every photographer is launching a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for a book or to shoot personal work. But how many of those photographers are actually meeting or surpassing their fundraising goals? At the PhotoPlus seminar “Crowd-Funding Your Photography Project,” five panelists shared their thoughts on how to raise money using two crowd-funding platforms, Kickstarter and Emphas.is.

Gerd Ludwig moderated the panel. He used Kickstarter in 2011 to raise funds for his long-term series on Chernobyl, because traditional media outlets weren’t interested in commissioning the work. Ludwig raised over $23,000, which he used to travel to Chernobyl, and publish a book and iPad app of the work.

The panelists were Karim Ben Khelifa, co-founder of Emphas.is; Aaron Huey, a photojournalist who used Emphas.is to raise over $26,000 for a billboard and information campaign surrounding his work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; Justin Jensen, a photographer who used Kickstarter to raise over $485,000 for his product CineSkates, which are wheels that snap onto the bottom of a Gorilla tripod; and Jon Pack, who used Kickstarter to raise over $65,000 for his photography project “The Olympic City” and the resulting book. Below, some campaign dos and don’ts they learned along the way.

1. Do make a video for your Kickstarter or Emphas.is page, which tells visitors about the project. Ludwig noted that a video provides an opportunity to address your audience personally as well as to give your credentials and background so people feel comfortable investing in your work. Huey added that the video is essentially the elevator pitch for your project, so it’s important to make it as professional as possible. Meanwhile, Ben Khelifa advised photographers to avoid the words “help” and “support” in their videos since Emphas.is sees the relationship as more of an exchange between the photographer and his or her audience.

2. Do create a reward structure that awards every donor regardless of the amount of money they give. Huey said some of his rewards had a dollar value that was worth more than the donation amount, which was a good incentive for people to give. Ludwig noted that he had a reward for every size pocketbook.

3. Don’t only think of rewards that cost money. Ben Khelifa said some of the most successful rewards offered on Emphas.is only cost the photographer time, such as one-on-one photography workshops or portfolio reviews. Ludwig added that every person who donated to his campaign was included on a donors’ list, which is posted at the exhibitions of the work.

4. Do collaborate with the people who donate to your project. Park and his partner, filmmaker Gary Hustwit, agreed to let backers vote on one of the former Olympic hosting cities that would be included in their project. He also noted that when he and Hustwit were traveling to the various cities, backers would sometimes e-mail them with recommendations about where to shoot. Jensen had some backers help with the testing of the initial CineSkates product. He also made additional product lines based on suggestions given by backers.

5. Don’t forget to communicate with backers during and after the campaign. Emphas.is was started because Ben Khelifa believes that people are interested in the experiences of photographers and photojournalists, which is why the “Making of Zone” is such a crucial part of the site. Pack said many people were into “collaborating” on his project, so he would answer e-mails throughout the campaign and then launched a website afterward so donors could stay up to date on the status of the project. He also posts updates on his Facebook page and e-mails backers regularly.

6. Do try to get funds from people outside of your personal and/or professional networks. Huey said he didn’t even ask for money from his personal networks. Instead, he appealed to the street art world, since Shepard Fairey created some of the posters, and to Native American rights groups, because his work focused on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. By identifying influential bloggers in both worlds, he was able to spread the word about his campaign to people who are passionate about these two things. Ludwig noted that you get your backers’ e-mail addresses to contact them about future campaigns, but Ben Khelifa added that this only works if you’re good at communicating during the first campaign (see above).

7. Don’t underestimate shipping costs. One of Ludwig’s rewards was a copy of his book Broken Empire: After the Fall of the USSR. Over 25 percent of the donations at this $100 reward level were from overseas, and it cost him $31 (not including packaging) to ship each book internationally. Jensen also made this mistake, by offering all backers in the U.S. free shipping once the product came out; international backers were charged an extra $20 for shipping. The problem was that shipping overseas ended up costing more than $20 and many backers in the U.S. wanted their products shipped overnight.

8. Don’t assume that all you have to do is launch the campaign and you’re done. All the panelists agreed that crowd funding is very time consuming. Huey even went so far as to say he couldn’t do another crowd-funding campaign anytime soon because the billboard campaign took over his life for two months and he just doesn’t have that kind of time right now. Ludwig noted that his studio manager was a crucial part of his campaign, while Jensen said he ended up hiring a staff of five to help once it looked like they were going to get enough money through Kickstarter to fully launch the product.

