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Strategy and Planning

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The Social Media Black Hole

I have social media on the brain a lot lately, with both the buzz about Google+ potentially falling by the wayside (I say good riddance), and also being included on on Feature Shoot's list of 101 photo industry professionals to follow on twitter. You can spend a lot of time and energy building something up, like your Google+ profile and contacts or your business page on Facebook (which these days only shows up on news feeds if you pay for it), only to have it become obsolete. So is social media worth the trouble?

Social media collage
Social media collage

The benefits can be huge. Just having your name floating around in the photography stratosphere is significant. There have been countless times when someone mentions a photographer, and the name sounds familiar (most likely just from Facebook activity), which makes me feel a bit more affinity for that person. I've also had several opportunities where Facebook friends became real-life friends and collaborators. Social media can be an incredible resource if used correctly.

Social media is an extension of your brand and should be used thoughtfully and strategically. With so many platforms to engage with, jumping into a social media practice can feel very overwhelming. And then once you do, it is easy to get sucked into a black hole of posts and links and shares, to the point where you feel trapped inside a news feed instead of out in the world making pictures.

Start small and be strategic. Take a close look at the major platforms and decide which one or two make the most sense for you. Try to find a balance where you can have fun with it, but it does not become all-consuming. Each social media platform has distinctive qualities and features that can help you expand your audience. But it is easy to get overwhelmed and to spend so much time “connecting” that you have no time left for your art practice, or your life.

Just do what feels comfortable for you, and don't worry about the platforms you're not using or the days (or weeks) you don't log in. Show your personality, show your work, and be kind and gracious. It's supposed to be fun.

For more on social media and a detailed explanation of twitter and how to use it, check out our book - Crusade For Your Art: Best Practices for Fine Art Photographers.

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FREE ONLINE EVENT FOR ARTISTS: Starts Today!

Learn from 25+ Experts How to Make Your Art Practice Successful and Profitable

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I am thrilled to be one of the "industry experts" participating in the Thriving Artist Summit. Artists and creatives are invited to signup for this free educational summit, where you will have access to interviews, lectures, and resource materials.

The Thriving Artist Summit starts today and runs through December 13, soregister now to get the full experience. Registered participants can access the recorded interviews for 72 hours after they are aired. Be sure to tune in to mine on December 10!

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Flash Powder Explosion

Mark my words - these photographers are going to set the world on fire.

A year and a half ago, David Bram and I had an idea.  What if we invited a few photographers we felt had a lot of potential to a five day, four night retreat and worked with them to take their work to the next level?  We would all stay together in the same house, and everyone would bring their photographic project.  By the end, they would each have a solid edit, sequence, artist statement, a 12-month plan, and the knowledge to make it happen.  They would also have the two of us, as well as the rest of the group, as a resource going forward.  It was a big idea, but then again, I love those.

So we created Flash Powder Projects, and we haven't looked back.  Seven retreats in three different locations and 33 photographers later, we are constantly hearing from our retreaters with amazing news and successes. This is one of the best and more rewarding things I do, and the relationships I've made with these photographers have added so much to my life.  And luckily, they all seem to feel the same way about the value of this experience.

A week ago we finished our seventh retreat, this one in New Mexico. Even after all this time, David and I still get nervous about the group. We are really selective about the photographers we invite, because so much of the experience hinges on collaboration and each person bringing a unique and informed perspective.  The photographers need to be at similar levels and have a similar drive to move forward in their photographic careers.  And then the personalities need to mesh, which is the truly stressful part, because that is impossible to predict.  Luckily we have nailed it each time, and the bonding that happens is insane.

This group was no exception. The retreat was at a ranch in southern New Mexico, 90 miles from the nearest grocery store.  These four!  When the photos come out and we dig deep, the barriers just naturally come down.  We all left not only inspired, but closer than I thought was possible.

But enough of the sappy stuff, and let's get down to their incredible work:

Dustin Chambers

Steven Ford

Maggie Meiners

Lexey Swall

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Connect People to Your Art

Last Spring I drove around the country in a VW bus (Lady Blue!) for the Crusade for Collecting Tour. I was fortunate to meet photographer Adam Smith, who gallantly offered to help me around Seattle, a city I had never been to before.  We spent a day together, and he even got to experience a Lady Blue break-down first hand. Over an amazing dinner of burgers (the key to my heart!), we began discussing his work.  He told me he had an opportunity to exhibit his photography at an apartment gallery called Vignettes, run by Sierra Stinson (apartment galleries are when an arts-minded person transforms their apartment/home/sleeping porch into a gallery for a night).  We talked for a long time about how to price and edition the work (one of my favorite subjects!), and we talked even longer about what he hoped to get out of the exhibition.

