Setting personal photographic and creative goals for the forthcoming year has become a bit of a tradition for this site – so far, I think I’ve done reasonably well in hitting my targets. Perhaps it’s a holdover from my corporate days when you had to set targets for the projects or divisions under your purview for planning, or worse, so you could later be judged against them. When it comes to running your own business and that overlaps with where you personally want to go with your own creative development, a little more careful thought is required.
Let’s see how I did for my 2014 promises:
1. Commercial rationalisation. Sort of. Still lumpy, but bigger and more lumps.
Realistically, the commercial photography market isn’t getting any easier. I had a couple of big jobs with big clients in 2013 (the reason for the lack of On Assignment posts has to do with embargoes), which will hopefully pave the way to bigger things for next year. But these big things are lumpy, which means that I must find a way to smooth out the revenue spikes. As usual, this lies in diversification…
2. A shift towards the fine art market. Definitely attempted, again, sort of. More would be better.
I’d already started this in 2013 with the two reasonably popular print runs; ultimately I think this will require me to further evolve the way I shoot, too. I recognize that this is perhaps an even more difficult market to break into than commercial; simply because it’s entirely irrational and dependent on you getting a lucky break or two somewhere along the line. Nevertheless, if one doesn’t try, one will never know. Hopefully, in the long term, this will result in two things: firstly, the ability for me to shoot only things I want to shoot, in the way I want to shoot them, and secondly, a stratification of income sources to allow a bit more financial predictability. Ultimately, I think I need to make the jump from creative stage 3b to stage 4…
3. My teaching activities will change. Check.
I’ve now taught about 12 of the ‘Making Outstanding Images’ workshops; 2014 will be the last year I do this. Partially because I’m getting bored of it, partially because I feel that I need to further differentiate myself from everybody else out there doing workshops, and partially because I’ve had numerous requests from existing students for something more. In addition, the basic set of Making Outstanding Images workshop videos are complete. So far, Kuala Lumpur and Havana will be the first two; I may do another one later in the year in North America. On top of this, the Email School has become a bit of a runaway train; I’ve got over 130 students, and this is significantly impacting my ability to take more. I will relaunch this in a different format, to be tied in conjunction with the video workshops.
4. Experiment more: force myself to shoot differently, without backup choices. Check. I wasn’t doing landscape last year, or T/S stitching, for starters.
Like it or not, different gear forces you to shoot differently. And that usually yields interesting results: limitation forces either creativity (or disaster). I’ve personally experienced both, often in the same shoot. I of course won’t be doing this on commercial jobs, but look out for some surprises in future photoessays.
5. Rationalize the gear. Epic, epic fail. I end 2014 with more gear than I started it with, and that’s despite selling a mammoth eight lenses and two bodies in October.
It’s time for another garage sale, and soon. I’ve got far too much stuff sitting around as backup or ‘just in case’, or used one time for one job and collecting dust since. There’s no point in keeping things you don’t use. And on top of that, I feel like if I’m going to shift towards a certain output, then my equipment should also be reflective of that. I also can’t help shake the feeling that some point soon, I’m going to drop either FF35 or M4/3…
6. Direct and run a couple of my own exhibitions. Sort of. Pushed to 2015 due to availability of galleries and timing. It’s still on the cards – I had one exhibition at the start of the year, though.
I had two exhibitions in 2013, but as they were sponsored, the content wasn’t fully under my control. That will change for 2014, as I’ve now got access to a dedicated (and excellent) gallery space in Kuala Lumpur. Look out for the first exhibition for January, and another one in the second half of the year; the latter will be geared more towards fine art, and with an eye towards sales.
7. Continue to build my profile. Sort of. I suppose my reluctance to shout and review gear is hampering this somewhat, but there are so many people doing it that adding to the noise seems rather pointless.
Something I’ve continuously seen is that he who shouts the loudest is the most popular – regardless of whether he has anything worth listening to or not. Ideally, one must therefore be both loud and meaningful; I definitely don’t have the kind of recognition that would make doors open at will, but at least it’s nice to not be a complete unknown. Success in this business is all about image: both your output, and your own perceived value.
