While photographers want to pursue their passion, the market for photography is challenging and building a sustainable practice requires certain business skills.
Marc shows what the market looks like for different photographic practices, how to analyse and approach various players within the market, and how to enter the market successfully. Marc presents the basics of branding and marketing and shows how individual photographers can deploy these techniques to support their creative practice.
– The market
– Applying your brand
– Personal projects
David Campbell: So the format today will be the same, similar to last week mark will do a presentation for about 40 or so minutes, we’ll have Q&A, please put questions in the Q&A box as you go along, I’ll combine questions and moderate those. And we’ll have a discussion on that. So Marc, I’m happy to hand over to you for part two.
Marc Prust: Thank you very much, David. And welcome everyone. Also, on my behalf for this second part of the VII Insider basic business skills for freelance photographers. Indeed, this is part two, let me start my screen share. I think you see the proper screen right now and my presentation screen. Part two. This is the program for today the market, applying your brand, and personal projects. Last week, we discussed these three points. If this is the first video you see, you might want to go back to the previous video, which is also on the VII Insider website and get the introduction to photography as a visual language, why people pay for photography, and some introductions on business branding, and marketing. And indeed, that’s really the basis. Photography as a visual language, you’ve got something to communicate, you got something to say, and you use photography to say it. And in this session, I want to go into how you can get your message to your audience. It’s really about the market, and how the market allows you to actually build your business with different rules and with different players we have in the market and how to best approach those. And we’ll be talking about how to apply your brand that’s really part of that, that market approach marketing. And I want to add a few words about personal projects, which I think are extremely important to the business, especially if you are in a more documentary, part of photography. And in my opinion, they’ll actually only get more important as the business continues to develop. Let’s start with the market. The market is obviously where buyers and sellers meet. But it’s not only about these two players, right? It has a lot of types of players, and it has a very, and every market is kind of different. And it’s really important to understand how each type of player relates to each other, how they relate to you. You also have to realize that each market is actually unique, right? It’s some people say like, oh, the market for photography is really bad, or it’s an overcrowded, shrinking market. It’s purely demand driven. That may be the case, it did and I think in some cases that it’s actually true but each market is actually unique. And each and every one of you I mean we’ve already seen that you’re basically from all over the world. And obviously, the wedding photography market in India is completely different from the commercial photography market in Nigeria. They are completely different contexts with completely different players. The pricing systems are different. So it’s really, you can’t actually generalize. For each and every one of you, you will have to identify what your market looks like who are the players? What is the situation? And you have to identify where you fit in within that market. Well to help you along on those elements, here is a description of the different markets players. It’s a big slide, there’s a lot of text here. So I’m going to leave it for some time so you can actually have a proper look. Maybe even want to make a screenshot for future reference. Within a market you are as photographers you’re the suppliers of photographs, of stories. If you’re a wedding photographer of memories, you provide solutions to prop to problems that people in the market actually have. Other suppliers are those people that are your direct competitors. There’s also this thing of indirect competitors but that goes a bit too far for this webinar. So you are delivering images and other photographers also delivering the same kind of images, those are your competitors. You use channels, right? To get to the different other market players, or you deliver your work where you show your work to your audience, through social media, maybe through magazines, through museums, galleries, books, book publishers, booksellers, web shops, those are all kind of different channels.
Marc: If you look through this kind of listing of marketplace intermediaries, and influences and promoters, the most important people for any business is obviously customers, because the customers are those people that actually pay you money for your goods, for your services, for the products that you deliver. But in order to get to those customers, you will need to go through different kind of parties or different players in order to get to those customers. For example, through intermediaries, through influences, or through promoters. Well, let’s first go through these three categories of marketplace. Your intermediaries, they actually have a stake in your development, like galleries, or agencies, they represent your work, and they actually take it a part of the income from your work. If you sell through your gallery, they will take certain percentage of the sales like 20, 30, 40, 50% of the sales price actually goes to the gallery. So, that means that when you are successful, they are also successful, they actually have a stake in making you a more famous, a better selling, a better photographer, they will actually try if they’re a good gallery, or if they’re a good agency, they will help you develop, they will help you reach out to more clients, better clients, because when you sell more, they actually make more money as well. So, an intermediary can be an important player in some markets and you can recognize them by this idea that they have a stake in your development. Influences don’t actually have a stake in your development, but they can give you a lot of credibility, right like curators, critics or institutions. If you are able to say that the photography critic of Le Monde newspaper in France gave your exhibition five stars, that’s really good news because it means that you can go to other people and say, well, this really important person who really understands photography actually thinks my work is really good. And that’s important within this market because, in fact, a lot of people don’t actually understand a lot about photography, we, you know, in our community, we understand photography, we recognize a great image from a good image, we understand what a good photographer can bring to the table, can actually deliver. A lot of people who still use photography, who buy photography, don’t have this knowledge. And in order for them to be to be more secure in hiring somebody, if they can say, alright, if they see that, then you know, you have this stamp of approval, let’s say, it can help them make the decision. Also, in bigger organization, often the person who hires the photographer is not the person actually making the final decision. So the person you’re talking to has to go to his or her boss to actually get the final permission. So, if the person you’re talking to can say, well, this photographer is really good because he got this award, he was exhibited at this festival, you was shown in this museum, he was given a five star review by Le Monde in France. They’re all arguments to make your work more credible and you need this credibility in a lot of situations you need to credibility in order to reach out and make the next step to new clients, different clients and better clients. But an influencer does not have actually a stake in your career. They can actually but you can actually go after them to get that let’s say stamp of approval.
