Anybody who spends any length of time in the creative industry will soon realise that it’s really coffee, not money, that fuels everything from ad campaigns to shoots to postproduction. Models don’t shun it like energy drinks because you can have it without sugar, and in small (espresso) volumes, and it’s still just as potent. It’s also legal and relatively easy to obtain when travelling, and you can bring your own without being questioned about what those pills or powders are. I’ve long been reliant on the drink (finance and consulting run on it, too) but only in the last couple of years developed more than a passing interest in it. Like the drink, think of today’s post as a little refresher/ break from the photographic content…
You may be aware that earlier this year, I visited the headquarters of two companies in the camera and drone spaces: this was of course part of a greater plan. I’ve also been a little quiet on the picture-making front because behind the scenes, there’s been a lot of work going on that’s much closer to my previous profession in nature: operations and corporate strategy. I’ve recently returned from Gothenburg with a new business card and a tag to open the doors of a place I’d only imagined not so long ago. In short: I’ve been appointed the new Chief of Strategy for Hasselblad. What does this mean in practical terms – for the site, for my own work, and more importantly, for Hasselblad? I’ll attempt to answer those after the jump, along with my rationale behind accepting the offer.
Quick update: I’ve been seriously overwhelmed by the amount of positivity and support in the last couple of hours. Thank you all so much!
Pro photographers have to be two things: able to deliver (i.e. technically and creatively competent) and fully aware that the whole business hinges critically on being a relationship game: if anything, this is more important than the execution. We are not just service providers, but in a way also providing confidence and reassurance on a product that is both intangible and highly subjective. Uncertainty can be self-reinforcing and the beginning of a negative spiral. Yet the longer I’m in this business, the more shocked I am by what I’m seeing – especially at the ‘developing’ end; both from a country/locality point of view and an immature service provider’s point of view.
Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everybody who contributed in the comments to the previous discussion – your ideas and support have been most helpful in clarifying my own thoughts. Fundamentally, the challenge is really one of time: how can I balance off increasing family demands against the site (which in many ways is really another child) and perhaps at the same time, make changes that both buy me time and give you something more? It isn’t a question of monetisation because all of those options require more administrative time and don’t buy time elsewhere. Having had some further time to think, here’s what I think we’ll do going forward:
One of the best things about this website is the people I’ve met through it. At this point, my motivations for continuing to create content and engage with the community are pretty evenly split between the pleasure I get from interacting with a huge range of people with common interests, and the satisfaction I get from writing. A look at the comments below the line on any one of the more popular recent posts* – that were not entirely gear or review related shows that there’s some very insightful and intelligent discussion starting off the back of the original article, almost always covering viewpoints or interpretations that I hadn’t initially considered – and whilst I do try to be as comprehensive as possible when writing, it’s of course impossible to be exhaustive. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn something from these discussions, and I think one of there reasons we enjoy the quality and size of community we do here is because such discussions are both self-curating and self-encouraging. I have been told repeatedly that as far as photography goes, this community is pretty unique on the internet for both erudition, engagement and civility. The next question is of course: how do we grow this?
The price of escape?
I’ve previously written about this topic about a year and a bit ago – however, as with everything, we get itchy fingers and hardware evolves. (It’s also one of the few remaining hobbies I have outside photography.) I made what could be seen as a rather reductionist change (single output, single source) from the spread I was juggling before. Personal audio is one of those things that I think people either land up using quite heavily by virtue of personal needs (e.g. long public transport commutes, time on airplanes etc.) or never really venture into – the situation for use has to be right. It also seems to be one of those things that more photographers than not have some level of interest in; I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s the gadget factor. There’s a whole discussion around sufficiency and enjoyment and practicality that almost mirrors that of photography; the critical difference for personal audio is that user skill has no influence over the output result, unlike photography. Personal audio listening is an entirely consumptive pursuit, not a creative one. But of late, I can’t help wondering if there are some things we can take away as photographers, too.
In the last few days since Kevin Raber at LL published his editorial, I’ve received at least 100 emails asking ‘is it true?’ and ‘is this the end?’ Hopefully by now the internet hysteria has died down and most of us can take a collective deep breath and look at the situation with a bit more objectivity, it’ll become clear that the sky isn’t falling. Indeed, it’s quite likely to be the opposite. However, knowing how quick people are to accuse, react and generally come to (often wildly incorrect) conclusions without complete information, I have to state my position clearly upfront:
- Yes, I am a Hasselblad ambassador but am not involved at all in the operations, finances or strategic decisions of the company. I use the cameras, answer questions, and that’s really about it.
- This post was neither solicited nor compensated for by the company or any other party, and solely represents my own opinions.
- Whilst I am only a photographer now, I did work in M&A, private equity and at senior operational positions for the better part of 10 years beforehand. So I do know something about the issues at hand.
- I am of ethnic Chinese descent (why this is important will become clear later on).
- We’ll look at the situation with as much commercial objectivity as possible.
With that, let’s get on with the analysis.
I said at the start of 2016 that the overall market for photographic services (commissioned work, art, education) was getting lumpier and smaller: I don’t think that’s changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse. I suspect this is an underlying societal change more than anything: people are simply getting bored. So where does that leave us in 2017?
A combination of arts and senses in the appreciation: the feeling of weight; the design, composition and balance of visual elements; the subtle sound of the movement and even the sensation of temperature when you pick it up. Yet I doubt few will home in on any single one of these elements – but if you did, and only looked at the design for typography or prose, for instance, you might find quite a lot lacking…
I have a little hypothesis which I think many of you will appreciate. It’s somewhat off topic, so those of you expecting a how-to or review may want to skip today’s post. The creative person is not limited to one field: often, they have interests in other subject matter, and will try to apply themselves in a similar fashion. Musicians who enjoy photography or painting; chefs who sing; singers who cook. And often one tends to be not only good at the other, but there’s also a translation of style of sorts between the different disciplines, too. I can’t cook, or play music, but I do appreciate those two skills and can comment to some degree, in the same way that I can comment on design work which I do in addition to photography. And like my photography, people have noted my design work tends to be balanced, precise, and structured, but not necessarily simple…
I’ve recently been accused by several people of ‘not being objective’ and ‘losing credibility’ since representing a brand, and I’d like to address those critics today. Firstly, I don’t get paid for doing so. I enjoy a somewhat higher level of support and some loan equipment, but I still have to buy a good proportion of my own hardware. Secondly, the whole of photography is subjective in itself – equipment is only fit for purpose or not, there is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ since no two people shoot the same way or same subjects. Sure, we can do quantitative measurement – but as most people (correctly) point out, there’s more to it than numbers. Thirdly, if the only thing you associate me with is equipment reviews, then I breathe a sigh of relief: you might be missing out on 90% of my site, but the gear-related questions and emails I don’t have to answer leave me time to focus on making pictures and the philosophy of photography. Lastly, the philosophy of photography and image-making and human psychological response has nothing whatsoever to do with hardware beyond its necessity as a tool for achieving a certain expression – you cannot have a compressed perspective with a wide angle, but two 500mm lenses are going to give you the same perspective regardless of pedigree.