Adam had two goals - to engage in meaningful conversations with people about the work and themselves and to not end up with a bunch of photographs to bring home at the end of the night.  While he did not want to give the work away, the price was not the primary concern. So we thought and talked and thought and talked and came up with this idea - what if he bartered the images?  And barter he did.

Each image was available for $30 plus a barter of any type.  We felt the barter component would be the piece that facilitated the conversation and engagement with Adam and the work. What were you able to offer?  Why were you drawn to that photograph enough to want to trade something for it?  The barter would also provide another connecting point with Adam after the event.

After the event, Adam wrote me, "Turnout was great, a steady stream of people over the course of the three hour event. The exhibit consisted of 10 pieces, 11x14, digital C-print, edition of three. I ended up selling out of two images and sold the first print from two other pieces for a total of 8 prints sold. Some of the items bartered:  A tattoo, bottles of wine, tutoring & babysitting for my son, a painting, home cooked meals, farm fresh egg delivery, $150 and so on..."

This is a great example of how powerful it can be to work backwards. If you spend the time to figure out your goals, you will be in a much better position to leverage your opportunities in your favor. Be thoughtful and proactive, and make it happen.

Adam Smith Vignettes
Adam Smith Vignettes

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Advocating for Art Audiences

Since I've had advocating for art on the brain, this quote seems appropriate, arresting, and invigorating: If traditional arts institutions are going to survive, some person or group that’s in a position to influence significant change will have to step forward, demand a higher level of professionalism across the sector and then help the industry shift its communications focus from being self-important, condescending and boastful to being curious, humble and tuned in to the needs, wants and desires of tomorrow’s audiences.  - Trevor O'Donnell

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Do We Need to Become Our Own Arts Advocates?

In a word, yes. Although I later learned this photo was misleading (apparently the sign was in the wrong spot), walking by this empty booth got me thinking about the importance of the mission of Crusade for Art.

We are at the precipice of a crisis in our art.  Prodigious effort is going into programs and initiatives that create supply – opportunities to educate artists and help them create and exhibit work – which is resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of fine art photographers and huge volumes of their art.  Little support focuses on creating a demand for this art.  Demand is not keeping up with supply, and if not corrected, will create a huge imbalance where there is an abundance of art but no audience for it.  Crusade for Art is dedicated to cultivating demand for art.

Artists are on the front lines and are best positioned to be change-makers.  Crusade for Art aims to educate, inspire, and support artists to create unique, approachable programs that bring new audiences to art and allow them to engage with art in a meaningful way. By inspiring, mentoring, teaching, and funding, Crusade for Art will empower artists to focus on creating demand for art and thereby encourage systemic changes to create a new crop of art lovers, patrons, and collectors.

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Pencil Pals: The Start of an Entrepreneur

I met someone recently who was asking me a lot of questions about my start in the photography world, my ideas, my vision – basically, all of the craziness that lives in my head.  And he asked me if I had always been entrepreneurial.  The question took me a little off-guard, because I have never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, although I’m not sure why.  I did start a business – a few actually – but somehow the association of art and business often gets lost. However, the business side of art is hugely important, especially for artists.  You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you do not know how to get an audience for your work, you will most likely not have any success beyond getting a few “likes” on facebook whenever you post a new image.  “Likes” make you feel good, but they do not usually translate to sales or exposure opportunities.

Artists need to think strategically about who their target audience is and how to attract them.  They need to create a strong, consistent, professional brand through social media and their website.  They need to develop a plan and timeline to thoughtfully launch new work that involves strategically reaching out to appropriate galleries, publishers, and online outlets.  It sounds like a lot of work.  It is.

So back to my business beginnings. . . When I was asked if I had always been entrepreneurial, I had a flashback to my elementary school days and remembered the business I started.  Crazy, because I hadn’t thought about this in years and years, but – I had a club, and of course, I was the president (read: dictator).  We wanted money to buy matching t-shirts with our club names on them (we each had gemstone names that were supposed to correspond to our birthstone, but June is pearl and not sparkly, so as club president I had the authority to assign myself “Amethyst”).