Marc: Promoters are a bit similar to those influencers, but they introduce your work to new audiences. And of course, influencers can do that too but it’s still slightly different. The way I sometimes describe it, and it doesn’t sound too nice for the promoters, but I don’t mean it in a negative way but a promoter would actually use your work to reach out to their own audience, right? So, a festival, showing your work is not actually interested in giving you a great podium, of course, that’s also part of it but they actually want to reach their audience. They want to give their audience good content, or a great story. And they select the words that they think can actually talk to their audience. So, that’s not a bad thing, that’s actually a really good thing. But it doesn’t necessarily help you directly. It can only help you and that’s basically the same when you when you get attention from an influencer, it can only help if you activate that exposure to the audience. If you can activate that extra element that they are bringing to you. So if you are working photographer in, let’s say, West Africa, and you get an exhibition in India, maybe that’s not really valuable for you, because your audience just isn’t in India, and it doesn’t help you in a way that, the promotion doesn’t actually help you. Of course, it could still be influential, you can use it to gain credibility for yourself but then it’s actually a different reason why you participate in that particular exhibition. Because the point is, of course, not to get attention, is not to get exposed. The point is to go to the customers, because the customers, those are the people that actually pay you money to work, they are the people who put, you know, food on the table. I hope that’s clear, right? There’s another thing that sometimes promoters, or influences actually pose themselves or pretend to be intermediaries, right? They might want to show that they, you know, they have a stake in your career, and they want to help you develop, but they’re not actually interested in building your career, they’re actually more interested in using your work to reach out to their audiences. Be that as it may, I think it’s really important for yourself to look at your market, you know, understand what it is that you do, and who are the different players? Who are the different intermediaries, influences, promoters, and the customers. But also, if you look at the customers, can you use these different roles? Or, can you use.. Which intermediaries do you need to reach out to? From which influencer, do you need a positive review? Let’s say to get to the customer that you want to reach out to, right? This is also understanding how your market works and deciding, for example, which festivals you want to try and participate in. Or, which I mean, there’s so many photo competitions around, right? But which are the ones that are relevant for you? Because some that might be relevant for some photographers, might not be relevant for others. And it really depends on this kind of thinking on who is your customer, and where does that customer look for inspiration? Where does that customer look for new work, for credibility? What do they deem important venues, or places to find new work? And if you can understand that you can actually build or kind of strategize how to reach out to those people. Now, there’s also and that’s the last category that I put on this slide is the audience. An audience and customer are again, they’re two different groups, they, they might be the same they might come together at some point. But your audience is if you exhibit at an in a gallery or in a museum, the museum might be your customer. But your audience is obviously the people that show up at the exhibition who visit your show and interact with the work and you can’t ignore the audience.
Marc: In a way, you need the audience. In some cases, not in all cases, but in some cases, you need the audience to be able to reach out to customers. In some cases, you can actually almost sell the audience, right? If you have a huge following on your social media, or people who love to buy your books, then customers might actually be interested to reach the people that follow you. They might be interested in your audience and in that sense, you become almost an influencer by yourself. In any case, I think it’s really important, if you, to look at your market and to look at the situation of your market, and to identify where you are, right? Who is.. What is the story that you deliver? And what is the, let me go to the next slide. Because that’s where I actually have this listed. Try and describe the market and its situation, identify the marketplace in each category? And how do they relate to each other? Does anyone dominate the market in terms of customers, in terms of maybe a competitor in your market? Where do you fit in? How where what’s your role? Can you, actually, are you able to reach out directly to new customers? Or, do you need to go through different categories in order to find those clients? If you want to penetrate your market, and this is something that I also, I think discussed last week, and maybe it will come up again with a personal project, but what is the story that you’re telling? What is it that you really want to communicate? Right? And can you identify based on what it is that you’re saying, for which customers are or, which audience, that story is relevant and urgent? I think I said it in a previous session but if it’s, people tend to pay money for something or, give attention to something if it’s urgent and relevant for them. You have to identify what the value is for your audience. And if you can describe that, in terms of what’s relevant, and what’s urgent, that it’s important. Now that makes it urgent, of course, that’s when you are able to actually identify who your customers are. We spoke about brand values in a previous session, I know maybe you’ve actually done the exercise and written down three of your brand values, what identifies you, what makes you professionally, you. If you look at all these players within the market, right? Be them influences, be them promoters, be them customers, be them audience, in a way, what you want to do is actually identify those people that commit to the same brand values. You sometimes hear from big companies like Google or Apple, they don’t seem to hire people based on skill. It’s like, no, the skill, We’ll teach you the skill. But you’ll have to become part of the same family, you have to commit to the same brand values as the company s0 we all think alike. I’m simplifying things, I realized that, but in a way, why do you buy an Apple phone or a Samsung phone? It’s not really based on what they can technically do because they’re almost on par. It’s almost more like you base it on those brand values, what they represent, what they stand for. And if you have a story, and if you have the brand values that are about commitment, that are about socially engaged, that are about personal storytelling, it becomes a lot easier to identify the partners that speak that same language, that talk the same, yeah and have the same feel it’s you. And in that sense, it allows you to more easily communicate, but also identify those partners that are a natural fit to your project or, your work. If you’ve identified all these people and actually put names to the different categories, you can also identify the channels that you should that you can use to reach those players right?
