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Last week Joerg linked to Sometimes the Photographer’s Name Simply Doesn’t Matter with the words “Great post”.

Today, I return the sentiment. Why We Must See. Great post.

Great, partly, because it is straightforward, “I know quoting Susan Sontag is the thing to do when writing these kinds of articles, but I’ll try without. I don’t think I’m smarter than her (that’s very unlikely), but I want to see where I will be getting without using intellectual crutches.”

I have kept well away from the cyclical discussions about pay-walls, introductory charges, donation buttons, ad revenues etc.

I simply don’t have the experience of publishing industries necessary to predict the futures of words and images across all media.

It is challenging to say something succinct in a cacophony of well-informed professional and amateur content-providers.

Expect this to be my only comment, here on Prison Photography, about new media and payment for content.


Mark Tucker has an excellent post summarising the contradictions of our thinking as regard our willingness to pay for rented, mailed and theatre movies; newspapers and magazines; blogs, websites and email; and cable TV. He doesn’t mention cell phones …

Here’s what he says about blogs:

Blogs/Websites: What if old Rob Haggart or Joerg started charging fifty cents a month to read his excellent blog? Would I pay that? I don’t know — fifty cents is a lot of money! But I know, even a measly fifty cent charge, and my brain would resist it in some small way. Because the internet is free. Imagine how much time he puts into it; imagine how much time the NYTimes puts into their website. We’ll gladly pay a dollar for The Times at a coffeeshop, read two articles, and then throw it away, but no way in hell are those greedy bastards gonna charge me three dollars a month to read it nonstop, 24/7, at the comfort of my own desk. (Why does the brain work this way?)


I recently questioned Jonathan Worth for encouraging people to produce content for free, but only because I think many who were to do so would lose out. Jonathan and I could agree that providing content for free doesn’t always mean not getting paid as it leads to alternative opportunities and intangible benefits.

And yet, all I could worry about were those creators who were not diverse enough to plumb time and effort into an activity that didn’t return immediate funds. I suggested that it was possibly the older, less flexible creators (say those with mortgages) that will suffer most if they embrace the new culture of speculation in the creative market

Jonathan did make the clear distinction between blogging for free and creating (photographing) for free. At least for now the avenues of payment remain distinctly different.


Several friends have suggested I start making use of Google Ad-sense to at least get some money back on Prison Photography but my rapid answer that I never anticipated making money and truly don’t want to, garners only chortles and suspicion.

Maybe I am just a martyr. I feel while photographers should demand standards and rights to secure the best deal, I just don’t think bloggers have the gravitas to expect any monetary return on their efforts. The infrastructure doesn’t exist yet.

If you want to clutter your site with commercials, do it.
If you want to experiment with micro-donation, do it.
If you want to take the time to write about things you care about, do it.
If you want people to read and hear you, make it good.

Anything goes, still. The rules are unwritten.

But, don’t be so arrogant to presume that there is a magical solution to financial sustainability because your blogging activity is well-received.

Most often bloggers are relying on other income or other family members to sustain their activity. Recently, Tom White admitted his wife offers his career security. (You should read Joerg’s response and Tom’s counter response in which he also distinguishes between blogging and photography).

I have always been a firm believer that good quality abides. In the blogging industry (I called it an industry?) we are all newbies. We have come from nothing, we should probably be expected to go back to nothing. But, there is a chance that the good quality stuff will stick around. And, if the creators of the good stuff stick around also, then sustainable means may come to full order.

I’ll wait for any number of alternatives before I rely on the cents from Google Ad-sense.

Quite frankly, the web will be a better place when the mediocre disappears. Blogging is only one part of a digital revolution, or it might just be evolution, but I think the crap will be weeded out.

James Worrell‘s optimism is something I can agree with. Quoting Seth Godin, Worrell iterates that, “Every revolution destroys the average middle first and most savagely.”

What will be left, just might be worth paying for?




There have been two prevailing attitudes toward the proposed conference/symposium dealing with issues of race and diversity in photography:

a) That it is absolutely necessary & b) It is a terrifying prospect.

The first point speaks for itself, and the second point becomes clear when one considers the kerfuffles, misunderstanding and (dare I say it) vitriol that has accompanied much online discussion.

I have been in contact with some, but by no means all, people who could contribute to an extended dialogue. These include Amy Stein, Ben Chesterton, Colin Pantall, Daniel Cuthbert, Daryl Lang, Jean-Sebastien Boncy, Joerg Colberg, John Edwin Mason, Mark Page, Matt Lutton, Michael Shaw, M. Scott Brauer, Nathalie Belayche, Qiana Mestrich and Stan Banos. They have been very generous in response.

Originally, I suggested mixing things up by means of an in-person meet. This was intended to directly address the inadequacies of online discussion. However, when Qiana Mestrich of Dodge & Burn alerted us to SPE‘s conference in March, 2010: “Facing Diversity: Leveling the Playing Field in the Photographic Arts” it was clear that we may just end up replicating (on a smaller scale) SPE’s efforts.

