PHO705 Week 16: Spring Cleaning

Now that we are starting my final module, it is time to dial down my research and concentrate instead on output, marketing and commercial questions. I still have research to do, because the subject of my FMP is open-ended, but what I find is not going to change the story even though it may add some depth to it.

With this in mind, I attended an online seminar at the Association of Photographers on marketing: ‘Give Your Brand a Spring Clean’ (Giles et al 2021).

Since the seminar was entirely aimed at solo working photographers, I found it both very helpful and relevant. The key points to emerge are these:

Core Purpose

Identify your USP: your ‘recipe’, style, that which makes you stand out. Research what you do against other photographers in similar fields.

Communication

  • Marketing is all about conversations, not one-way adverts. Choose words that are conversation starters, play to people’s curiosity, put across your character, energy and enthusiasms.
  • Consider what would really interest your audience and talk about things around your work such as your experiences while on a shoot, places you have visited and so on. This will help you to present yourself as open, honest and not too busy to talk (which no one likes).

Goals

  • Map out what your business needs and break that down into achievable goals. When you have established some goals, your mind will start to work out how to achieve them.
  • Your time is an investment. View your marketing as strategic. Be selective and do not try to do everything. Concentrate on what you are best at. Some things can be outsourced.

Know Your Audience

  • Marketing is about building relationships, so knowing your audience needs to inform all your activities.
  • Find out what your audience is interested in and prepare some material or stories for that.
  • It is very important to communicate that you intend to be helpful. How you can help a brand or a client is saying what you can give to them rather than take from them.
  • Put your prices out there. This saves a potential client the trouble of having to guess or ask.
  • Personalize what you do. If you send a postcard, for example, make sure there is a handwritten note on the reverse.

Social Media

  • Do not chase numbers. It is better to have 500 engaged followers on Instagram than 5000 fans who sometimes click ‘Like’. Engaged followers can produce new commissions but fans are very unlikely to.
  • Take care to communicate your personality in your captions.
  • Research what avenues on social media are producing work for you. For some this may be Instagram but for others it may be FaceBook or another platform entirely.
  • A minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 hashtags is good, with a mix of less popular and more popular ones.
  • Add your details to the AOP’s ‘Find a Photographer’ database.
  • Follow your target clients on social media and engage with them. Find out what interests them and what they are currently majoring on.
  • Use social media to identify and research potential new clients.

Your Website

  • A good website still matters and more so for as long as the pandemic lasts. Look on it as your business card. A good photographer’s website should be impeccably designed, concise, up to date and not boring. Clients are simply too busy to wade through fluff.
  • An ‘About’ section on your website is vital. This is in effect your brand. It is where you communicate your brand values and brand story. For this reason, you need to make your story interesting and engaging. Do not view your ‘About’ section simply as space for a conventional resumé.

Newsletters

Only consider newsletters when you have really big news to communicate. Make them short, click-worthy and interesting. Clients are too busy to bother with ‘small news’ and dull.

Printed Material

Printed marketing material sent to clients or potential clients needs to be very specific and beautifully designed. It should be tailored to a particular person, commissioning editor and so on and should include something personal from you – a handwritten note, for example. Since this material will completely represent your brand, you cannot afford the second-rate. Printed material needs to be relevant, compelling and a conversation starter.

Direct emails, calls, etc.

It is important to be specific. Everything you do is about communicating your brand experience, so you need to make it warm, interesting and personal. Avoid mail merges and anything ‘database’ or you will thought a junk-mailer. Research who you are sending anything to, personalize it, get the details correct and say something about what their brand or organization is doing to demonstrate your engagement. The basis of your pitch is how you can help them.

Feedback

Ask for feedback from your peers and do not be afraid to ask for it from your audience. Do not rely on feedback from friends and family. They are unlikely to tell you what you need to hear.

Some of these topics have been covered in earlier modules of this course, but it is still good to be reminded of their importance. A few things are new, and in any event there is plenty I have not yet done such as make a first-class personal website, define my brand and write a brand statement, identify potential clients and generally work out how to position and present myself in the marketplace.