Marc: If you are interested in young, tech savvy entrepreneurs, well then Facebook might be slightly out of date and you might want to have to use TikTok or, Snapchat or, a different way to communicate with them. But if you want to reach out to captains of industry, well, then I don’t think Tiktok would be the right way to do it, it will be more through print media. These are very obvious examples, of course but still, this is something that you don’t have to leave to chance. And, the great thing with social media, again, is that you have a lot of control over these kind of things, you can actually decide where you want to place your communication, where you want to place your work, who you want to reach out to, and what is the best way to reach out to them. brand values come into play in this as well, right? I think last time I showed you those two paintings, the Mondrian and the Pollock and how non-figurative paintings actually still communicate something, and strict or, playful and chaotic. This is a lot about communication. If you want to penetrate your market, if you want to reach out to influencers, to promoters, to clients, on it, it’s all about communication, right? And how do you build that communication? What does it look like? Your social media, your newsletters, your emails, I mean, basically, you can all link that to your brand values. If you really were on what you want to communicate, you can with every social media post, you should actually ask yourself, does this fit with the brand values? does this fit with what I want to say? Does this communicate what I want to be seen as professionally? That way you can identify the channels, but also the format in which you want to communicate to your audience. I hope that that makes, that makes sense. Another point on audience and customers, and let me just go back to this one, sometimes your audience can turn into customers, I mean, let’s go back to the first example of people visiting the museum space, then they’re merely an audience, whereas the museum space, or the museum is actually your client. But obviously, if somebody from that audience says, hey, I love your work, I want to buy your book, I want to buy your, I want to buy this print, then they transfer from audience to customer. But it’s also a matter of your business plan and your business strategy, right? Is your proposition to make money from book sales? Well, you will need a big audience and then having a free exhibition can actually make a lot of sense, because you can actually get more people to see work, who you might be able to transfer from audience to customer because they buy your book. I hope that this kind of makes sense. Also, not every category is relevant for every markets, right? For me, I’m a visual story editor, I give workshops and give lectures, and I work with individual photographers. In my market, I don’t really have a lot of intermediaries, there is no agency that can represent so for me, personally, I don’t have intermediaries. Influencers and promoters, they’re different than different from what they are for individual photographers. But they are still obviously, those different, those same rules apply to me, as well. So I hope that that’s clear and if not, just leave your comments in the Q&A. And we’ll be able to get back to that later on. So that was about penetrating your market. Personal projects, and why do you use personal projects? Part of it is communication, right? Reaching out to audience, reaching out to your customers, trying to get, you can use personal projects to for your own promotion, and to build up, let’s say the influence or the credibility of your work. I think it’s a really important reason why you should be doing personal project and basically in whatever business of photography you’re in is my personal vision.
Marc: Also realize that you are a producer of your own project. You’re not just a photographer, you’re not just a person taking the pictures, you have to actually organize and produce the whole thing from scratch. Which means you have to look for the funding. You have to identify whether you need a writer you need to identify, you have to you know, take the artistic direction of the book or the exhibition you want to create. It’s not just about taking the pictures, it’s really, and I think that’s really the way to approach it. You are not the photographer, you are a producer of a project. And that means that you have to take into account, the whole thing. Doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. You might need a designer, you might need an editor, you might need a curator, you might need a writer, yes, you need all those people. But they are under your control in a way. You’re the producer, you are the artistic director, you basically tell them, this is the story, these are the works, how can we best create something that actually reflects that content or that point of view? You need to fund it through various sources, crowdfunding, personal investment, maybe even getting a loan, whatever. But it’s important that it’s not just like somebody else has to pay you for the work. But it realized that funding for personal projects comes from multiple sources, maybe a small grant here, maybe a bit of crowdfunding, maybe some loan investment, and together, you will be able to fund it step by step. Eventually, it can also become a source of income, through the creation of various products, but I have an example that will come up slightly later in the in the presentation so I hope that that will be clearer later on. Now, a bit more about personal projects, because I think I see a lot of them. And a lot of photographers come to me to discuss personal projects, and they want to make a book, they want to make an exhibition, they often come here with a whole stack of photographs, like oh Marc, I have all these pictures, now I want to make a book. And in the course of working with photographers, I’ve developed kind of a plan that follows different steps. And if you’ve downloaded the Tell You Story, book, it came with a small leaflet, workbook, that actually explains how I think you can develop your personal project. And there’s one element in there that I think is really crucial and I would like to go into that a little bit. And that’s the project premise. And the project premise is what I think you should describe if you create your personal project before you actually start shooting, because the project premise consists of three things, right? The visual format of your story, the description of your project, and the reason you do the project. And the project premise is basically a definition for yourself on what your project is of, what it’s about, and how you can tell the story. It’s not something that you want to communicate that you are going to put on your website, it’s merely for your own understanding of your own work of your own project. So, and to define the premise, I usually go in basically, in the wrong order. So I always start with the reason you do the project, why does it matter? And that has to do with your motivation and again, the urgency and the relevance of your project. And I think motivation is really important here, the why you want to do this project? And obviously, if that why is what because I like to take pictures, that’s not really a motivation that can that can translate into a value for your audience, right? So the motivation has to be real, just like your brand values, just like, you know, all those other things that I’ve mentioned has to be genuine. Because if you don’t even care about your project, you will never be able to convince anybody else to care for it, right? But if you can link your personal motivation to a more general urgency and relevance, then you really have a strong point. That the second part of the premise is the description of your project. What’s your project have has to be very concrete to the point, not a lot of blah, blah. This is again, not about public communication.
