Magnum Photos Professional Practice Event
Magnum Professional Practice Event. This weekend has been a long and tiring one, but a most invaluable and enjoyable one also. It’s been a most rewarding experience, spending from 09.30 until 17.00 on consecutive days in the company of some of the most passionate young photographers and those in the industry generous enough to impart their knowledge unto us.
Magnum’s Professional Practice Event pulled photographers from across the country to Liverpool’s Maritime and International Slavery Museum for two days of fascinating seminars from prominent figures in photojournalism, publishing, advertising, art buying and the world of NGOs. I’ll try and impart in this blog a little of the knowledge I gained this weekend.
Dewi Lewis - The Publishing Industry
Saturday began with Dewi Lewis Publishing and the man himself, Dewi Lewis, explaining the ins and outs of the photo-book publishing business. I’ll be keeping a close eye out for his titles now, knowing how passionate he is about the process and the production values behind each and every book they publish. They currently have around 180 titles in print and may add between 16-20 titles per year - of these one book may be accepted from open submissions, with another three from portfolio reviews.
The break down of where money from the cover price ends up was also interesting. When pricing a book, the publisher will usually need to set the RRP at five times the physical production cost of the book, thus a book that costs £5 to make will retail at £25; of this £25 the retailer will buy the book at roughly 50%, leaving £12.50; from this the distribution costs are roughly 30% (£3.75), the photographer will take a 10% royalty (£1.25); once the original production cost of £5 is deducted, this leaves the publisher with a profit of £2.50
The tight margins involved, especially the small amount earned in royalties by the photographer, along with Dewi’s explanations illustrate why print runs are generally much smaller than one might expect; around 1500 for most photobooks in their first print run. Dewi also explained the promotion process for getting a book noticed, pointing out that book launches and books for exhibitions are largely exercises in personal vanity with very little commercial worth. When running editorial features or reviews in magazines the publication will have a choice of several images with the option to publish up to two free of charge, any other images published must be paid for.
Ian Berry - Photojournalism
Ian Berry’s talk was a great insight in to the life of a legendary photojournalist, perhaps a dying breed to some extent. I completely forgot to take proper notes during the talk, and in reality they wouldn’t really work unless accompanied by the images from his slideshow. Instead, here are a few anecdotes from Ian’s talk.
“No good just snapping away, you have to capture a moment”
“Most editors and journalists in this country have the visual appreciation of a flying frog”
“I don’t like to photograph people head on, but sometimes it works”
If you want to be a photojournalist, move to Paris, the French are more visual.
Jess Crombie - Working for NGOs
Within NGOs there are three main areas of work, and thus three main areas of photography that might be commissioned. These are: * Lobbying / Advocacy - Organisations such as Amnesty International * Development - Project charities such as WaterAid * Emergency - Reactive groups such as the Red Cross
Large NGOs such as Save the Children (turnover of £1billion) have the budget for commissioning photographers whereas smaller ones often won’t, however they may be able to arrange access in exchange for photos - this is a good route to take in order to build a body of work. In 9/10 cases, Save the Children will pay the photographer, in all cases they will pay expenses.
In disaster situations, Save the Children have a 12 hour window from initial news of the disaster to needing images, at first they may use images from AlertNet - these will quickly need replacing as they may not properly match the angle of the NGO (ie: pictures of children suffering in Libya took a while to become available, therefore Save the Children initially used generic images of the violence in order to show the danger that children might be in). In these situations NGOs are generally looking for single iconic images that can lead a campaign. Jess Crombie recommended that if in a country and a situation arises, a photographer should contact relevant NGOs as they will most likely be desperately trying to commission images that fulfill their specific goals.
On a similar note, when traveling to countries that may be of interest to NGOs, contact them in advance and ask if there is anything they require from that country. Although they will not pay for flights, they will generally pay and cover all expenses whilst on commission.
A traditional commission with an NGO might be one to two weeks long, paying £275-300 per day, following the work of the NGO, visiting projects, volunteers and those who have benefited from the work of the NGO. Occasionally a celebrity or vip may be accompanying the NGO, in which case the photographer will be documenting their visit. Save the Children currently offer around 100 commissions of this type, likely to double or treble within the next two years due to increased involvement in disaster relief.
When approaching NGOs it is important to understand not only the work of an NGO, but also the angle they take. Offering to cover UK fundraising or publicity stunts is a good way to introduce yourself to an NGO and to prove your reliability.