References

GILES, Charlie, Louisa TAN and Kate ABBEY. 2021. ‘Give Your Brand a Spring Clean’. AOP [online]. Available at: https://www.aopawards.com/charlie-giles-and-louisa-from-studio-luxmore-in-conversation-with-kate-abbey/ [accessed 27 May 2021].

 

PHO705 Week 12: Work in Progress and Ideas

I had a good meeting with my supervisor this week and we went through my work in progress.

It is clear that the key to my current work lies in expressing a coherent relationship between the two layers in it: the historical layer of the Bartholomew Steer story, and the contemporary layer of the use and ownership of land today. It is this layered approach that will make my work more than just a sequence of images. During my portfolio reviews in Weeks 6-7, John Angerson was adamant that bodies of work today need layers and stories (see here). What might have worked a generation ago – a book of fine arts photographs with minimal captions and perhaps a preface – is just not enough today. The audience wants something more involving and sophisticated.

I am not there yet but I do feel that I am on the way.

My supervisor suggested I look at the work of Lewis Bush (‘Trading Zones’) and Donovan Wylie (in connection with landscape and conflict). A quick look already suggests there is plenty there for me to learn (Bush 2021, Wylie 2021). She also suggested that I look at the practice of John Duncan, particularly ‘Bonfires’ (Duncan 2008). The issue here is a long-standing problem in my work: I tend to get too close to the subject. Standing back opens everything up. This provides context, comment and room for the viewer to find their own way around the image. Duncan’s ‘Bonfires’ is a good example of keeping one’s distance in order to produce a more attentive and expressive image.

A day later, I also showed my work in progress at the monthly group critique. This too was very helpful because input from one’s peers is important. The setting is relaxed and there is no hierarchy or authority structure to get in the way. More useful suggestions came up. These include ‘Shot at Dawn’ by Chloe Dewe Mathews, Andrew Lichtenstein on how landscapes are invested with power, and ‘Vale’ by Robert Darch (Mathews 2014, Lichentstein 2021, Darch 2021). Interestingly, my peers also felt that my images are better when taken at more of a distance. The images closer-in are not so expressive.

I presented my work in progress as a provisional book dummy. I chose this method because I needed to clear my head and get things down on paper. Even if this does not bear much resemblance to what will be the final result, doing things this way starts the process of curation, design, storytelling and coherent analysis. I feel much better for having done it.

Two sample spreads are below. For anyone who is interested, the full pdf version of some 36 pages is here: Crean-280421-reduced.

Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2021.
Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2021. Sample book dummy spread from my current work in progress.
Fig. 2: Mark Crean 2021
Fig. 2: Mark Crean 2021. Sample book dummy spread from my current work in progress.

References

BUSH, Lewis. 2021. ‘Trading Zones’. Lewis Bush [online]. Available at: https://www.lewisbush.com/trading-zones/ [accessed 30 April 2021].

DARCH, Robert. 2021. ‘Vale’. Robert Darch [online]. Available at: https://www.robertdarch.com/vale-1 [accessed 30 April 2021].

DUNCAN, John. 2008. ‘Bonfires’. John Duncan [online]. Available at: http://www.johnduncan.info/work/bonfir/bonfir00.html [accessed 30 April 2021].

LICHTENSTEIN, Andrew. 2021. ‘Andrew Lichtenstein’. Andrew Lichtenstein [online]. Available at: https://www.lichtensteinphoto.com/ [accessed 30 April 2021].

MATHEWS, Chloe Dewe. 2014. ‘Shot at Dawn’. Chloe Dewe Mathews [online]. Available at: http://shotatdawn.photography [accessed 30 April 2021].

WYLIE, Donovan. 2021. ‘Donovan Wylie’. Donovan Wylie [online]. Available at: http://donovanwylie.studio/index.php?page=home [accessed 30 April 2021].

Figures

Figure 1. CREAN, Mark. 2021. ‘Sample book dummy spread from my current work in progress’. From: Mark Crean. 2021. Entropias. Collection of the author.