Marc: This is really for yourself to understand what it is that you’re talking about. I will give you an example in a bit so keep following. Then there’s the visual format of the story. How will you tell the story, because if you don’t know how you’re going to tell the story, you don’t actually know which photographs you will need to be able to create a visual flow, right? If it’s, if it’s a narrative, it’s a typology and I think that’s quite clear if you want to, some stories are just really very well told in a typology. But if you come back with a series of street photography shots, well, you will never be able to create a typology kind of work from that. So you kind of need to know before you start, the way you want to tell the story. Also, it’s good to realize that some stories are best told in a certain way, right? If you want to travel along a river, and tell the story of what life looks like, alongside that river, then a road trip or, a visual diary are really good ways to talk about that story, and maybe a portfolio or, an essay are not so, they don’t really work, right? So it’s really about identifying what’s the best format to tell the story you want to tell and the reason you want to tell. So, I have an example here of a project that I’ve worked on myself with a photographer, Dutch photographer, Jeroen Toirkens, and his book is called Borealis. The project is called Borealis and it’s a series of visual essays of people and working in eight places in the boreal forest, that’s the most northern forest of the globe, basically. To show the intrinsic value of forests for humans. So this photographer, loves working with forest, he loves to spend time there, he loves tracking, he loves spending, you know, time in that kind of environment. And he feels that forests are just really important to him but he also sees that because of climate change, because of the way we live our lives, that forest become less important in a way. That it has a lot of value to give attention to the forests. So his personal motivation is actually quite easily linked to an urgency and a relevance to society let’s say. What did he do? he will he went to eight places in the boreal zone, which as I said, was northern forest rezone of the globe and to show what people, what their lives look like, who live and work and interact with those forests in those eight different places. And then you have a series of photographs, I’m just going to show you a small outtake of that of that book, of that project, a lot snow. But not only, here’s some beautiful trees that he photographed in that project. And here are the eight different stories, this is from his website, it’s just a screenshot from his website. So each story kind of has its own content and its own approach. So, a man who’s living in the forest there is, how to survive in the forest, people who actually work in the forest logging. There’s a story about forest fires. There’s a story about a research team that actually, you know, works in Japan. And there’s all this academic research on forest. There’s a story about rewilding, where they are actually replanting, a boreal forest in Scotland. And is in the final chapter, it’s a four year, five year project that he worked on this is where he and the writer of the text, the writer of the whole project, they went together and spend time in Alaska in this small cabin at Vogel Lake, and actually experienced the boreal forest themselves. So each story in itself has a different approach to the main theme, right? So it’s eight visual essays. But maybe it’s a portfolio of eight stories on the boreal forest. And what’s interesting, that he was able to create based on the stories, but also based on the values that he wanted to represent.
Marc: Within this project, he was able to identify different partners that were able to cooperate with his project, right? I mean, he had credibility. He had done this before so it was easier for him to build these connections but he worked with a newspaper, who is very much interested in personal narratives. He got funding from the Dutch forestry agency because they were interested in identifying what the intrinsic value of force is for humans. He worked with a bank that works in sustainable development, because for them, this was a project that was about sustainable development without it being overly NGO, let’s say. I, you know what I want to say. So, he was able to identify these partners that committed to the same values and the same stories that he wanted to create, that he wanted to tell in his project, right? So it’s a really good example of a photographer who has a very clear story to tell, who was able to identify partners who were who committed to the same values. And he was then able to create a project that became a book, became an exhibition but not only did he produce those two products, he was able to actually identify different products based on the story that he’s telling. So, this is a screenshot that I’m showing you here from his website and you can see you can buy the book, but you can also buy a tree. So, you can actually have a tree planted in Scotland, as part of this rewilding project, you can buy a poster, you can buy a print, you can buy this beautiful cassette that is like this collector’s item, with a book and souvenirs from all the eight different places that he visited, during the production of this this project. What I think is really interesting here is that he is a photographer who created a project. So he really was a producer of his own work. But using the core values, the core narrative of what he wanted to say, to first attract different partners, to create beautiful work, I mean, the photographs are really beautiful, but to really tell that story, and to then develop products that are based again, on the value of his work. That allows him also, of course, to have exhibitions, to have presentations to fill his social media to reach a bigger audience. And because he has an audience, part of that audience will first transfer into customers, and, you know, consumers, but also, the professional audience will recognize him for the work that he’s able to deliver. And it allows him so he’s actually able to kind of activate the exposure that was generated through his project. I hope that that makes sense. And so I’ve been talking a lot right about photography is a visual language, how can you actually build your business? The point is very much, in my opinion, to have a very clear idea of your proposition, what is it that you’re selling? And to whom? Who do you want to reach out to? Right? So, define your proposition that really is step one. What is it? What is it that you’re selling? What is the product that you’re selling in the first place, and maybe you can derive different products after that like Jeroen Toirkens did with the Borealis project. If you know your proposition, establish your brand values, look at yourself, define who you are, what you represent, and how different is that from what your competitors represent? Does it really set you apart? Does it make you recognizable? Does it make you unique? Look at your market, identify the market players and build a relationship with those with those players, their people, you have to reach out to them. And I know in during in COVID times it was it was harder.
