There is a funny thing about photography. It is at the same time emotional and professional. It’s art, politics, opinions, point of view, more opinions, as well as as dollar and sense. Ever since the rise of the corporations, a lot has been done to strip photography of its “feelings” and transform it into a commodity. The Image Bank was probably one of the first to try and transform this into an emotionless business, creating matrices and pie charts that would much better extricate the core value of an image and transform it into a wealthy equation. It is a revenue driven proposition.

It took a real beating when Tony Stone managed to successfully balance its ideas and re injecting talent into it. That “je ne sais quoi” that makes an image absolutely perfect.

In Europe, there is a continuous trend that barely exist in the United States. Photographers group themselves in “collectif” and shoot what they want. A “collectif” is really just a group of photographers trying and, sometimes, succeeding, in obtaining financial freedom by pooling resources together. Yes, I know, very communist thinking. Some have been very successful at it, like French collectif , L’oeil Public. Another good example, is of course, VII. Their approach is quite the opposite of the corporate world, as they try to figure out how to extract values in images, that might or might not bring some much needed revenue.

This is not another post about the Poet and the Businessman. In photography, you cannot ignore revenues. It is about the many roads that lead there. The US has a culture of “one image tells a story”, of illustration photography, that reinforces a text. In Europe, it is more about the images tells a story. The images are predominant, barely escorted by captions. In advertising, the images dwarfs the text in the majority of case. In editorial, they usually start with a double page opener, a stunning yet titillating image that leaves room for a bold title text on the top right or left, while capturing the readers attention. It is followed by full verticals, small close ups, half page horizontals, so that the readers have a 3D emotional vision of the story. European readers are trained into reading images that way and expect nothing less from their magazines.

The US culture, however, somewhere between LIFE magazine (remember the country doctor by Eugene Smith ?) and Newsweek magazine, have completely dropped that. Question of space, thus money ? Was the fall of LIFE and LOOK magazine a sign that people did not want to see such features ? Or was it a new generation of photo editors, coming from a newspaper background, badly versed in photo language, and relying solely on the one photo stores that are the wire services.

Regardless, the result is here and quite boring. Wire services have extremely talented photographers but for the most part, completely unable to tell a photo story. They are like commercial stock photographers covering news. Given a concept, they will get one very powerful image.

That was then, this is now: a new generation of image hungry photo editors are on the rise. They have web pages to fill with images. They can even add comments, music, video to still photography. Even ad banners now are filled with sound and moving “stuff”. And they can, and will, tell a story with images.

Therefore the photo industry will continue to strive thanks to those collectif who, however poor they might be, continue to charm us with incredible imagination and a wealth of fresh, unbiased images. The future of photography lies in two things. A new, intelligent breed of photo editors that can harness the wealth of possibilities the online publishing world can offer, and the continuous talent in the photo world that reinvents itself because it wants too, and it can.

Here is a list of interesting collectifs I recommend you take a look at ( I am open to more suggestions):

Tango Photo
Obturateur Central
l’Oeil Public

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2 Thoughts on “In between light and shadow

  1. Pino Granata on February 7, 2007 at 11:33 am said:

    The fall of Life and Look , it wasn’t really a fall. If I remember well Life as weekly magazine closed when it was still selling more than 5 million copies a week and Look which was a biweekly more or less was selling the same quantities of copies. What happened was that these magazines closed because they were selling too much and they couldn’t raise the price for the advertising page which considering the cost for paper and print had to be adjusted.Another reason it was that the price of mailing went up suddenly forcing the closure of yhe magazines. I think also we have to remember The Saturday Evening Post which had the same destiny.

  2. Pino Granata on February 7, 2007 at 11:47 am said:

    Again I have to disagree with you about The Image Bank. I think you are too young too remember. Stan Kenney with TIB made a great job. Before TIB there were only FPG and Leo Aarons selling stock photography. The quality of their picture wasn’t a big deal but there was not competion for them. Stan started at FPG and in a very short time he realized how to make the business more profitable.He changed the business completely. I met Stan when he was working at FPG and I see him again when he came to Milan to introduce his new company. I was really very much impressed with the quality of the photography he was selling. All the best photographers were with TIB. Pete Turner, Art Kane, Gabe Palmer etc. TIB was very successful since the beginning just for the great quality of its pictures.

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