The early feeling was that to piggyback on the back of an existing photography festival could leverage most involvement and impact. Boncy has had good feedback from Houston Fotofest and Lang believes that PDN would want to collaborate and lend a hand for an event at New York Photo Festival. These are very, very encouraging early signs.

In terms of organisation, these prospects are a far cry from the normal activities bloggers. Bearing in mind that this idea was conceived to challenge the tried and tired modes of photography blog discourse, it is difficult to conceive of good reasons to forsake our collective blogging strengths (wide-reaching audiences, maximum engagement, a breadth of coverage and investigation and first rate methods).

We haven’t abandoned a desire for a face-to-face meet and indeed we’ll continue to lobby established photography festivals and industry expos for the inclusion of extended discussions about race and diversity.

But, we are aware of our strengths. Simply put; a focused and concerted online effort will impact and forward dialogue more than a bunch of bloggers gathering in a single room could.

Early plans

This will be an Online Symposium. I would like see a concerted effort among photobloggers: I offer an open invitation to all those who wish to get involved.

The online symposium will look something like this:

– Occurring mid/late spring 2010
– A one week long, coordinated series of photo-features, interviews, op-eds, inquiries and articles.
– All written works will aim to compliment and build upon one another, not repeat or needlessly criticise.
– All written works will be subject to peer-review (a grand term for “read by another blogger”) prior to publication.
– It will incorporate the widest mix of experiences in the industry as possible. Discussion may vary from academic speculations on representations to the everyday experience of the working photographer.


– To communicate the wide experiences, attitudes, facts and myths in photography as they relate to race and diversity.
– To achieve respect and understanding among photographers, contributors and readers.
– To test the reach and strength of blog-networks as they relate to photography.
– To be progressive instead of reactive in our tone and objectives.
– To leave a legacy and record of this community action that will be of use and reference for continued learning.

What Should You D0?

– Please think seriously about your experience and knowledge and if you’d like to share that as part of this community project.
– Spread the word. If you don’t wish to get involved, perhaps you know someone who would have a valuable contribution?
– Share your ideas, initially through comments below, or directly with me [prisonphotography at gmail point com] and later on a devoted website.

Thanks! Please don’t hesitate to be in touch/throw ideas about. The projects’ outcomes depend on the quality and commitment of your input.



An argument to say that a cheap photo print economy obscures the good and the bad.

This week’s discussion between Jörg Colberg at Conscientious and Paddy Johnson at ArtFagCity about the culture of “Cheap” relates directly to last weeks concerns (and rightful criticisms) about Chris Anderson’s futurescape ecology of the “Free”.

Anderson took the nature of our ever-connected world and (disposable) media, extrapolated it, stretched it some, and applied it to future practices of production, “Every industry that goes digital eventually becomes free”. This is quite an obnoxious notion as human creativity is not broadband, but let’s move on.

I trust none of us reading here would dispute the utility of product created on ones own time and dime to be dangled in front of an audience. Self-promotion will always be with us. But ‘Free’ production as practice is short-term tactic not long term strategy. ‘Free’ is a philosophy rooted in a culture of the intern and the society of high personal-risk. As one photographer noted, “My free assignments have only ever led to more free assignments.” [I’d be happy to find that source again, help? APE maybe?]

Lower priced prints present as many dangers as ‘free’ for the artist, particularly the emerging photographer. There is a legitimate worry that creators will suffer an infrastructure unable to support photography as a profession.

Jörg is worried about several things (correct me if I’m wrong, Jörg):
a) our collective acceptance of cheap prints
b) the reality of “Cheap”, now, that few of us have digested
c) the limited discussion of cheap and its obstruction to other (more pressing) discourse

I contend that some of the angles to tackle this discussion are not only undigested but unsaid.

I say that there’s a lot of bad photography masquerading as fine art today – and that our acceptance of low price economics for photography lays down the perfect conditions for bad art to skulk in and nest among finer company.

Are some echelons of the fine art photo industry polishing turds?

To leave photographers or organizations dealing in knockdown pricing unnamed is diplomatic but we shouldn’t assume it is necessary. I think we can still acknowledge these parties and still ask, as Jörg did, “Is this [low pricing] good for the artist?”

Paddy Johnson named 20×200. Personally, I think 20×200’s curatorial eye is disciplined and the work put into establishing the model for “art for everyone” is nothing short of miraculous. But what follows 20×200?

What pricing terrain is developing? Jörg asks, “What is good for the artist?” Firstly, awareness and readiness. The artist must be privy to the lay of the land to navigate it, right?

Photography, unenviably, dominates the turf of mass reproduction.

Whether we like it or not “art photography” takes many forms, many of which can be of poor quality, lazy and/or lacking purpose or message. So whilst, we can talk about Gurskys and Richters there are a billion framed and unframed prints at every price level between they and the box of photos at the local thrift store.

It is true low prices can call into question an artist’s status and consequently hinder his or her progression. What hasn’t been said is that sometimes low prices are an accurate reflection of the quality of work – or it’s worth as a material (reproducible/reproduced) object.