Marc: But hopefully the world is slowly opening up and we have digital communication to our disposal, right? So reach out to them, build a network, build a relationship with the people that you want to work with, that you feel that they should be working with you, they should be noticing you. Produce personal projects, right? And they’re not one week stories, personal projects tend to take longer, they tend to be slightly bigger, and you don’t have to work five years like Jeroen did on the Borealis project but still personal projects that have some weight, that have some size, are really important within the current market. Communicate with all your stakeholders, right? Identify with stakeholders, I mean those market players and those people that are relevant to you and your business, right? Have newsletters, make sure you communicate on social media which social media depends on you and depends on, again on your market, depends on how you communicate. But I think that it can be very valuable. But communication is crucial, there is this saying that when you start reaching out to somebody, it takes seven points of contact before that person actually understands what it is you’re talking about. And that doesn’t mean that you have to send the same email seven times, because that’s called spam, of course, but seven points of contact means maybe meeting them once at a portfolio review, and then sending an email to thank you for the portfolio review. And then maybe reaching out to them on social media, maybe sending them a postcard, maybe connecting them in another way, inviting them for your exhibition, sending them a leaflet of your next project. You need to be very much in control of all these kinds of ways of communicating and reaching out to different people that can be relevant for you. But at the same time, it’s important to recognize what role, what different role different people can play within the market for the development of indeed, your career. It’s understanding that, who is the customer? And who is the promoter? Who is the influencer? Do you need that influencer? I mean, it’s great if somebody offers you an exhibition, but if they don’t pay you for it, it might still be worth it. But you have to realize, is this worth the investment? Is this worth, you know, producing and spending time and energy? Because can I actually activate the exposure, the audience, the positivity of it? Can I activate it and use it in my own good? if you can put it in your newsletter, if you can help you reach out to new customers to new audiences, it can be very, very valuable. And there’s, it’s not, it’s always kind of a gamble, you don’t, you never really know how this works. But understanding that there are these different rules and these different players can actually be very helpful. It can mean communicating with all your stateful stakeholders in the right way, using the correct channel to reach those people in that way, is something that you can, you know, it just takes smart thinking, right? Go visit them, listen to the wishes of your stakeholders, right? Sometimes, and again, I mean, it’s it came back also, in the first session, when I spoke about communication, feedback is extremely important. How do you organize feedback, right? By just sending stuff and not even knowing how it lands or, what it works, it is really important to get that feedback. And I think when we when I spoke about marketing, and I showed you, what is marketing, identify the customer and satisfy the customer and keeping the customer, part of it is also building a relationship with your customer, and keeping them and, you know, involved with your work. That means that while you produce while you work, you stay in touch. And you go back and ask so how does this work? If they leave you, if they don’t, if they don’t call you again, reach out to them. Just ask what is it that you want me to do differently? Or, better? Or, what do you like me to continue to work on? Staying in touch is really crucial in this business and it takes a lot of time on emailing and the newsletters and on social media and, you know, COVID allowing, and actually, you know, physical networking, going out to festivals, going out to meetings, going to events, but it is, I think, really important to do those things.
Marc: And lastly, and it might sound a bit tedious, but you got to be patient. This really takes a lot of time. And sometimes, you know, you don’t have that time because you need to make money, you need to make that sale, and that can be very frustrating. And every freelancer out there and of course, it also goes for me, everybody has been in that such situation. It’s extremely frustrating, but it takes time and what is really, really important is that focus, what is your proposition? What is your story? Focus on that, stick to that, and commit to it if it’s the right story and you never really know but if you think it’s really important to tell that story, if it’s that urgent, and if it’s that relevant for you, chances are, no guarantees, but chances are you will be able to reach that audience. You will be able to make that connection. It can take a long time, and it can be very frustrating but being patient is really one thing that you will need to be, you need to practice in order to make this work. That was actually already the last slide for this presentation. I see there’s some Q&A. I don’t know what the questions are. But David, are there any questions?
David: Indeed, there are. Yes, there are questions.
Marc: I’ll stop sharing my screen.
David: Indeed. And I’ll post some of these questions to you, just kind of building on that point, about seven points of contact and communicating with your network and so on. And that’s over time and as you say, you don’t want to spam people and so on. There’s a question from Sion, about newsletters, some practical, looking for some practical advice about the content of newsletters, the frequency of newsletters, kind of, what you feature in a newsletter. And as someone who’s trying to write a newsletter for the VII Insider community, I want some advice, too. Because it is, a challenging thing to think about that you want to provide information, you don’t want to overwhelm people, but you want to highlight certain things. Give us some reflection on what you think about that.
Marc: Again, it’s a really difficult one to answer in one go, and I’m not an expert on newsletters. Generally, what I’ve heard back from a lot of picture editors, people working in the media is actually frustration that they hear so little from photographers. And so it’s really about giving an update on what it is that you’re working on but it has to be relevant, it has to be kind of up to date. So I think, generally, a monthly newsletter for most photographers is kind of the right frequency, and you want to skip one during the summer, you know, let’s say 10-11 a year is a pretty good number, generally. What you want featured is something that’s noteworthy, right? So a new story, a new publication, yes, that all helps. But again, here I also think personal projects are really important, because they can be a great focal point, to get people involved in your story. If you have a strong personal or, an interesting personal project, you can actually take people along on the journey and they can they can grow with that project. So what do you show? Maybe that you’ve done another shoot, maybe that you’ve had a small exhibition, maybe that you had another publication, maybe that you, maybe you’re looking for information, asking for interaction, even though you don’t get a lot of response. But opening up for that interaction, like, Hey, I’m looking for whatever, I’m looking for information about this, I’m looking for a person who can help me think of a new venue to do this shoot. Opening up for that kind of interaction, it can be very strong, even though you might not get a lot of response, it’s still very, you put yourself in, let’s say, in a vulnerable position and allowing yourself to be in a vulnerable position allows for easier communication. So and sometimes, I think you actually need to look for news events in order to publish something in your newsletter, right? So you might even, you know, participate in a small screening at a at an obscure festival and it doesn’t mean anything, because there was only 10 people watching and they were all your friends. It doesn’t actually matter. You are streaming at this festival, which means you’ve got something to put in your newsletter. I think you have to think practical about these things, but make it personal, make it sound as if that’s really a person and not this huge, multinational company, because it’s, I think very much about personal communication. Some people think differently on that, though, but I think that that’s really important.
David: Yeah, I think that that goes back to your points in part one about being authentic and then aligning those values is that the way you open yourself up and you talk and you present things, it just needs to be genuine and authentic and this is the combination of those things. I do think one of the important things about newsletters and generally communication is also regularity and so the frequency of say once a month for a newsletter that’s fairly standard on you know, I think I would agree with that. But you don’t want to run a newsletter for four months, and then have six months without a newsletter and then start up again for five months and so on. You want you want to be able to commit to a calendar, where you can actually run it for, yeah, you’re doing 10 a year, they will know when there’s going to be a gap and so on. And that’s also I think, part of the alignment with values and so on, because it shows reliability consistency.
