3.14.2011

Coercing people to work for free and then calling it "crowdsourcing" doesn't make it moral or ethical or profitable.

I don't have a photo to go with this one but I do have a king sized rant.  Recently on Twitter a local photographer, who loves the idea of being an social networking guru, posted a link that pumps 99 Designs, a company that "crowdsources" design, logos and a lot of different graphic design work.  I think it's wrong to advocate "crowdsourcing" because it damages the fee base by which most designers earn a decent living.  It's a price grab that really only benefits  99 Designs.  The designers lose out on their normal income and security while the clients lose out on well thought out, custom designs from the real pros (who wouldn't touch this crap with a thousand foot pool).

So, what is this flavor of "crowdsourcing"?  The company mentioned invites you to throw a "design contest" (which they host and profit from)  and suggests that hundreds or thousands of designers around the world will slave away working on a design just for you.  Hey, logos start at $249!!!!  It's disingenuous to call this a contest.  It's speculative work.  It's a tiny carrot.  On a hundred sticks.

So thousands and thousands of man hours (and women hours) get thrown into creating a logo.  And you get to be the final arbiter.  And the capper is, if you don't like any of the hundreds of designs you get your money back!!!  How exciting.  The problem with all this is two fold:  First, it pushes people to work for free in a slow economy with the hope that something will pan out. And second, since the "design contest" initiator sets the price, even if you win it will be for a price that isn't enough to sustain a decent standard of living.  That means fewer dollars into the local school taxes, the city taxes and the state taxes.  More people marginalized.

But it also sends a message to every potential client who explores the market that there is some sort of fixed price for design and art.  That the creative process has become a commodity.  Sound familiar?

Oh yeah, stock photography!  Which led to "dollar stock" which led to the decline of the an industry.  Now the only people making money in stock photography are the stock photo companies themselves.  And even they are now victims of their every shrinking price/value bullshit.  They initiated a race to the bottom and now seem surprised that most of the value has been sucked from their companies.

So,  it takes a good, committed designer many hours to create a truly creative and valuable logo that provides ongoing value for a client.  Technology doesn't make the process of creative design any quicker than it was ten years ago and there's certainly no way an artist who licenses intellectual property can industrialize their process and earn additional revenues by increasing throughput.  There are no efficiencies of scale in real custom art.  All this new process is able to do is to deteriorate the perceived value of art in order to debase the pricing.  And the value of debased pricing works in only one direction.

This is a win/lose proposition.  It hurts even more when people who are ostensibly related to the art process side with the aggregators to push an idea that harms an entire industry.

Some will say that this process separates the wheat from the chaff but what it really does is separate highly trained, insightful and hard working people from their income stream.  It's a cold, callous and calculating business model that Goldman Sachs would love.  As long as they are on the other side of the equation from the artists.

The sad thing about self appointed experts with big microphones pointed back at the web is that they have an audience they didn't earn and their sole intention is to monetize their bully pulpit.  Sad days for real artists.  Thankfully, lots of clients can see thru this kind of horse shit and still hire professionals to design, create and help them market successfully.

I guess in a pure market driven economy the thought is that naked cannibalism is good and ordained by some god somewhere. At least some of the population will get fed.... When did the actual value of art exit the market?  When did it get replaced by a bunch of Ayn Rand clones bent on destroying all markets by reducing them to the equivalent of pork bellies?

This is not a question of being unable to compete on talent.  It is a moral question of who should benefit from true value.  There is an intrinsic value in all we do.   There used to be an understanding in marketplaces that you would sustain your providers and they would sustain you.  Now is it just every man or every business for themselves?

Thank goodness that this drivel on the web hasn't penetrated into the general public consciousness, yet.  Not all of us nor all of our clients have walked up to Jim Jone's table and drunk the Koolaide.  Not every author has given away their books to drive their corporate speaking engagements.  Not every photographer has walked away from their copyright to embrace a royalty free existence (and impoverishment).

If someone offered you a contest instead of a job would you take it?  If you were a freelance electrical engineer and someone came to you and said,  "Design the next great cellphone for us on spec (with 1,000 other engineers)   and if we decide to build the one you design we will pay you a wildly reduced fee?"  If you were a chef and someone came into your restaurant and said, "Make us your best entree.  We'll sample yours and those of all your competitors and then we'll pay the check at the restaurant whose food we liked best.    What a great opportunity for you to connect with diners!"  I hope you would have the gumption to throw them out of your restaurant or tell them to stick their cellphone contest someplace where only trained proctologists could recover it.  Because what they are basically saying is,  "Let me exploit you."  And we're supposed to pretend this is the new economy.....?