Figure 2. CREAN, Mark. 2021. ‘Sample book dummy spread from my current work in progress’. From: Mark Crean. 2021. Entropias. Collection of the author.

PHO705 Week 11: Peer Reviews

Some of us in the German Bight cohort recently arranged to hold one-to-one peer reviews of each other’s work. I teamed up with Victoria Smith. We each spent a few days reading the other’s CRJ and reviewing work in progress, then we shared our impressions in a Zoom call.

I found the process immensely helpful. I think it was Martin Parr who said that when it comes to reviewing one’s images, the easiest person to fool is oneself. For a photographer, it is too easy to become caught up in the experience of making the image and to forget that a viewer will come to the image in a much more objective way. This is why culling one’s darlings during curation can be so difficult.

Victoria suggested that I might find it helpful to involve myself more with my peers and the cohort. She is quite right: I have a tendency to be a loner and can often forget to connect with others. She also suggested that I might find it helpful to look more at the work of other photographers in a similar field to that of my Final Major Project. This is another spot-on suggestion. In fact I have looked at several photographers by now, such as Keith Arnatt, John Gossage, Fay Goodwin, Lucas Foglia, Chloe Dewe Mathews and Willie Doherty, but I have not yet written them up in my CRJ. In addition, not all of them are current practitioners, engaged in the kind of project I might see covered in the British Journal of Photography or in Aperture, or shown in an online talk. While it is very important to be aware of the major past photographers in one’s field, it is one’s now-active peers that contextualize the work one produces and against which one is likely to be measured. This feeds into commercial considerations when it comes to pitching for work or entering competitions, for example.

Further suggestions included considering my audience more fully, looking at including historical artefacts in my work such as old maps, paintings, woodcuts, implements and so on, and looking at more fluid and flexible layouts. Finally, Victoria suggested that I look at the work of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in, for example, Liquid Modernity (Bauman 2000) – a new field for me and so very helpful.

So overall, a great meeting. I only hope that my suggestions to Victoria with her own practice were as useful. Her own Final Major Project, Uncanny Bodies, is completely different from mine (Smith 2021). But this just made the process more interesting and more challenging. It is always good to be stretched by considering new things outside one’s comfort zone and, besides, her work has led me appreciate some wonderful photographers such as Viviane Sassen and Annie Collinge.

References

BAUMAN, Zygmunt. 2000. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

SMITH, Victoria. 2021. ‘Critical Research Journal, Photography MA’. Victoria Smith [online]. Available at: https://photographycriticalresearchjournal.wordpress.com/ [accessed 6 April 2021].

PHO705 Week 9: Work in Progress

I had a very good meeting with my FMP supervisor this week and shared my current work in progress.

If anyone wants to see it, the link is here: Crean-Work-in-Progress-Week9

What emerged is that I need to divide my project into its various sub-themes, concentrate on a typology of each one, and see what emerges. This will be my focus for the next month.

It was suggested that I look at the work of several photographers, including Keith Arnatt and Susan Hiller (in her work ‘Judenstrasse’). I have now secured a copy of Arnatt’s book I’m a Real Photographer (Arnatt et al 2007), so that will be added to the coming month’s tasks.

The two important elements that remain to be decided are the question of colour versus black and white and the storyline I will follow. I think I may have found my story, but that will require some research and I will cover it another time. I am not so sure about colour versus black and white. I think I will use both together for a while and then see which one works best after I have assembled a few more credible images.

References

ARNATT, Keith, David HURN and Clare GRAFIK. 2007. I’m a Real Photographer. London: The Photographers’ Gallery.

