After our first day at the Expo we went to Aperture for the Sony World Photography Awards/Artisans of Imagery exhibit, and I've never seen a gallery so full of people and so hot and sweaty. It was hard to see the actual photography, but I saw many friends (some long lost ones), and the catering was fabulous.
I got a chance to say hello to Brian Smith who's photographs of Vegas burlesque dancers lined one wall, and asked him about the project he's been doing with Sony, photographing celebrities in support of the arts.
He talked about how enjoyable it has been for him to get to know more about the stars he's been shooting, and has learned some fascinating things, including that actress Taraji P. Henson is the great grandcousin of Matthew Henson, one of the explorers who discovered the Geographic North Pole.
Next we walked over to the PDN bash and entered a strange, noisy, disorienting ballroom, complete with "get your photo taken with a drag queen." I thought maybe I was lost in a tourist spot on TImes Square. The band was so loud you could barely hear anything, but I saw friends, had some great (if loud) conversations, and for the hour or so I was there, had a good time. The guys of Dripbook were particularly proud of adding their logo to the balcony so everyone could see it, and I have to say it definitely stood out.
As I was leaving, I looked up and Monte Isom was projecting images on a building across the way. Instead of meeting him at a downtown bar I elected to go home and sleep.
Having to wake up way too early to get back to the Expo, I worried I'd be late for the first panel: "VII Presents The New Deal: How to Fund & Produce Reportage in the New Economic Environment." But no worries, and except for the fact that the room couldn't have been colder (we were all freezing!), it was the best, most positive words I've heard in a long time. Moderator Stephen Mayes of VII presented his photographers Ron Haviv and John Stanmeyer, and Doctors Without Borders NY director of communications, Jason Cone. All the participants talked with enthusiasm and optimism about the multiple new ways of getting work out there, and the exciting challenges of coming up with new ways to sustain photojournalism (or advocacy journalism).
Stephen spoke of partnerships with NGO's like Doctors Without Borders, about working with corporations (like Canon) and even some governments (the French) to send photographers to cover stories of importance around the world. Ron showed some of his multimedia work on the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Darfur, and told of how those projects had added new avenues of exposure to the work through traveling exhibits, projection of images on walls around the world, books, and the like.
John showed his work and spoke about photographing the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, and how it was almost, "beyond my ability to visually understand it." And in talking about projecting images on buildings and walls he said, "Everywhere can be a canvas to project upon. Everything doesn't have to be a dead tree."
Jason Cone spoke about how this also brings images back to the places where they were taken, as we saw slides of images projected on homes in Brazil, or pasted at the bottom of an empty swimming pool in Liberia. He sees this as a way to have a greater engagement with the populations being covered.
They all spoke about how they could now create content and not rely solely on mainstream media to disseminate it. And yet they acknowledged the fact that we are in a transition society right now and no one is sure how to make a steady living from this work. Yet the fact that things are falling apart and changing is also an opportunity to rewrite the rules as you see fit. It takes passion, drive, courage and the need to tell stories whether or not someone hires you to do it . The old ways will not return. But new ways are being forged through crowd-sourcing, partnerships, NGO's, grants, foundations--really, the sky's the limit. It puts more power into the hands of the photographer and makes the photographer a creator, not a supplier.
This leads me into the issue of branding, as in the seminar: "Starting Today: You're a Brand. Building Your Brand & Image.". What is the first phrase or word that comes to mind when people hear your name? Can you answer that? What does someone get from working with you? What makes you different?
These are the questions you need to answer to begin to create (or re-create) your brand. I mean your brand as in "the CEO of Me, Inc. " Your brand is your reputation, so you have to strive for authenticity so that what you see is what you get. You need to be a storyteller online. You need passion and be someone people can trust. You need to offer valuable content that distinguishes you from all the other photographers out there. And you must figure out how to do this in many different ways. Panelist Ken Carbone said it best: Be you, Be heard."
How many ways can you spin one thing into ten?
Today was all about how you have to take control of your own destiny with a clear idea of who you are and a distinct vision. While this is a time of extreme confusion and the dismantling of the models we've come to rely on, it is also a time of exciting possibilities. When you have more control over your own life and career you have to do more to sustain and grow it.
Unify, simplify, amplify. Are you up for the challenge?