July 2009 Archives

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     Photographers are certainly not the only ones hung out to dry in this economic environment.  In addition to the creative community, nearly every section of our working population has been struggling. 

      Humor can be hard to find, but I try to bring it into my own life whenever possible.  I think it's vital to laugh in order to maintain your balance and keep it all in perspective.  I think it was a Woody Allen movie in which a struggling character shrugged and said, "In 10,000 years, who's going to care anyway?"

      This was a photo from a self-promotion photo shoot.  In the months ahead I'll try to post some others I've shot that make me laugh.
    Print media continue to suffer. On the business end,  McGraw-Hill is trying to sell the venerable Business Week magazine. Forbes had a number of layoffs earlier in the year, and Fortune's ad pages are way down.  According to Publishers Information Bureau, all magazine advertising revenue was down more than 21% for the first half of 2009.  For someone like me who used to earn a good chunk of  his income from business and trade magazine photo assignments, it's been a time of wrenching shifts away from editorial and toward other income streams. But most of those streams are pretty dry right now too.  Corporations, agencies and organizations do not want to spend money.  Rats.

    Here in Ann Arbor July 23 will mean the end of the road for the The Ann Arbor News after 174 years in operation.  Still hard for me to adjust to that.  I'm certainly showing my age when I feel this void not having a newspaper land on my porch each afternoon.

    I am looking forward to teaching a portrait class at Washtenaw Community College in the fall.  It'll be a good chance to forget business woes for a little while and focus on the photography.  I'm looking forward to being around young, enthusiastic people. I just wish I had more hopeful news for them about the future of the photo business.  Then again, maybe they can help point the way for me to new, emerging trends.

    

 
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     President Obama just visited the African nation of Ghana, one of the most stable countries in Sub-Sarahan Africa.  He toured Cape Coast Castle with his family and spoke movingly about his reactions to seeing this embarkation point for the slave trade.

     For hundreds of years Ghana was a center of the slave trade in Africa. Men, women and children captured in the interior were brought to the coast and held in places like Cape Coast castle, built in 1653. English, Dutch and Portuguese in turn administered this trade in human beings.

     I visited Ghana in 1990 and am very pleased to see that the election of John Atta-Mills in January of this year, while tense and disputed, was finally accepted by his opponent, the eight year President John Kufuor.  When I visited, the President was Jerry Rawlings, who had taken power in a coup in 1979.  He served two terms as President before stepping aside in 2000.

     I wrote about my travels in an article you can read here.

     My hope is that the disturbing reign of so many dictatorial, thieving strongmen in other African nations is finally coming to an end.  The strong, stoic people of these countries deserve leadership that's commited to advancing the economies and well-being of all people. 

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      While Michigan may lead the nation in raw unemployment numbers, there's been an interesting turnaround. I've just read about the many Los Angeles area production and prop houses serving the film industry that are hurting. Much of the film production business has moved out of Hollywood and to points all across the country.  And Michigan is a leader in siphoning off that work from California.  According to the Michigan Film Office, eight productions have already wrapped up shooting in 2009, with perhaps another dozen in the works. Michigan is offering a 40% refundable tax credit, a lure that many production houses find irresistible.  It remains controverial though among taxpayers and legislators in Michigan,  since a large portion of these credits represent actual cash outlays to producers, estimated at $48 in 2008. That's money that can't be used for schools, parks or to help the unemployed.

      Of course the goal is to generate a thriving new industry that will employ people in this struggling state. It is doing that, but even so it remains a tiny portion of the employment picture. As one small part of the picture it makes sense.  But to see the movie biz as a savior is certainly misguided. 

      As a Detroit photographer I had my own small brush with Hollywood in Detroit some years ago when Out of Sight with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez filmed here.  Read my account of that experience.
     It can be tough to say you're from Michigan and have people give you the "Awww, that's too bad" look.  Even worse, when I say I'm from Detroit, like most people in southeastern Michigan do as a convenient type of shorthand geographic placement, that person may take my hand, help seat me and offer me an aspirin.  A little bit over the top, but reality is reality. 

      According to the University of Michigan-based Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics in a report this week, Michigan could loose almost 311,000 jobs in 2009. For the ten year span beginning in 2000, Michigan will have lost 950,000 jobs as the manufacturing base fades.  Unemployment? Could reach 16% in 2010.  Sort of leaves you gasping for breath, even here in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan and probably the best-off Michigan city.

      The hurt extends everywhere.  Photography is often one of the first things jettisoned when a company or family starts feeling the pinch.  The car industry weaves tentacles into every business, from parts manufacturers to restaurants to hospitals, where all those non-emergency operations can wait, to the local mall, where that new pair of pumps and scarf remain just a dream.  The family takes their own photo instead of heading to the portrait photographer.  Union and car company magazines stop publishing.  Marketing budgets get leaner, and drop photos altogether. 

      On the flip side, more people than ever are entering the photo business, perhaps 10 to 20% per year.  Art schools keep pumping out graduates.  The advanced amateur decides to make a little extra money by shooting school portraits. The digital revolution has made it so much easier to get decent photos, and 'good enough' is the mantra.  It's plain, brutal economics.  Too many photographers chasing too few customers.  Of course the ranks will thin.  Those without sterling business practices will fizzle, and only the most committed and talented will struggle through to the other side of this recession.

      The revolution will continue for quite a while I fear.  Digital changes photography.  Video evolves into a motion/still hybrid.  The internet changes delivery and advertising of images. Who knows what will follow.

       Pretty exciting.  Or excruciating.  Depends on where you sit.  As a 31 years photo veteran, I'd have to say it's an intense, harrowing ride.  See you on the other side.

Video

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     I knew some years ago that video was the coming thing.  I added video to my business in 2003 and began acquiring more of the audio and editing skills necessary to service corporate clients.  But wow, I sure did not imagine the age of YouTube, instant upload, and anyone with a cell phone becoming a news videographer. As with still photography, we're all now sprinting to stay abreast of the latest innovations and improvements in equipment.  I still can't catch my breath.  As tape cameras fade away more and more footage is being shot onto memory cards, now up to 64 GB and heading toward who knows what size.

     I do know this.  A good photographer is a good videographer is a good photographer.  If you have the eye in still photography, you will have that same good eye behind a video camera.  Learn the ins and outs of sound and how to edit and you'll be telling your story in motion just as you did with still images.  But patience is the key.  There is a lot to learn to do it well. 

     The image industry is in a state of wild flux. Techological changes and a brutal economy are winnowing the professional ranks, and I wish I knew how it will shake out. Right now I just keep  running to keep up, still camera in one hand and video camera in the other. At least I'm balanced.

    

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