Look to art and you'll look at fun. Art and love is what makes the rest of this bearable.

concert pianist, Anton Nel.

I wrote a recent blog that was an observation of an event wherein the photography was partially crowdsourced by employees. I've re-read the article to see if I can detect a judgmental tone in my writing but I don't think it exists. Several commenters remarked that I seemed to be getting "depressed again" (sorry, never been clinically depressed) or inferred that I was upset or felt that the situation was unfair. Let's set the record straight---I think anyone who worked as a corporate photographer in the late 1990's and early 21st century is less than thrilled that the market has changed a great deal. Some of the value we presented for documentation work revolved around our mastery of the tools and our mastery of what was (with film) more difficult by a few orders of magnitude and has been rendered somewhat irrelevant by digital imaging and instant review. But if you had any brains at all you've seen this coming in a progressive and then accelerating way. While I wish that our golden age had lasted long after the time at which I want to retire I think I'm rational enough to take it for what it is: Inevitable change. 

There are parts of photography that are pretty straight ahead, pretty binary. Those parts will be like the service provided by typesetters at the beginning of the 1980's; critical at the time, ubiquitous now. And so imbued with less value to clients.  I'm not bitter or depressed. I've changed my targets and changed the kind of work I pursue. So far it's working and I'm happy. But to not write about it at honestly right now is a disservice to the people who are entering the field now. Much of what passes for good information on the web is based on paradigms that are five, ten or even twenty years old and their usefulness is suspect or absent. If I'm in the middle of a job with contemporary enterprise and I observe stuff it seems churlish or dishonest not to report it.

To recap: Things change. Some parts of being a professional photographer have changed and become less profitable or accessible. I've moved on. I am neither depressed nor bitter. 

Fun: what you can do with one big light, a lot of power and a lot of throw distance.

Starting on January 23rd, my friend, Anton Nel will perform in a play called, 33 Variations, at Zachary Scott Theatre. The narrative is based on Beethoven's commission to do a variation on an existing melody for a patron.  The whole scope of the commssioned music is called the  Diabelli Variations and from the few scenes I've seen the play will be a remarkable work. Several months ago we did a preliminary assignment to create images promoting the production. We worked in Zach's rehearsal stage against a large, white muslin background. My main light for the image above was an Elinchrom flash bounced into in a huge umbrella and back through a diffusion panel. The light we set about 26 feet from the subjects which accounts for the slower light fall off from the right to the left of the frame and also for the more contrasty shadows. Taken with a Sony a77.

Most usages of the image will have the background dropped out and a solid color dropped in. The white muslin gave us an easy line of separation and, of course, we all sing the praises of refine edge in PhotoShop...

Mad Beat Hip and Gone. A play Steven Dietz.

During the same shoot we photographed this actor (above) for the upcoming hipster-inspired play by America's most prolific and produced contemporary playwright, Steven Dietz. His play, Mad Beat Hip and Gone follows the guys who were in the car right behind Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady back in the early 1950's (On the Road reference).  I shot with the same basic lighting and added a little white, passive fill to the side of the subject opposite the main light.

Jill. From Xanadu. Stage lighting.

All in all it's been a fun year to be a photographer. My books sold well, my investments all did well, and I was able to pretty much meet my longtime goal of working on assignments for 10% less time (year over year) while maintaining the same income. Kind of a fun juggling act. But everyone has to have a goal. Right?

The goal for 2013? Photograph more and more stuff that I like. But that's the goal every year.


Frank Grygier said...

Isn't having to tell everybody your not depressed a little depressing. I can tell your slowly going down hill fast.

Kirk Tuck said...

Yeah. Kinda. You only know I'm going downhill fast cause I'm meeting you for coffee in about 20 minutes and the coffee shop is all downhill from my place. You rogue.

Craig Yuill said...

I understood the message of that post to be "for this type of assignment this is what I recently saw, and based on watching how my type of work has changed over the decades, this is what I believe is going to happen...". I detected no judgment, bitterness, or depression in the post. In fact I appreciated the fact that you would share such views with prospective professional photographers.

In fact your post reminded me of a lesson I saw a teacher give to students over twenty years ago. Some of the students in that class were employed as bicycle couriers. He mentioned in the lesson that the then-new fax machines had the potential to make bicycle couriers obsolete. (This was several years before the Internet became widely used.) Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I see too many bicycle couriers in my city these days.

I think your observations are well worth heeding.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks for the feedback, Craig. That was exactly my intention. To pass along what I think is valuable information.

Paul Sternberg said...

Hi Kirk,

Although I'm developing my skills as a fine-art photographer - as in not a working professional - I fully understand the message you are trying to convey about digital change. The exclusivity of film is gone. Your explanation of the situation at Dell clarifies the change quite adroitly.

Unfortunately, many folks away from the arts have tremendous difficulty discerning what they like and what they need. That's where it is absolutely essential that artists take the time to understand a client or audience and nurture any curiosity they can find. This includes developing a degree of trust through effective explanations of the value of work done by someone with experience, skills, success and artistry - then following through. Relying on crowd-sourcing or stock photos might be relatively inexpensive, and just might fit the bill sometimes, but it might not work when a high level of quality and inspiration is expected for an effective and successful project or campaign. Hiring a pro usually means you don't have to compromise your goals as much, and you'll get as good as you spend.

Many couples don't expect a lot from their wedding photos or video, so cousin Rick is perfectly adequate. And naturally some can't afford a pro photographer. But there's so much disappointment apparently out there because a greater awareness from the media of what a wedding should creatively look like is leading to expectations that are not being met by photographers who lack experience and vision.

Artists along with everyone else have to adapt, hopefully without jeopardizing integrity too much. Again, I think success today more than ever requires a willingness to nurture any residual gene of creativity or perception they can find in potential or existing buyers and clients so they will GET what your work is about. Then they'll have a better understanding of the cost compared to the gazillion other options out there today.

thanks a bunch for your observations, Kirk. ......... Paul

theaterculture said...

There's always been a pretty bright line between people who think a photographer's job is mostly about working with cameras, and people who understand that a photographers job is mostly about working with subjects. You can usually tell the difference after looking at even a small sample of images.

The non-ubiquity and difficulty of analog photo technology meant that there was more potential for people laboring under the former illusion to make some money, and maybe even a decent living, working with cameras. Those parts of the market are vanishing - for non-critical things like event documentation or the daily images to feed social media static, most corporate and not-for-profit folks I know are now enlisting the graphic-design gal (or getting her to enlist her shutterbug spouse or friend) and paying a couple of gift cards or an extra PTO day. Photographers who think they have a "right" to that kind of work to pay the mortgage should get in a time machine and go back and join the speed-typists' union.

Those photographers who really know how to work with subjects may be finding the spread of digital tech hits their bottom line too, but Kirk is living proof there's still plenty for them to do. Ain't no technology that can give you the rapport with a sitter to capture a genuine, spontaneous portrait or the ability to think through a fast moving situation and capture it in a sequence of images that clearly and compellingly tell the story.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks, theaterculture. Made my day.