Can Photography exist outside of its current boundaries ? Is it possible for photographers to create and to sustain on a market that they create and manage directly.
Lets step back for a bit. Photography has always been accessed through gatekeepers, or otherwise called magazines. It has evolved through other forms of publications but the model has always been the same, whether it is a website or a magazine. Clients, viewers, have always been served photography through the passage of photo editors who censored and edited who, what and how images are seen. A little bit like radio and DJ for music and musicians. But the rules, they are changin’ aren’t they ?
Flickr, like Napster before, has opened up the distribution channels of photography. Like the original Napster, no one is making money with this, but mentalities are being changed drastically. Publications no longer absolutely in control of what images get to be seen by the public like record companies no longer control what music is being listened to. Of course, no photographer, today, has completely bypassed the traditional gatekeepers. There is no one that has the notoriety of an Annie Leibovitz and it does seem quite impossible to do these days without first being published in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s, Vanity Fair or other magazines.
But for how long ? Why would it not be possible for a photographer to achieve the notoriety of a Robert Frank, for example, without ever been published outside of its own website or/and Flickr. And thus generate not only a huge following but impressive revenue. After all, we all have been witness of the impressive impact of online viral marketing and social sites like Digg. It has made some images extremely popular already, so why not a photographer? Where there is a high demand, there is a market.
So what of the gatekeepers. Can photo editors and photo agencies alike, continue to control most of the commercial photo market ? Is there only salvation and hope only if one is part of a succesful sales platform like Getty or Alamy ? Does a photographers have to be a part of many to be seen and sold ? Does one still need the gatekeepers?
For now, yes. The photo industry, unlike music, is a self sustaining industry. Publishers buy from Agencies/established photographers. They have little or no will to go and purchase images in the wild. Although that is changing already. The question is will they ever buy or hire a photographer just because he consistently has a million hits a day although was never published anywhere? Doubtful, as that is not the training of the gatekeeper, oops sorry, the photo editor. Will a photo festival ever expose the work of someone that has never been published but yet has millions of fans online. Very doubtful.
There is no reason to believe that because the photo world has embrace digital technology before the music industry that it will not suffer from the same drastic changes. There is no reason to believe either, that because traditional publishing is dying that photography will disappear with it. Can photographers create and manage their own market ? It will not happen overnight but the answer is : Certainly.