PHO705 Weeks 6-7: Portfolio Reviews II

I participated in two portofolio reviews in Week 6 of this module. The first was with John Duncan. What emerged from his feedback is this:

  • I should look closely at Jem Southam’s The Red River (Southam 1989), at Keith Arnatt’s Miss Grace’s Lane (Arnatt 2021) and at the practices of Willie Doherty (Doherty 2021) and John Gossage, particularly Gossage’s The Pond (Gossage 2010). I have subsequently started looking at these works and the suggestions are very helpful, particularly the practice of John Gossage and Arnatt’s use of Palmeresque lighting in Miss Grace’s Lane (there being no shortage of detritus to photograph here).
  • The writings of Jonathan Meades are an example of how ideas and themes can be put together imaginatively in order to explore a particular subject.
  • I need to think harder about distance in my images. Some can be too close in and some too wide and placing the results side by side can be disorientating.
  • Landscape can be seen as a metaphor for many different things, for example illness and archaeology, or politics and power. How much have I thought about that? John Duncan cited Helen Chadwick’s The Viral Landscape (Chadwick 2020) as an example.
  • I need to work harder to avoid the obvious and anything that could find a place in a typical advertisement. I need to be more aware of photographic clichés and well-worn tropes and stay away. Originality and working hard to make an image my unique vision of a subject is crucial.
  • It is important to know what other photographers and artists are currently doing in the same sphere and position one’s work accordingly. That is why keeping oneself informed of wider contemporary practice matters.
  • Installations quickly become dull if they only show a row of images all of the same size and mount. People are looking for more imaginative approaches these days.
  • Keep any initial pitch to a single short paragraph and make sure that you begin by summing up your project in a single sentence.
  • As always, I need to be more ruthless at culling my ‘darlings’ and reducing my edit to a tighter selection of images.

This was an extremely helpful experience with a lot of important ideas. The emphasis overall was that the best creative achievements are the result of very careful thought, a refusal to compromise with clichés, and very hard work. I am so grateful that John Duncan told it straight.

My second review two days later was with John Angerson. This too was a very valuable, relaxed experience. The points that emerged from this review are these:

  • I need to pull back a bit and show more context in my images.
  • I need to tidy up some of my images, meaning more care in composition and post processing.
  • Some images might benefit from using a higher viewpoint. Perhaps I should consider a portable stepladder? This strikes me as an excellent idea.
  • With a landscape project, involving people does not have to mean portraiture. For example, it could instead mean including old and interesting images from generations ago – for example, the grandparents or great-grandparents of those who work the land today and the implements of the time. This can add a whole other dimension to a project. Try to look beyond the rather obvious idea that ‘a few portraits might help’. I should look at the work of James Ravilious on rural life and farming from earlier decades (Ravilious 2021).
  • Photography books are changing. Books that consist only of photographs are rarely enough anymore. A book today needs layers. We all need to think much more widely about other things that can become part of a book as well about the physical format, design and materials of a book.
  • Collaboration can turn a stalled project around and make all the difference. Stay open to it.
  • Write down 5–6 things that really interest you but that have absolutely nothing to do with photography. Think carefully about why you are drawn to them. Then think carefully about what you photograph and where you photograph it. See if there are points in common. These may just be emotions or states of mind, but pay attention to them. With any project, one is always trying to reach the core idea at its heart but sometimes this can be difficult to express and bring to awareness. Exercises like this can help. John Angerson called it ‘mind mapping’ and suggested that when one’s core idea is finally in the open, then one will start to take images with a coherent personal vision.

Taken together, these two portfolio reviews were among the most useful, challenging and still enjoyable photography experiences I have had in a long time.

References

ARNATT, Keith. 2021. ‘Miss Grace’s Lane 1986-87, Selection’. Keith Arnatt Estate [online]. Available at: http://www.keitharnattestate.com/works/w53.html [accessed 9 Mar 2021].

CHADWICK, Helen. 2020. ‘Helen Chadwick’s Viral Landscapes in 1989’. Modern Art Oxford [online]. Available at: https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/mao-archive-helen-chadwicks-viral-landscapes-1989/ [accessed 8 Mar 2021].

DOHERTY, Willie. 2021. ‘Willie Doherty at the Kerlin Gallery’. Kerlin Gallery [online]. Available at: https://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/willie-doherty [accessed 8 Mar 2021].