Related Articles:

Helping Communities Speak for Themselves: Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project
Crowd-Funding Success Story: Gerd Ludwig
Object of Desire: CineSkates

October 25th, 2012

PPE 2012: How to Survive and Conquer Portfolio Reviews

Portfolio reviews can be costly or, depending on what you make of them, cost effective. This idea—set forth by Center For Photography at Woodstock Executive Director Ariel Shanberg—was the focus of a panel this afternoon at Photo Plus Expo that aimed to help attendees understand how they can maximize their time and money during portfolio review events.

Shanberg was joined on the panel by creative consultant Mary Virginia Swanson and moderator WM Hunt, a photography collector and former gallerist. The three spoke of their appreciation for portfolio reviews and their atmosphere of discovery, where reviewers are excited to find and discuss new work that they can share with others in the photo community. “If you strike a chord [with a reviewer], they will become your advocate and refer you [to others] and try to help you,” Hunt told the photographers in the audience.

Each reviewer gave examples of photographers whose work they reviewed and were amazed by, but they also offered a host of practical tips that should help photographers make the most of these 20-minute “speed dates” with editors, collectors and curators:

Mary Virginia Swanson described several different portfolio reviews but also pointed out that her article in the new issue of Emerging Photographer magazine had information and listings of several top portfolio reviews, as does her blog, here.

Swanson suggested that photographers consider bringing a tape recorder and—with the reviewer’s permission—recording their reviews rather than taking notes so they could engage more fully with the reviewer.

She also recommended that photographers ask at the end of a review if the reviewer would like to be kept informed about the photographer’s work, and if so, how (via email, print cards, phones or discs with images….). Swanson further suggested that the photographer should ask what to put in the subject line of the email to be sure to get the reviewer’s attention.

The thickness of a photographer’s portfolio is often inversely proportionate to the quality of the work, Hunt said. He explained that the most serious, confident and thoughtful photographers have the thinnest portfolios because they have refined their work.

On the subject of how much work to show, Shanberg suggested that there is a polite limit of 20 prints. You may want to show more to a book publisher who wants to see that you have 80 images for a book, or reviewers might want to see more work if they are excited about it, but putting a white piece of board as a divider in your portfolio to suggest that a reviewer can stop after 20 or so images is welcome, Shanberg said.

Swanson added that bringing multiple bodies of work to a 20-minute review is fine as long as the photographer is comfortable with the idea that they will spend the whole time watching the reviewer look at work instead of engaging in a discussion.

The panelists and moderator agreed that following up with a handwritten, physical note of thanks made a big impression. Swanson shared an anecdote about photographer Dave Anderson, who made notes at a portfolio review of which image each reviewer he saw liked, and then sent the reviewer a note with that image.

Swanson encouraged the audience to be similarly thoughtful about their leave behind pieces, whether they are cards, accordion folds, small handmade books or other pieces. Make the text style and branding consistent with your website and other materials, and choose an image or images that will easily remind the reviewer of your work.

Shanberg encouraged the audience to think of the review process as the start of a longer conversation, and reiterated the idea that although a reviewer may not give you an exhibition or publish your work themselves, each one has the potential to nominate you for a grant or fellowship, or recommend your work to an editor or curator.

Other tips:

-If you are at your first review, tell the reviewer, that so they can help you manage your 20 minutes better [Mary Virginia Swanson]

-When in doubt, shut up. Which means that talking too much suggests nervousness and distracts the reviewer [WM Hunt]

-Don’t ask what the reviewer wants to see; they don’t know you and can’t answer that. Show them what you are most excited about [Shanberg]

-Don’t hand a reviewer an artist’s statement and ask them to read it. Why would they read it when they can just hear directly from you? And it shows you aren’t confident speaking about your work [Swanson, but echoed by the group]

September 28th, 2012

On Sustainable Business Models, and Comparing Apples to Oranges

The American Society of Media Photographers’ program, “Sustainable Business Models: Issues & Trends Facing Visual Artists,” held September 27 in New York City, can be viewed online via ASMP’s video library. Speakers and panelists provided useful context and insights into the current marketplace for photography, as well as thoughts on how professional freelancers might adapt their marketing and licensing in today’s economy. A warning, however: Along with provocative insights, the afternoon panel also included the predictable, banal observation that photojournalists have no role to play now that “everyone has a cellphone,” and statistics on how many images are uploaded to Facebook or Instagram each day or each hour or each minute. If you’re like me, you find these comments irritating. Because the first comment is untrue, and the second is irrelevant to any discussion of the professional photography business.