That gets me a about a 4-4.5 out of 7. Nowhere near as successful as 2013, but then again, I’m also not sure that these are goals that can be accomplished in a year. Time to move on, regardless. I’d like to think of 2015 as “develop the arts”.
1. More exhibitions and fine art print sales
I use that as a very broad catch-all phrase for everything that isn’t commercial commissioned work and at the same time not exactly personal work with no applicability or potential commercial value to another audience. You can shoot for a client and make art, but rarely. You can shoot for yourself and make art that you personally might understand and like, but nobody will buy it. And you can shoot for an idea and create something which sustains itself. This is where I’m trying to go, of course. I would put gallery exhibitions with possibility for print sales into this category, which of course means both finding the right gallery partners and developing the body of work to the point that a coherent show can be put together; it also means thinking a lot more about the concept and final execution/ output before shooting. Planning often feels like the antithesis of serendipity, but more often than not I’ve found that a small amount of planning gets you into the ballpark – intuition does the rest. But I’ll need to get those exhibitions first; my recent work simply doesn’t do very well at web sizes or resolutions. Print is something else entirely; when you get to the point a layperson can see the enormous difference, you know you’re just about there. I’ve got a couple of shows planned for the second half of 2015 in Chicago and Hong Kong, with a couple more under discussion.
2. Shift to video direction and cinematography
Beyond that, I’m looking at more focus on video; both the corporate/ commercial client stuff as well as content for mass consumption. I’m now involved with two production houses, and have a number of much larger scale projects that might possibly hit the road, any one of which will land up making me very busy indeed.
3. More workshop videos, Masterclasses continue
On the teaching front, Masterclasses will continue; we had Havana, San Francisco and Venice in 2014, and Prague and Lucerne are on for the first quarter of 2015, with possibly also Tokyo, Hanoi, Chicago and something landscape-focused in California. It is almost certain there will be no more Outstanding Images now the video series is complete. We also have a new workshop video series in the planning stages; I can’t say what it is just yet, but I’m almost certain it’ll be popular. 🙂
4. More landscape
Last year, I shot landscape seriously for the first time, and honestly enjoyed it immensely. A combination of the locations, the tranquility, the stunning scenery snd the feeling of being somewhere different and inspiring really resonated with me. I want to do more of this, even if it means hauling a tripod everywhere. And it doesn’t hurt that the Ultraprints – and larger stitches I’m now doing – are the perfect immersive and transparent presentation medium for that.
5. Evolving printing – more, better
We’ve solved the transparency and resolution challenge; now it’s time to turn up the immersiveness scale and get to the point where we’re back to printing large again. This has enormous technical demands and simply isn’t possible for some things that require single captures (i.e. anything involving motion). I’ll start simple and we’ll go from there. Forest III and Nob Hill showed me what is possible – and until seeing it with my own eyes, I had no idea because it’s simply impossible to visualize or imagine that much information in a static scene (not the same as the real world, which we interpret dynamically). It’s time to take that to another level.
During the course of all of this experimentation, I’ve acquired a huge amount of hardware. Some of it has already been superseded by better technique and rationalized out to happy new owners, but there’s still more to come. I think at some point I will want to make a permanent choice between medium format and full frame; the mental anguish I go through when deciding which to carry when weight limited is incredibly frustrating. I have no idea which way this is going to go at the moment, but the promised new technologies that pack more resolution into 35mm may hold a clue – but it’s also worth remembering that anything that can be done at a pixel architecture level to a small sensor can be done to a large one, too; and more is definitely better as Sony’s sensor division proved last year. It’s time for another garage sale again soon – tools should reflect one’s focus, and too much choice can actually be a bad (and expensive) thing.
I also need to continue diversifying my business interests outside photography. Is this a long term sustainable industry? Honestly, I’m having trouble seeing it; the crystal ball is cloudy beyond a couple more years. Commercial day rates continue to erode, the education market is getting crowded (quality aside, price still counts the most it seems) and fine art is a tough nut to crack. It never hurts to have many irons in the fire, anyway.
That’s it for me. Where will 2015 take you photographically?
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