3.13.2011

I find the most interesting people just walking thru life.

Amulya, sitting in my studio for a portrait.

It's fun to find new people willing to spend the time to come into the studio and sit for a portrait.  Just for fun.  Every semester I get invited to come to one of Dennis Darling's classes at the University of Texas college of Journalism to do a slide show and talk to students about the profession of being a "High Value Content" provider  .  I generally talk about what I like to shoot and why.  I always talk about how to "monetize" my passion, as well.  According to Dennis I am usually entertaining and never give the same speech twice.  The students seem to like the talks.  But sometimes Dennis and I don't communicate (it's probably me, I should listen better.....) and this was one of those times.  You see, I'd been doing little, intimate talks about the business of photography for Dennis' and Michael O'Brien's  graduate students.  Usually no more than ten or twelve people in a class.  We could grab a topic and throttle it and then move off to another topic that the students wanted to know about.

When I left my office I grabbed some self promotion pieces to show and the incredible book, Commercial Photography Handbook, (which is like a blue print for constructing a financially successful career in photography.......) and I put my favorite HD infested DSLR (Canon 60D) in my bag and I started free associating a speech-let about the "exciting" convergence of still photography and video.  But it was not to be.  Instead I was escorted into a big theater style lecture hall and I smiled and said "Hi!" to well over 100 students.  Now I know how a comedy club performer must feel when they walk into an unexpected audience.  You know, like Eddie Murphy walking in to entertain a church full of southern Baptist ladies...

Picassa online albums to the rescue.  I found a gallery I've uploaded in order to put photographs in my blog and there were over 900 fairly fun photographs, each with a funny story attached.  I was saved by the ubiquity of the web.

But at the end of the talk, after most people filed out of the room (still laughing?) I stood in front of a small group of people who wanted to ask me some questions.  Most of the questions were about how to get started.  Or how to make money.  Or how to get started making money.  But one young man (on a campus of nearly 50,000 students and a female/male ratio of 58/42%) actually asked me how I found people to photograph.  Really?  Ummm.  Look left or right?

So I turned to the cute and exotic young woman standing in the middle of the crowd and I said,  "You have a wonderful look.  Would you consider coming to my studio so I can do your portrait?"  She quasi blushed and then said, "Of course."  (Later she called to see if she could bring a friend along....which is always fine.  Especially if they are attractive as well.)  I turned back to the young man who asked me the question and he seem mesmerized that things could be so easy.  But there it is.  Life is as easy as you make it.  Finding people to photograph is a practice of playing the odds.  Ask enough people and you'll have enough models/subjects.

Today I finally made a web gallery for Amulya.  It's important to remember and keep your promises.  

The lighting was one giant Octabank with a Elinchrom flash head plugged into the lower output plug of a Ranger RX AS pack.  I used the Octabank as close as I could get it.  It's the Fotodiox bank  that's all of $65 I talked about in a blog about a month ago.  An amazingly great, cheap modifier.  I love the light.  It's groovy.  Used the Zeiss 85mm and an older Canon 1dmk2n.   Fun stuff.



3.11.2011

Industrial art meets the San Antonio streets. Film, of course.....


I'm working on an ad project where I need to drop an Italian street scene into the background of a photograph.  The client is wonderful and I wanted to make sure they had a range of options to choose from.  I've been to Italy a number of times on jobs and shooting for myself so I opened up the filing cabinet and started to go thru the thousands and thousands of slides and medium format transparencies I have accumulated over the years.

My eyes wandered over to a different part of the filing cabinet to a folder entitled, "Old Street Scenes."  I fumbled around in it and found this photograph.  That car, if I'm not mistaken, is an American Motors Corporation Gremlin.  The predecessor of the AMC Pacer, and other fine cars.

It was taken on the streets of San Antonio.  When I look at it I realize that it must have been taken about thirty years ago.  It was my pleasure to take dodge work, drive down to San Antonio in my old Volkswagen Beetle, and walk around in the streets taking photographs.  In those days the streets were teeming with air force recruits who would come to one of the three or four air force bases in the area for basic training.  Downtown was less savory then.  Tourism wasn't as vital.  Some streets were wall to wall tattoo parlors broken up by seedy bars and military surplus shops.  That made shooting in the streets a lot more fun.

I'm going to be this was taken with a Canon TX SLR camera and a 50mm lens.  Mostly because that's pretty much all I had back then.  Fun to see history.