Yes, news editors trolled Instagram to get images of the aftermath of the Empire State Building shooting, but those image sales had no impact on the market for photos by professional news photographers: If amateur cellphone users hadn’t been on the scene, we simply wouldn’t have had any images of the carnage. Yes, a zillion snapshots of cats, babies and plates of food are shared on social media every day. What bearing does that have on what a professional photographer offers to clients or their audience? (more…)

July 26th, 2012

Stipple’s Free Image Tagging Platform Aims to “Solve Image Attribution Problem”

Image technology company Stipple has launched the free public beta version of its image tagging platform, which allows users to permanently embed attribution and other content—from editorial to e-commerce links—into their images. The company hopes that their service, which has been adopted by more than online 4,000 publishers to date, and as of today is available to the general public, will help photographers, publishers and brands keep track of and monetize their images no matter where they appear on the internet.

Users of Stipple can upload images into the platform and then embed them with any content connected to a URL. For photographers this might include copyright information and a link back to their Web site, or to videos or articles that might enrich a viewer’s experience of a particular image. The information stored in the image by Stipple, the company claims, will follow that image wherever it is published on the Internet, even if the photograph’s metadata is stripped away. Other companies, such a PicScout, have offered similar services intended to help image makers and licensors protect their copyrights.

The Stipple platform also gathers data on images uploaded into the Stipple system that will allow photographers to keep track of where their images are being republished, and see how many people are viewing and engaging with their images and the content they embed into them.

“Stipple is all about context,” photographer Gerald Holubowicz told PDN via email. Holubowicz is one of a handful of photographers who were invited to participate in a private beta test. “It will help me bring more details and a wider narrative into the imagery I’m publishing…. I really like the fact that we can add videos, external links to articles or a Twitter feed.” Holubowicz says he plans to link his images to sites where he sells fine-art prints or his book.

For more information about Stipple or to try the platform visit www.stipple.com.

March 19th, 2012

John Midgley’s Altered Image: Reasonable Caution, or Outrageous Censorship?

©John Midgley

Have the morality police chilled artistic expression, or does this image by John Midgley–which appears on an APA promo for a talk by the fashion and celebrity photographer–violate the standards of public decency without the alteration?

Midgley is scheduled to give a talk called “Memory: Journey’s of Fiction and Fantasy” at the Apple Store at 7 p.m. today. The talk is part of the Image Maker Lecture Series sponsored by APA New York, and Midgley provided the image, undoctored, so APA could promote his talk via e-mail blasts.

According to Midgley, APA New York regional director Jocelyn Zucker told him the image wasn’t acceptable because of the boy’s nudity. “We might shock someone with a naked little boy’s penis, or do some other greater damage,” says Midgley, apologizing for his cynicism. He adds, “The puritanism drives me a little crazy sometimes.”

Zucker says, “As per our agreement with Apple, all lectures and the images presented must be ‘family friendly’ – no nudity or swearing, etc. This is not a concern on APA’s behalf; we would enjoy being able to present more controversial content, however, the Apple lectures are not the proper venue. John made the decision to use that image and censor it, rather than select a different image for the promo.”

Midgley ended up not only covering the boy’s penis, but defacing his own image.

“It wasn’t really meant to be a form of protest, it was ‘Well, if I censor the offending bits could that work?’” he explains. “So I did it quickly and in hindsight, badly. Next thing I know it’s up there [in an APA promotion.] And in a way I think subconsciously I was so pissed that it is a form of protest. It [the objection to nudity] is ridiculous and so is the censorship I imposed.”

Information about Midgley’s talk this evening is posted here (without the image) on APA’s web site.

November 2nd, 2011

2011 Critical Mass Top 50 Announced

The 2011 Critical Mass Top 50 were announced last night by Photolucida, the organization that runs the competition. Each year hundreds of photographers submit their work for judging to a panel of 200 photo industry professionals. (51 photographers are included in this year’s Top 50 due to a tie in voting.)