Marc: I think I might have mentioned in the first session, I mean, clients generally don’t look for quality, or creativity, they want reliability, and accessibility, and I think it’s exactly what you say is, if you’re not even able to rely on a newsletter, if you know even to deliver that on schedule, you might not be the most reliable work partner, as well. So that regularity, and it can be every six weeks, it can be every four weeks, it can be every three weeks, depends very much on your situation. But if you commit to it, you have to commit to it.
David: Yeah, yes. I also think from my experience, kind of, behind the newsletter, behind social media behind all other forms of communication is your own piece of digital real estate, i.e. your website. And it’s such an obvious point, I’m sure most of our audience today probably have their own website, but you need your own piece of digital real estate, not on someone else’s social media platform, but your own piece of digital real estate that Facebook can’t take down, that Instagram can’t remove, etc. Where you have your projects, your identity, your contact, and you need to keep it up to date. I mean, I’ve run into photographers over the years who have not touched their website for two years and if editors go back and look at that, it’s like, well, they’re not doing anything, clearly, you don’t exist. So that’s also part of regularity is updating those things. But behind the newsletter, behind social media, there has to be the real estate that you control, is not on a social media platform, is updated, can have an archive, should feature certain things. And that provides you the material that you can then point to in a newsletter and point to in social media posts and so on. I think that’s all part of that. We have a question about finding, I think it’s a comment but I’ll turn it into a question. Where to find customers who buy prints? Not necessarily expensive, limited edition prints, but reasonably priced, open edition signed prints and so on kind of a more mass audience in that sense. Any thoughts on identifying potential customers for prints?
Marc: Generally, putting a price on something doesn’t give you an audience. I think it goes back to one of the first things that I said in the previous session, for me, I think it’s really, you have to base it on what it is that you communicate. And the story that you tell, especially because part of, the first session was very much about a B to B business, it’s a business to business, right? And the lines of communication that work there. If you are talking about selling prints, you’re very much talking to a B to C, a business to consumer kind of market. And that has a different, it needs a different approach. I think most people don’t actually, they buy prints because they think they’re pretty, of course, but you can’t find an audience based on pretty or, based on beautiful. You can find an audience based on values, on stories. And it’s funny when you go to the gallery and you show an interest in a piece be it photography, be it sculpture, be it whatever. The person working at the gallery will never talk about the piece. They will always talk about the artists. The story behind how it was created, where the inspiration came from, they will always talk about that they are actually creating a story because you clearly liked the piece. But liking the piece, the visual aspect of it is never the final element that will make you decide to buy it. What will make you decide to buy it, is whether you feel part of the story where you can identify with either the process, with the material with the inspiration, it just grows on you because of that. So, looking at that from the makers point of view, it’s your job or, it’s your challenge to identify what that story is and based on the story, you can actually identify the people who want to be part of your story. And then you’re not selling a print, you’re actually selling a piece of the story, you’re making them part of the family. And they, and the proof is that they’ve got the print showed, and the print then becomes a discussion piece in somebody’s office, home, I bought the sprint, and you know, it’s really funny story, I know photographer, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And if you can achieve that, and whether that’s 100,000 vintage print by Cartier-Bresson, or a 250 euro print by, you know, your local photographer, it doesn’t really matter, because the reason you buy it is the story that represents. So maybe that’s a very general way of approaching it. But I think it’s your best bet in trying to sell any kind of material.
David: So, there you’re talking about going beyond the focus on the product, a print to the process. That is the story behind the writing of the print for which the printers then assemble?
Marc: Well, that I wouldn’t call it process because then I think if we talk about contemporary art that’s very much based on the process and actually the resulting elements like becomes less relevant or like my little niece could have made that painting, well, a little nice didn’t because the process that Pollock applied was very radical, blah, blah, blah. It’s really the process. For me, it’s really distorting, what does the photo or the book from which the picture comes? What is the story that it tells? And is that picture, a strong representation of the story that the photographer wants to communicate? Yeah, so it’s not so yes, but I would just aim it at story, and not so much process. But maybe that’s a linguistic semantics discussion.
David: No, that makes sense. That makes sense. Two questions. One from Sian, and one from Georgina are about personal projects, and how to balance both with the market and with time. So, let me kind of combine those or, pull out some elements here for that. I think the key thing in Sian’s question is, are you suggesting that you need to align the personal projects you want to do with the way you see demand in the market? Or, does the personal project kind of sit alongside the market, as it were, and feed into the market occasionally?
Marc: That’s a really difficult one. And I let me answer this, and maybe in a slightly different fashion. For me, if you look at software, computer companies, you’ve got Microsoft, you’ve got Apple. And Microsoft identified a problem, namely, we had personal computers and the programs didn’t align, it was really hard to, there was no interface. So they came up with a solution, which is called Windows, which created an interface and allowed regular people to actually interact with their computer. That was Microsoft. But Apple didn’t do that, Apple did something else. They created the demand, 1000 songs in your pocket, right? We didn’t know we needed an iPod or an iPhone but then when it was there, we all wanted it. Right? Again, I’m simplifying things but in a way, for me, personal projects are creating demand, right? If you really have a very powerful message. And if you’re really clear in what it is you’re saying, and how you’re saying it, you will find your audience, right? You need to communicate very, very, very strictly about and you need to be very focused about your will reach your audience, and the audience will find you. Again, it’s not that there are no guarantees. But it’s a very different way from like, oh, there’s a problem in the market, let’s find a solution for it. I think traditional photography was very much more about that there is a problem in the market that let’s provide a solution, mainly photographic stories that can go into magazines so they can have beautiful story so they can actually sell advertising to reach a big audience. And personal projects are a much more like I have this vision of the world, I have this story that I want to tell. I’m going to produce it, I’m going to find the partners and identify and convince everybody that I need to convince in order to be able to produce it. I’m going to communicate very clearly and strictly about it. And then my audience will almost present itself or, I will reach my audience because I have a story to tell that I think is extremely relevant for them. They don’t know yet. I’m telling them. So yes. Should you align your personal project with the market? In a way, yes. Because if, if you want to talk, do a project about the Tokyo Olympics now, it’s gonna be tricky, because they’re okay, the Paralympics are happening right now. But you know what I mean, it’s kind of in the past its history. But if you want to talk about the value of sports and the needs to meet up for sports events, then it’s no longer connected to the Tokyo Olympics and you can still link it up to the Paris, which I think the next one, you know, it, yes, it needs to have some urgency and relevance, it needs that. But do you want to completely commit to the market? No, I don’t think you should, I think you should commit to your own values, your own story, and then identify the market that actually is open to that or is aligned to that. And again, there’s no guarantee. But there are never any guarantees, but do something that you believe in. That’s the best advice in this case, I think.