I think of shit digital photography as the cultural replacement for the wall coverage of the three ceramic ducks & painting of dogs playing cards. Everyday, photographic prints are more available than the day before.

When we say photography is democratic, we mean it is common.

In purely descriptive terms, photography as rare commodity is oxymoronic. In art terms, photography as rare commodity is much, much more than the mere product – it is a support network, a dance of semantics, limited edition runs, a strong backbone of theory packaged for the prevailing culture; it is an earned CV, patronage, mindshare and a lot of hard work.

Depressingly, few of these things are solely in the control of the photographer … and this is why I think Jörg began the discussion … because the price is should be in the control of the photographer.

Cheap prints should not be too much of a concern; all photographers have the prerogative to start at any price stratum. The treacherous route to career-supporting prices is more of a concern. Success on this route is, unfortunately, not solely based on the quality of work but also on the dance of self-promotion around it.

Photographers need to be objective to the point of outer body experience. More than being able to hear their photography is not working (selling), they need to be able to see it and be able to tell themselves.

This is coming from a belief that the world owes an artist naught. I personally believe a self-respecting artist/photographer should be ultimately responsible for their work and the issues (prices) surrounding (on) it.

Work that is priced low because it deserves to be, will remain so and the artist will need to find a new career. Work that is priced low because it’s the first time on the shelf – but is good – will not stay low priced for long.

In the same way I believe photographers should be responsible for their work, so too should buyers be for their purchases. I can’t imagine that $20 prints have affected the sales of Winnogrands at auction. I do suppose $20 prints have created a bottom tier market for photographers and buyers to thrash it out in.

When we say we are scared of low prices, are we in fact saying we are scared of a drop (perceived/real) in standards?

It is true that we should all live with good art, but it is our discernment that decides what is good or not. If enough buyers support an artist through purchases and both parties are happy then so be it. As Ian Aleksander Adams put it, The real question about cost should only be ‘Is it enough to support the artist?'”

Jörg openly admittedly to leaving something out of his first post, only to gratefully reconcile his contentions after Paddy Johnson’s post;

“I’m very glad that Johnson spelled out what I (on purpose) omitted from my post: “we tend to treat the cheaper objects we own with greater disregard”. There it is. If your photography is cheaper than those bad photos you can buy in Union Square or than those terrible photo posters they sell at IKEA – is that really a desirable goal for emerging fine-art photographers?”

We all know what we like, and we all know what we are willing to pay in time, words, cheer or cashmoney. The industry doesn’t impose itself entirely – it is a two way street and we create the conditions of the industry too.

Perhaps we should stop looking at price tags, and more the number of prints churned out? Have we simply filled the gap between rarefied fine art and ‘Free’ with sheer ‘Cheap’ quantity?

Quality, not quantity, abides.

Blake Andrews, as if on cue, offers this laudable example,

“I think this is a pretty exciting project which circumvents one of the major conundrums facing both music and photography. If anything digital is easily replicated, how does gain compensation for creating unique works? A limited edition LP with hand-printed photo is certainly one way to do it. There will never be more than 300, no two are quite the same, and they cannot be copied. Problem solved.”

Of course another issue here is the conflagration of art/documentary/editorial/press/enthusiast photography. We’d all make different arguments for the survival of certain proclivities within the photographic medium.

What I find irritating is the continuing bleating from photojournalists about the death of old (newsprint) media* when simultaneously they have dozens other new media avenues to explore and exploit.

We can’t have it both ways. Everything is quicker: production, promotion, sales and prices. In this breakneck atmosphere it makes perfect sense that photographers would (gamble) sell their prints at cheap prices – in order to rally support for their work long term.

Is it heresy to think of cheap prints as supplemental material to ones main art? This seems to be the way the discussion may be headed. Whether a print is framed or in a book is somewhat irrelevant if both (one presumes) are priced to sell – and hence – promote.

If we choose to take the other tack, bemoan any discussion on price and talk only of art as experiential then we return to issue of monetary privilege anyway. Not all art can be met/seen first hand. Leah Sandals challenges Paddy Johnson’s argument and asks us to think beyond the rarefied print hanging in a gallery;

Part of the delight of print (or web, or any other secondary source) is the way it democratizes information access for those of us who (a) cannot afford travel the globe to hear oral and experiential histories (or hey, even just plain ol’ see shows) firsthand and (b) can only afford to go to the library rather than the museum.

The digital manufacture of photographic stuff is embedded within a digital culture of 1s and 0s that has generally benefited art consumers. It should benefit art producers if they’re honest about the modes of photographic production, hold their work accountable and identify & outlast the turds.


*Assumptions that the loss of large papers will mean the loss of investigative (photo)journalism may be valid but by no means certain. I fear for the corporatization of media, but all other evidence suggests new media provides non-authoritarian comment. That said, we should worry about who controls the networks for new media and how malevolent they may become. But given that both old and new media are driven by advertisement revenue aren’t concerns of major media polluted by commercial interest likely to remain in status quo?


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