Photographers in the Top 50 are eligible for several prizes, including a book award that supports one photographer’s book publication; a solo show at Blue Sky gallery in Portland, Oregon; or one of five scholarships for international photographers.

Images by the Critical Mass Top 50 photographers will also be included in a traveling exhibition that will tour the West Coast in Spring 2012. Starting in February 2012 the exhibition will be at Photo Center NW in Seattle, then in April at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, and concluding in May at RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco.

Check out the work of the 2011 Critical Mass Top 50 here.

Read a list of this year’s jurors here. (PDN creative director Darren Ching, PDN senior editor Conor Risch and Jill Waterman, editor of PDNEdu were among this year’s jurors.)

October 28th, 2011

PhotoPlus Panel: Finding Funding for Your Documentary Work

At the 2011 PhotoPlus Expo, Aidan Sullivan, vice president of photo assignments for Getty Images, moderated the seminar, Your Picture is Important: The “Concerned Photographer” Today and How Projects Get Funded. With a panel that included both grant recipients and foundation employees, the goal was to help attendees get a better understanding of the various avenues of support available for advocacy photojournalism.

Shrinking editorial budgets throughout the media world have made grant and fundraising more important than ever for photojournalists. As Sullivan pointed out at the beginning of the seminar, a simple Internet search will produce numerous grants available for photographers. However, the more elusive part of the process is figuring out how to actually get awarded those funds.

Amy Yenkin, a director for the Open Society Foundations, explained what her “advocacy oriented” foundation is looking for when it comes to funding projects: a long-term commitment and thorough knowledge of the issue, an engagement with the community being photographed, the respect of non-governmental or non-profit organizations working on the issue, an awareness of what other photographers are doing regarding the issue and past success on previous projects or partnerships.

While Yenkin noted that her foundation is open to projects that highlight both the problem and/or solution regarding an issue, Emma Raynes, Emergency Fund program director at the Magnum Foundation, said her organization prefers to focus on underreported issues “in anticipation of powerful stories” rather than in the aftermath of them.

Both speakers emphasized the importance of working with non-profit organizations, not just for funding, but also to build a partnership. The effect a non-profit can have on a photographer’s work was exemplified when photographer RaMell Ross spoke about his experiences shooting in the economically depressed “Black Belt” of the Southern United States. Ross works at the non-profit Youthbuild and began phootgraphing his students as well as abandoned schools in the area. His photography came to the attention of the non-profit For | By | For, which helped him set-up a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for an exhibit, the proceeds of which were donated to Youthbuild.

Kickstarter actually played an important role in many of the case studies presented at the seminar. Yenkin listed seven different sources of support, including a Kickstarter campaign, for Saiful Huq Omi’s project photographing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Raynes also noted that the Magnum Foundation helps set up Kickstarter campaigns for Emergency Fund recipients, including one for this year’s W. Eugene Smith grant recipient, Krisanne Johnson.

Persistence and patience seems to be the key when it comes to applying for grants and raising funds. This was evident when photographer Darcy Padilla spoke about her experiences after she turned down a job at The New York Times and “made a choice to be a freelancer.” Padilla won her first grant in 1990 and describes living on very little income as she continued to apply for grants and awards while shooting projects she felt were important, including The Julie Project, which consists of photos taken of the same subject over an 18-year period. She applied for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship three times before receiving it in 1995 and the W. Eugene Smith Grant close to ten times before she was awarded it in 2010.

Padilla noted that she rewrote her winning proposal for the W. Eugene Smith Grant in order to “give it intimacy and closeness.” Perhaps this is the biggest takeaway from the seminar: the issue has to be something you’re passionate about; something you’re dedicated to documenting regardless of whether you’re on assignment or not. This passion and commitment will not only influence the photographs, it will also show foundations and donators that it is a cause you truly wish to eradicate, which may just inspire them to support your journey.

October 28th, 2011

PPE Panel: Photogs Ignore Online Pub Opportunities at Their Own Peril

During a seminar titled “The New World of Online Magazines and Curator Web Sites” this afternoon at PDN PhotoPlus Expo, photographer Sophia Wallace posed a question to photographers who’ve been hesitant to harness the full power of the internet for fear that their work might be stolen: Should you be more afraid of image theft, or of working in obscurity?

