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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Technology, Photography, Football and Authenticity!


Stills from Blow UP

People, including me, often ask where the money is in photography? As if to say there is no money in photography simply because magazines don't commission photographers to go and make a story for months at a time in the way that a few might have done in that regionally specific 30-year-window when they did that kind of thing.

It's the mythology of the glory days of the past, the idea of the concerned photography making great stories for great magazines, without any of the economic or political burdens of the present. But if you read how people made money back in the 1950s or 1960s, before they became successful, it was a huge, huge struggle, where contacts and communication were huge factors in determining whether you could break out of the financial mess that has always accompanied a certain kind of photography. With a few exceptions, photographers have always been skint, are always skint, will always be skint. They might give the impression they're not skint, but if they're doing anything remotely non-commercial as the core of their work, they're fibbing.



It's interesting to compare that past with the present. Think of education. I always find it ironic when I start going on about the lack of money in photography and then  I go off to teach students paying £9,000 a year for the privilege to study the subject at university. And they do this with cameras and lenses that cost £4,000 at least, on laptops that cost another thousand, and so on all the way through to fabrication, publication, promotion and consolidation of a career. The outgoings are enormous.

So there's money in photography, the problem is the photographers aren't making it in the old sense of the word. Wasn't that always the way?

Now the question is how to make new money (and that's what this and this and this is about). Music and TV are creating new streams of income using the internet, using streaming services. We happily pay a few pounds to stream a film or buy some music, we pay monthly subscriptions to companies like Netflix just for a few key series - and they end up absolutely minted.

News isn't there yet however, and nor is photography or the arts as a whole. The question is how  can these industries (if I must) tap into the new technology and find a model that suits news/photography. You get the feeling it's coming,  that it might involve Google and a payment (this is what some people involved in licensing images are looking into) method that involves small but incrementally large payments, a model that doesn't quite exist yet, but is on the cusp of existing. And that when it does come into being it will very quickly become taken for granted and won't be that different than what came before.



What that model is I don't know. If I did, I'd be writing code... and shit. No, actually I wouldn't.  But then who can predict what the future will hold. Everything is so weird, unpredictable and contrary it defies prediction. I was reading about the future of football the other week and the new ways football is being used digitally tugs in two supposedly opposing directions.

The problem for football is it's too expensive for most young people to attend. In the UK for example, (and it's not the same in other countries I know) Premier League ticket prices have gone up 300% in real terms in the last 20 years. The average age of people going to premier league games in the UK is 42 I think. Go back to the 70s, and the average age was in the 20s.



Picture from the Dart Period of English football violence 

Allied to that, there has been a loss of atmosphere, an increase in football matches as a tourist or corporate destination and this results in a loss of atmosphere and a perceived lack of authenticity. Sitting in a newly constructed plastic seat with a roof over your head, with clean toilets, with a big screen to catch replays on, with a mass of food and drink concessions at your fingertips simply does not compare to the old days of standing on a windswept terrace open to the elements with a half time menu restricted to bovril and a tepid chicken and mushroom pie lacking in both chicken and mushrooms, a boggy rat-infested urinal your toilet and feral, Stanley-knife carrying kids stunted by malnutrition your compatriots in football-going stupidity. It was far better in the old days.




And so you have these dual streams of new football industries. You have eSports and the Fifa gaming industry which is so wrapped up in technology it isn't true. It's a simulacrum of the game, but one that has captured the people who can't afford to attend games and eschew the great outdoors in all its forms including the football stadium. You want to be a professional gamer, you'd best be dull-skinned and pale because you'll never leave the house. You'll be an addict.

So there's a technological stream.

There's also the authenticity stream. The idea that the Premier League is too elitist, the players too overpaid and distant. So you get things like Hashtag United (as well as Wimbledon FC, Dulwich Hamlet FC, FC United of Manchester ), a team made up of ordinary men who play ordinary football. Each game gets a million views on a dedicated Youtube Channel so they make some money.

There's the authenticity. The format they play in follows the Fifa model, and some of the players in real life are also successful Fifa players - they're part of the gaming industry. They're great at social media and they know their audience.

It's a very strange mix where the football is filted through this strange mix of gaming, social media, and old-fashioned story telling. It's a bit shit actually, but it does a job.

Professional teams are tapping into this by starting their own eSports/Fifa teams. The idea is that eventually these can be used to buy merchandise and draw people to the 'real game'. But there is a feeling that eSports will become the 'real game'.

How does that work in terms of photography. I haven't got a clue really but I think  the need for a perceived authenticity, for a strong story, and for the interplay between personality, image and narrative (and not just in the photographic sense) will become more apparent in coming years, and will also tap into the new forms of income generation that we don't yet have.

You can see some of that in the ways that stories are reported already, in the supporting materials provided that provide a backdrop for stories.

You can also see the technological aspect developing, the way in which virtual reality is being used (rather lamely at present. Once the novelty factor is gone, there's not much there though I'm looking forward to seeing Thresholds), and there's an interplay with installation in the ways sound and touch are being used.

Again, it's all about story telling and using different narrative forms to generate emotional and physical responses that go beyond the simply visual. And again the question is how can this make money. And does it need to make money? My suspicion is that all these developments will eventually result in huge amounts of money being made, but only for those who are both hard-nosed, adaptable, and understand the need for a strong, easily digestible and accessible story. That will lock a lot of people out and concentrate the money in a few hands as always.

But perhaps that is nothing new. Most financially viable photography is a bit crap, it will continue to be a bit crap, but with VR or music or a film with a voiceover thrown in. Most really interesting photography is made by slightly dysfunctional people who are not easy to work with and are not attuned to the world of social media and overarching narratives. They won't make money. But then they never made money. They made great work! Or interesting work. Or simply work that matters in some way. And they'll continue to do that.  The creative process has its own reward. Money isn't everything.

Fuck the Market. That is also something worth considering.

Amen.

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