NGOs often have to commission at the last minute, thus keeping them updated with your location and having a simple and easily accessible website. Send occasional emails with recent work, make sure not to send any large attachments, use small images or link to galleries instead. Jess mentioned she keeps a wall of postcards from photographers she wants to work with, however it may take several years for the right project to arise.
When on a brief it is important to stick to it rigidly, the NGO will need specific images for a purpose - submitting work that does not meet the brief is likely to result in blacklisting amongst photo editors and other commissioning staff. It is also very important to gain as much information as possible and to include this in the metadata of the image, without this information the image is essentially useless to the NGO. As model releases are hard to arrange in situations where many of the subjects may be illiterate or unable to speak English, instead most NGOs use an Ethical Photo Policy instead.
Finally, Jess suggested that if it is possible, moving abroad for a period of time is a great way to get commissions as employing a photographer already in-country is much cheaper for the NGO, it also allows the photographer to get to know their subject and build a body of relevant work.
Fiona Rogers - Curating and Installing an Exhibition:
Of particular interest was a talk from Fiona Rogers (the event organiser) who spoke about the practicalities of putting on an exhibition. Whilst Fiona was talking mostly about putting on solo exhibitions, representing the cumulation of a specific project, there was much that could be applied to group shows. First, one should create a proposal for the exhibition, this should feature information about the project and the photographer, as well as a selection of images from the proposed exhibition. This would be sent to carefully chosen galleries in the hope that they might wish to ‘originate’ ie. fund the exhibition. Whilst we haven’t done this with our DGP interim show, we did create a proposal document to send to potential sponsors and have generated some funds through this means.
It may seem obvious, but it is important to consider the following important points when thinking about how to display the work: * How much space is available * What budget is available * What type of print/production method * The type of walls in the space, as this will affect mounting * The means of hanging the work * Whether the exhibition has to tour at any point
Fiona suggested that when an exhibition needed to be easily hung and removed, or shipped, Fomex Board mounting and velcro to hang the prints was one of the best solutions, citing several examples including one where she was able to send an entire exhibition in a postal tube to Australia, where it was then mounted. We were shown an exhibition curated by Martin Parr where - due to a low budget - Martin opted to focus on quality commissions rather than the hanging method; the bare prints were stuck to the walls using magnets.
It was interesting to see how much importance Magnum places on the use of ‘Text Panels’. These would be mounted on foamex or stuck directly to the wall and contain information about the exhibition and the exhibitors, sometimes with additional panels explaining the historical context of images. Fiona suggested there should be one at the very front of the exhibition mentioning the short time frame we worked in to create the interim show.
She suggested we submit the time/date/place of the exhibition to free listings such as the ‘Telephoto Diary’ on the Telegraph and that we should not underestimate the importance of social media, particularly twitter.
Finally, never mix work in a group show, keep to defined sections or it gets far too confusing. Caption all images with a small caption plate below or near the photo - if the caption would be too long, create a ‘list of works’ that is referenced to each image.
Sophie Chapman-Andrews - Advertising Commissions
Sophie kindly provided a full list of notes for her talk, I’m including a synopsis of these below.
Websites should be simple and user-friendly, art buyers see many every day, usually with an art director looking over their shoulder, because of this images should load quickly and be large on the screen. Divide work in to personal / commissioned and categorise it by subject. Make sure you update it regularly, if it’s the same as last time the art buyer viewed it the impression given is of a photographer who isn’t interested in their craft.
Portfolios should be heavily edited down to show no more than 20 of the best and most relevant images, tailoring the portfolio to each client in this way will result in better prospects for work. Whilst and iPad is a nice supplement to a printed portfolio (ability to zoom to show quality) it will never replace it, especially in the world of advertising. If using acetate sleeves, make sure they are kept clean and are not too shiny.
When approaching agencies make sure you know who you are targeting, why should they agree to see you? Make sure you know their work and their clients. Agencies may not have the right work for you the first, second or even third time you contact them, keep in touch and keep them updated on your work. It may take several years before the right job comes up.
On a final note: I’d like to thank Fiona Rogers at Magnum Photos for putting on such a wonderful event. Words cannot express just how useful it has been to me as a young photographer.
I currently need additional notes for the talks by:
Zoe Wishaw - Stock
Max Houghton - Foto8
Sophie Wright - The print sales market
If anyone would be willing to share their notes, I’d be really grateful.