This rather direct question, which had resonated with Wallace after she heard it at another talk recently, gets to the heart of the decision that photographers must make in today’s market. You can embrace online publishing on blogs, online magazines, Tumblr pages and the myriad other platforms on which people are looking at imagery these days, or you can keep your work to yourself.

Suffice it to say that nobody in the audience was interested in the latter option. But in case they were, Wallace and fellow photographer Manjari Sharma shared stories about their own experiences that made a strong case for diving headlong into promoting one’s work online.

By getting their work featured by online platforms, such as those run by moderator Stella Kramer (StellaZine) and panelists Julie Grahame (aCurator) and Michael Itkoff (Daylight), each of the photographers had built momentum for bodies of work that eventually led to concrete achievements like exhibitions, advertising commissions and essential project funding.

After having her work circulate one image at a time across various online publications (and in a couple of print magazines), Wallace received what she termed “the email she’d been waiting for.” It was from a curator asking if she would show her work in a three-person show at Colgate University’s Clifford Gallery with photographers Catherine Opie and Jo Ann Santangelo. During her presentation Wallace also showed how, through Google analytics, she could track who was looking at her site and where they came from. It was amazing, she said, to realize that people all over the world were looking at her photographs.

Sharma showed two projects that she’d promoted online. A series of portraits of people taken in the shower in her Brooklyn apartment was discovered by art directors at the ad agency JWT in Delhi, which lead to a commission to replicate that work for ads for a German maker of shower heads that was expanding their business in India. Sharma’s photographs appeared on billboards in 23 cities, she said.

After she created a well-produced Kickstarter video to raise funds for her project Darshan, several photo blogs and other online publications wrote about the work. She ended up raising $26,000 of funding over the course of three months.

Each of the panelists encouraged the audience members to build networks online through Facebook and Twitter, and to help promote other photographers whose work they appreciate. Wallace made the point that opportunities for group exhibitions often come from other artists, and introductions to clients often come from fellow photographers.

Kramer also made another useful point for photographers who might still be hesitant to publish their work online: “The more you are associated with your work, the harder it is to steal it,” she said.

October 5th, 2011

Who Photographers Follow On Tumblr

© Jody Rogac. A recent entry on Jody Rogac's Tumblr.

Photographers have used micro-blogging site Tumblr as a tool to share their work with audiences online, many of them building followings that number in the thousands and even tens of thousands. (For more on how photographers are using Tumblr see our October feature, “Why Photographers Love Tumblr.”)

But photographers also use the site to follow other shooters, keeping up with what their peers are doing and passing along work they like or admire.

JUCO, the photography team of Julia Galdo and Cody Cloud, keep up with other photographers like Noah Kalina, with whom they share a rep, Chris McPherson, Elizabeth Weinberg, Ryan Schude, Dan Busta and the duo Day 19. (Kalina also published a list of photographers who have Tumblr pages, which is useful for people who are new to the site or want to find new people to follow.)

Ryan Pfluger follows Daniel Shea, Tony Katai, Christopher Schreck, Alexi Hobbs, and a Tumblr called “Mull it Over,” run by Jonathan Cherry, which features Q&A’s with new photographers once a week.

Alec Soth, who used Tumblr for a Magnum project earlier this year, says he recently “confessed” to an intern that he likes Terry Richardson’s Diary on Tumblr.

“In my Google reader, there’s a thousand unread things, and I find myself clicking on [Richardson’s Tumblr] repeatedly for guilty pleasure or whatever it is,” Soth says. “But there is a sense that I’ve followed him, I’m along on the ride, and I guess I’m hungry to experience that with other types of photographers as well.”

In addition to following professional photography peers like Emiliano Granado and Jessica Eaton, and an aspiring professional named Megan McIsaac, Jody Rogac follows current and potential clients like the New York Times T Magazine, Rolling Stone and Dazed & Confused to keep up with what they’re doing.

Sacha Lecca, a Rolling Stone photo editor who also posts his own images to Tumblr, says he generally follows photographers who he’s worked with, met or is familiar with. But through Tumblr’s “reblogging” function, where users share the work of others on their own Tumblr page, he can often “find out about someone I didn’t know.”

Related: Why Photographers Love Tumblr