GOSSAGE, John R. and Gerry BADGER. 2010. The Pond. Second edition. New York, N.Y.: London: Aperture .

RAVILIOUS, James. 2021. ‘James Ravilious – Photographer of Rural Life 1939-1999’. James Ravilious [online]. Available at: http://www.jamesravilious.com/ [accessed 7 Mar 2021].

SOUTHAM, Jem, D. M. THOMAS, F. A. TURK and Jan RUHRMUND. 1989. The Red River. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

PHO705 Week 6: Portfolio Reviews I

Much of this week has been taken up with preparing for portfolio reviews. This has also doubled as a consideration of my work in progress since early January. It has been a very useful exercise, forcing me to think more carefully about my intent and where this project might go, since it is still in early days.

A pdf of my final portfolio (at web resolution) is below. It consists of the best of my work in progress on my Final Major Project to date.

Entropias-Portfolio-Reduced-060321

PHO705 Week 5: The Social Photo

I much enjoyed Nathan Jurgenson’s Guest Lecture in Week 4 (Jurgenson 2021) and have gone on to buy and read his book, The Social Photo (Jurgenson 2019).

This has changed my understanding of photography and social media, much for the better. I now see what drives it: that the image can be regarded as a kind of emoji and the smartphone as an eye in our pocket. On social media, we communicate in a visual language of forms. We are in the world of signs and symbols. Mythologies (Barthes 2009) was prescient.

As Jurgenson points out, this is very different from a traditional arts-based appreciation of photography with its emphasis on rules and tradition. ‘As a visual discourse, social photos are a means to express feelings, ideas and experiences in the moment, a means sometimes more important than the specific ends of a particular image’ (Jurgenson 2019: 18).

I particularly liked Jurgenson’s coverage of the interplay between permanent and ephemeral in the social photo and his examination of the use of augmented reality (such as photo filters) to create a nostalgia for the present that reifies experience and thereby makes it shareable. We cannot simply say something: we first have to dress it in clothes of spurious significance. The slightly alarming consequence is that we have turned ourselves into tourists of our own experience. In documenting our lives we turn our experiences into consumer items, available one by one on our media streams.

Jurgenson’s attempts to justify this new online world in the middle part of the book fall flat, in my reading. He defends social media and the internet generally against critics who either fail to understand that online is also a form of ‘real’ life or whose criticism conceals an agenda of regulation to suit political or commercial interests. The problem here is that while it is hard to disagree with Jurgenson, his book has been overtaken by the events of 2020. These have shown very clearly that social media is a beast that needs to be tamed. Two examples: the alarming rise in generalized anxiety disorder among young people during the pandemic (Co-Space 2021) and the shocking attempt to overthrow the results of the US presidential election. Social media and its empire of lies have propelled both.

The latter part of The Social Photo is a welcome updating of the pioneering work on photography of Barthes and Sontag. Notable is Jurgenson’s evisceration of Silicon Valley’s Big Data movement, ‘This long-held positivist fantasy of the complete account of the universe that is always just around the corner’, which is cynically used as ‘a moral mandate for ever more intrusive data collection’ (Jurgenson 2019: 108).

The most interesting part of The Social Photo for my own practice is what Jurgenson has to say about truth and knowledge: ‘If the history of the medium were boiled down to a single debate, it would be the constant insecurity around the “truth” of a photograph’ (Jurgenson 2019: 95). Photography’s slippery relationship with truth leads us on to the gap between knowing and not knowing that the best photographs inhabit. Jurgenson points out that Barthes said of the punctum, ‘what I can name cannot really prick me’ (Jurgenson 2019: 99). Facts alone cannot describe reality. Documentation is never all it seems. Following Georges Bataille and Jean Baudrillard, Jurgenson points us to ‘the essential and productive tension between visibility and invisibility, what is known and what is not’, that every instance of knowledge ‘is also an instance of nonknowledge, its opposite, what is unknown. … Nonknowledge, then, is the seductive and magical aspect of knowledge’ (Jurgenson 2019: 101-102).