David: So this what I’m hearing you say, there is, it’s not a matter of so much for aligning with the market, but intersecting with the market at various points to support the personal project?
Yes, audience. And again, it has to do with being genuine, right? If you don’t actually believe it, maybe the market wants stories on sports, but you hate sports, and you love nature, right? You’re never going to pull it off. That’s so it has to be genuine. Otherwise, or you might be able to pull it off. But yeah, I mean, I think part of photography and part of freelance is also the freedom to be able to work on the things that you love doing. But if you’re then forced to do to work on projects that don’t make you happy, then you’re better off doing, probably doing a day job at your local bank or supermarket or wherever you can get a local job.
David: I think in Georgina’s question about personal projects, there’s another element to and that is, she says, you know, obviously personal projects are usually done over a long period of time. So how do you balance using parts of the personal project for news stories that may pay the bill and so on? Versus letting too much of their personal project out of the bag? Or, the story out of the bag?
Marc: I don’t think that’s, I don’t think that’s the worry actually. I think a lot of photographers are afraid to kind of, they want to keep everything close and have this one big splash. And I get the idea, of course. And I would imagine that it work that way as well. But I actually don’t think so I think it doesn’t spoil anything. I mean this Borealis project that I showed you. Obviously, the each story was published in the newspaper, there had been exhibitions as part of the story, several ones, before the book came out. And before the main exhibition came up, and actually, because of COVID, we first had the book, I was part of the project but first the book came out and six months later, or even eight months later, the exhibition opened. It didn’t affect, it affected a little bit, I think the attention in the media, that the book in the exhibition didn’t happen at the same time. But the fact that all these stories actually were already out, just helped in creating the audience and helped gaining a bigger audience and getting more attention and more connections to more people. So, I don’t think that you, that should not worry you too much. Once you’re in production, and you share the work and where you stand. It also shows, which you may be in a vulnerable position. It can be scary but I think the rewards are really big, you’re actually built your audience because all those people that, you know, follow the stories in the newspaper, they wanted to see the exhibition or buy the book or I mean, you don’t lose them, you actually get them in in that way.
David: Yeah. Ria Christina has a question based on your remark about doing NGO work, but not looking too NGO, which he understands. But if he does NGO work, out of identifying with advocacy and so on, how can the output, you know, be more than just PR and work for them? In other words, in doing that NGO work, are you limited to that NGO look, that NGO requirement, or is there another way of doing the story, do you think? Can you do two things at once?
Marc: Well, I think, it’s hard to explain, hard to answer because it really depends on the situation and depends on the client. I mean, if it’s purely client work, I think client is king, if they want, that’s what they want. And that’s what you deliver, if you have, I mean, but at the same time, a lot of NGOs are very, in my experience, they’re also open to the added value of the photographer. And, if you now look at the SDG, sustainable development goals, they’re all actually quite linked to communication. And, not portraying, you know, poor African babies who suffer and it’s like that position of the victim and also the position of the male, Western white man, you know? It’s taking all those things into account. And if you bring to the table, that knowledge and that expertise, and can actually explain to them, that the traditional NGO look of portraying victims, again, I’m simplifying, but you actually have a solution for that, which will bring them a bit better imagery with better communication skills, which actually delivers what they want to say, in a much more powerful way. That might be a discussion you can have with them and maybe you can even produce both work like the traditional NGO look, and maybe some images that actually, you know, challenge that and give them more realistic or more sustainable vision on reality. And maybe you can convince them in that way. Some, it really depends on the line of communication you have with them but I think it’s really important to realize that you have added value, and that you bring knowledge to the table, you’re not a camera operator, you’re actually a photographer. And, again, it depends on the situation depends on the personality, some people are totally not open to that they don’t have that, they just want to say well, hey, I ordered this picture and you go get this picture. Then it’s up to you whether you want to still want to do that. But in many cases, I think there’s a discussion possible, they just don’t know any better. I mean, maybe they’re like, well, I have to have a poster for a disaster so I have to have a victim. There are so many different ways to communicate about that but then they you it’s up to you to give them the credibility and to show, well, actually, if you do this, this is way more effective, it will help you raise more money in the long term, whatever it is, because again, they don’t want a picture. They’re not looking for photographs, they have a problem, fundraising, public image, awareness, that’s what you’ve got to find the answer. Sometimes they don’t even know what their problem is, they just say, well, I need to make a poster, or give me a picture and we always use a poor kid so we’re gonna use a poor kid. Again, I’m simplifying, if you are able to actually have the discussion to identify what their real problem is, then you can maybe offer them a better solution.
