Stephen Mayes of VII Photo Agency considers himself a dreamer, and an optimist (or as he said, an optimist is really a pessimist who just doesn't have all the facts). I think he is a forward thinker who has a point of view I fully agree with.
Today is changing our relationship with information due in part to the Internet. But photography itself is changing. Because of the technical shift from film to pixel we have shifted from the "fixed" to the fluidity of the image. Pixels are malleable and fundamentally fluid. There is no reality there, it's just your choices. Digital lives online, so the context changes all the time--at no point is it static. And so we have to redefine ourselves and out practices.
"This is a moment of invention rather than dismay," says Mayes. "We have to rethink what we do and how we do it. There is still value in the image, we just haven't figured out how to monetize it."
Mayes spoke about how we are part of a streaming culture now which is different from what what he calls the "unit concept" (essentially the unit is an image printed). But hanging on to old constructs like getting a magazine assignment, or getting into advertising is holding photographers back. Now is not the time to guard your property (your images), but to share.
Now that might seem like heresy to many photographers, but Mayes talks about how VII has partnered with Doctors Without Borders and LG to shoot and promote the idea of malnutrition. By partnering and sharing strengths, the possibilities of what their photographers could do was enhanced. By building on the idea of integrity, which VII photographers and the agency can claim as their brand, there was value for both of those others to partner and create something new.
Mayes spoke about something I believe fervently, that large organizations or companies (in this case examples like Time magazine, The New York Times, etc.) are actually obstacles in that they shape the work done for them, and thus the photographer has to conform. He believes it is better to be small than big because you are more fluid than big media is. You can easily create new ways of promoting your work and ideas and can be more mobile than they can.
Because there is an infinity of distribution opportunities, the currency is ideas and imagination.
The old thinking of how to drive viewers to your website is slow and expensive. By being a publisher (which is what VII is, and what individual photographers are) rather than a supplier (working in the old model of photography) you can attract partners in a much different way. Trying to replace one monolith--advertising based photography--with another monolith won't happen. He advises photographers to think expansively and take risks. "The bigger risk is standing still, locking yourself into the old system," Mayes said.
I couldn't agree more.