This interplay is exactly what currently propels my own practice. I am photographing human presence largely in the form of its absence, and thus what the image knows is constantly undercut by what it does not know and cannot show.

The Social Photo has proved a welcome tonic to my studies. It will help me to improve the way I present myself and my work on social media.

References

BARTHES, Roland and Annette LAVERS. 2009. Mythologies. Revised ed. London: Vintage.

CO-SPACE. ‘Co-Space Study’. Co-Space [online]. Available at: http://cospaceoxford.org/ [accessed 20 Feb 2021].

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2019. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media. London: Verso Books.

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2021. ‘Guest Lecture: Nathan Jurgenson’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/249/pages/guest-lecture-nathan-jurgenson-february-2021?module_item_id=49657 [accessed 18 Feb 2021].

PHO704 Week 11: Marketing and Objectives

My aim is not to become full-time commercial photographer. However, I would like to become a more professional photographer who can improve his practice using the skills and marketing disciplines of the commercial photography business. I would enjoy doing that and it might also allow me to take on some part-time work (whether paid or not) from time to time.

Instagram
I have covered Instagram already in this CRJ – see here and here.

Website
I need to continue to improve my portfolio site (Crean 2020 A) and boil it down to essentials, as a mini-portfolio that is always up to date. The assumption is that most viewers will pick up my work on Instagram first and only then consider my website.

Marketing
I have had some business cards printed, which is a small start, but I need to present myself as a brand with the focus, consistency and tight control of communications that entails. I need to approach things as if I were running my own business (Barnett 2020, Pritchard 2011).

Photobooks
I would like to become good at producing photobooks. There are several I could produce outside of this degree course. I have just taken one weekend workshop on creating and marketing photobooks with the Self Publish Be Happy group (Self Publish Be Happy 2020) and in a few days I am taking a second one with them that will concentrate more on the internal graphic design and layout of the photobook. The first weekend was very informative (and enjoyable) and has improved my confidence a lot.

Portfolios
It is clear that I need to assemble a proper printed portfolio. For this I need to assemble a bank of printed images that can be sequenced and changed depending on whom one is showing the portfolio to. Ensuring that a portfolio is relevant to the intended purpose is important.

To help with this, I need to apply for some portfolio reviews. The Association of Photographers (I am now a member) and the Photographers’ Gallery in London both offer this service, among others, and over the next few months I will book some slots.

Personal Projects
I have a personal project, Entropias (Crean 2020 B). The purpose of the project is to help me stay fresh and creative, but it is also something I could present as a zine, small book or other venture, either commercially or for charity.

Web Shop
I will be using White Bridge Arts as the brand name of a webshop on an art sales website called society6.com. I have already mentioned this in my CRJ here.  It should be fun.

Others
I usually participate in a joint local photography exhibition each year with ArtWeeks. If there is a proper ArtWeeks in 2021 (unknown at present because of the pandemic) then I will take part.

There are also magazines to approach, other new personal projects to consider, local newspapers, competitions, social media take-overs and so forth. However, I would prefer not to give the impression that I can take a degree and do all that at the same time, because my priorities in life are not those. Becoming a 24/7 photography bore is likely to kill not enhance my creativity.

References

BARNETT, Maximus. 2020. ‘Week 11: A Conversation with Maximus Barnett’. Falmouth Flexible Photography [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-11-presentation-a-conversation-with-maximus-barnett?module_item_id=43431 [accessed 4 Dec 2020].

CREAN, Mark. 2020 A. ‘Portfolio’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.myportfolio.com [accessed 8 Aug 2020].

CREAN, Mark. 2020 B. ‘Entropias’. Mark Crean [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.myportfolio.com/entropias [accessed 8 Aug 2020].

PRITCHARD, Lisa. 2011. ‘Marketing and Promotion’. In Lisa PRITCHARD (ed.). Setting up a Successful Photography Business. London: A. & C. Black, 72–86.

SELF PUBLISH BE HAPPY. 2020. ‘Education’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: https://shop.selfpublishbehappy.com/collections/education [accessed 29 Sep 2020].