David: And I think there are also many examples of photographers who even if they take strict terms of reference from an NGO and have to do really, have to satisfy those for the client alongside that kind of shooting their own perspective as well. And using the access of the moment to put something away for later use and so on. So, it can kind of do two things at the same time, then. Eduardo has a question about, and he’s speaking from the location of, quote, “a small country like Portugal.” Where the international media or, the international audience, they’re interested in romantic images of poor, which will be licensed to go, etc. How can you get people interested in subjects that are less commercial and relate more to local culture or, contemporary social issues if you’re kind of in smaller markets?
Marc: That’s difficult. Of course, I mean, at the same time, a local Portuguese story is very unlikely to be relevant to big media companies in New York or Tokyo. That’s just the way the world goes. I mean, you can agree or disagree, but it’s just no other way. Again, it’s looking for what makes it relevant and urgent, that’s the challenge and it’s also the challenge to identify what customers can you work for and what are their, do you only, can you only sell those works internationally or is there also a national way of identifying customers? And try to look beyond the customer of the media cooperation. I think photography can be applied very widely but the media companies don’t see photography as, or they don’t see photography as a crucial element to their success, which means they don’t have a proper budget for it because they think that they can, you know, with smaller budgets, they can still get the images that they feel satisfied their needs, that you can disagree with that but that is I think the reality, which puts you in the position that you have to look for different clients. So maybe the proposition that you have, should be adapted to a different kind of clients. And maybe you can tell stories that are interesting for a local audience. Or maybe you can tell stories that are very local, but actually have a wider implication if it’s about I don’t know, but, for example, the Borealis project, I mean, none of those stories happened in the Netherlands. I mean, it’s about a Russian guy who lives in Siberia, and this all by himself and drinks too much and kind of sometimes works as a lottery. No but it’s a story that represents something bigger, namely, how do we treat our natural environment? And how do we deal with the changing ecosystems because of climate change. It’s, it’s off something, but it’s about something else. And if you’re able to sell that about, then a small story that can be very local, and can be very tiny and may seem irrelevant, can actually have a relevance and is much bigger than that. There’s obviously much more to say about that.
David: Indeed, we’ve got time to squeeze in two quick questions, which are two very big questions. I’m going to put there and one is a combination, I’m going to combine a Alina’s question about the state of the market given the pandemic. And a question from anonymous about where are underserved markets or kind of get, I mean, obviously, taking a more global view of here, do you think are underserved markets, or global opportunities? So underserved markets, global opportunities, and then impact of the pandemic? What would you say?
Marc: Phew. Wow, those are really big questions. Of course, the pandemic is, it has had tremendous effect. What I noticed myself very much is that there’s a lot of energy lacking. People feel kind of, there’s no motivation to take on bigger projects, everybody’s kind of just waiting for not sure what will happen. I think it’s really important and I think that’s where photography actually has an amazingly big role to play in communicating. What this new world now looks like, I think, even photobooks can have even more value right now. Because suddenly, there is much more time for introspection, and in depth communication. People want to get away from the screen then I think a photobook is actually a great opportunity to do that. I don’t know if that’s lasting effect of dynamic. Looking for myself, I would hope so I noticed it myself, I spend more time with books, I read more, I spend more time with novels more time with the newspaper less on screen, because I think that is an effect of the pandemic. Are there underserved markets? I think the market for stories, and that’s irrespective, or maybe even thanks to the pandemic is never satisfied. I mean, in 1930s, America, in of the previous century, every part of the economy was going down, except for the movie industry. People were still going to the movies, they had no money, everything, the burst crash, and you know, whatever. But people were going to the movies. Why? Because people wanted stories, Netflix is growing, Amazon Prime, Disney to name them, because people want stories. And I think photography is able to tell stories, I think it’s an amazingly powerful medium to actually create great narratives. I think a lot of photography doesn’t actually do that. I think a lot of photography is actually is more concerned with illustration. But if you’re able to create powerful narratives with your photographs, and if we’re able, as an industry to identify the platforms, where we can show those stories in powerful ways that actually engage the audience, and take the audience into account and are respectful but actually tell stories. I think photography has an enormous future, but we should not rely on people printing newspapers and magazines, or even book publishers or whatever, but we have to take matters, as an industry into our own hands. I see an amazing future for photography. If we’re able to identify or create the platforms, where photographic narratives , can actually fundamentally and sustainably reach an audience. Right? I hope that answers the question it’s not very practical.
David: Okay, but we’re gonna end on a practical one, because I’m going to combine two final questions here into a practical point. And someone is asking, as a freelancer about how to approach a media agency and another person is asking about how to find a gallery, I think also approach a gallery, what would be the most important piece of advice you would give to a freelancer who wants to make a cold call on a media agency or, a gallery as a way to present their work?
Marc: Wow, I think it’s put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine what they would want and so make sure that you are the right person for that gallery, for that agency. I tried to identify the right moment when to approach them. I don’t know if you’re aware of Paris Photos is big photography fair in Paris at this huge Grand Palais. It’s very grand, and it’s very old. Galleries are selling pictures to clients. If you approach a gallery there as a photographer, they’re not interested. Why? Because they’re looking for clients, not photographers, they want to sell work, they don’t want to have more things to sell. So identifying the right moment and try to identify, why is your work urgent and relevant for them? I think that would be my best advice. But cold calling is a tricky one.
David: Yep, well that’s a good piece of practical advice to end on. That’s definitely our time. So Marc, that’s part two. That’s been very informative. Lots of very supportive comments from people who have enjoyed the presentation and the advice. As always, we will have this because it’s recorded we’ll have it up online within about a week or so, so people can go back and watch part one, part two and yeah, just want to thank you again, Marc for doing these presentations.
Marc: Thank you David, and thank you all for your presence, your attention and your great questions. It was a pleasure to interact and indeed get some feedback still through you David from the participants. Thank you very much.
David: Okay, bye bye.