We had a goal (t-shirts) but needed a plan to reach that goal.  I felt we could create a product to sell to our classmates (3rd graders), so we had our target audience, now how to attract them?  At the time, these loom potholders were very popular to make, but better than potholders were headbands made from the loom loops.  We created a few headbands and made posters and order forms (a professional brand, pre-social media and websites) to post in the 3rd grade classrooms.

They were a smashing success, but we ran into some unforeseen problems.  The demand was very high, and we did not have a dedicated workforce in place (the other club members were not pulling their weight – slackers).   Also, everyone wanted pink and purple headbands, and if you know anything about those loom loop packets, they only come with one or two pinks in the entire bag.  We did have the advantage of no supply costs, since our parents bought the loom loops for us, but ultimately we had to close up shop.  We got the t-shirts, but a well thought out business plan may have helped us foresee the set-backs that ultimately did us in.

No, I do not advocate third graders writing business plans, but I do think artists should.  If you are creating something you want to sell, you have a business, and you need a plan.  Art is no exception.  Be thoughtful and deliberate about it.  Your art deserves nothing less.

(As a sidenote, I started the business back up in 5th grade selling Pencil Pals – little animals made out of pipe-cleaners with a bead for a head that hugged the top of your pencil. They were more popular than Garbage Pail Kids.  I thought I had solved the labor issue by creating a relatively easy product to make, but I did not anticipate kids ordering 25 Pencil Pals at a time.  Apparently my fellow club members did not have the same work ethic as I do, and my only option was to raise the price from 5 cents to 10 cents per Pal.  There was a mutiny, and we halted production.  It was a shame.  They were adorable.)

Looking for help to formulate a plan for your work?  Read more here.

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Sequencing Strategy - Do You Have One?

I'm about to start the third full day of portfolio reviews for Photolucida in Portland.  If you aren't familiar, Photolucida is a wonderful photography festival that hosts portfolio reviews every other year.  For four days, photographers sit with a wide range of industry professionals for 20 minutes at a time to get feedback on their work, and hopefully opportunities for exhibition and publication. Yesterday I was on a sequencing tear.  It seemed that so many photographers I met with had not paid enough attention to the order the images were in.  I cannot stress enough how the sequence can make or break the edit in a portfolio.  So I felt inspired to think about advice that would help a photographer think about how to best sequence their work -

Quite simply, the flow needs to work.  Let the story unfold in a clear, logical way that makes sense as the viewer moves from one image to another.  Make sure you are telling the complete story without hiccups (images that take the viewer off-track) or holes.  Allow the viewer to move seamlessly through the work.  Keep a consistent vibe and feeling, building a narrative or emotional arc without disrupting the viewer’s eyes or emotions.

In addition to considering a logical ordering strategy (chronological, narrative, etc.), pay attention to aesthetic qualities in the photographs.  Colors and shapes can bridge transitions between images and create a smooth flow.  Less obvious connections also create an interesting sequence.  Consider what associations a straight read of an image bring to mind and what other image in the series creates a logical link to it.

Looking for help tightening your project?  Read more here.

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Stages of Fine Art Photographers

As photographers move through the process of making work, there is a natural evolution from experimenting to creating with intent.  I think of fine art photographers as falling into one of three stages or levels.  The levels are not a hierarchy – it all depends on the goals of the individual photographer.

When any person is first learning and experimenting with a camera, they take photographs of everything around them.  They often carry a camera with them and shoot a lot of different subjects in a lot of different circumstances, to get familiar with the equipment and to figure out how to capture an image and have it look they way they intended.

This is so important, and in a lot of ways, it is a stage no photographer really leaves.  This is the way a photographer develops not only competency with the mechanics of a camera, but also their eye and photographic style.

If the photographic bug starts to stick, and the photographer wants take their photography beyond documenting their vacations and family, they may consider investigating what it would mean to move into fine art work.  At this level, the photographer tends to start looking at the work of established photographers they admire and begin working on a photographic series.  In the beginning, they may make work that roughly falls into categories (people, landscape, nature), but over time as they become seriously interested in pursuing exhibitions and other fine art photography opportunities, they begin to create more conceptual work based around a theme.

The distinction between a category and a conceptual theme is important in the world of fine art photography.  Contemporary photography dictates that strong work be about something.  So beginning to brainstorm project ideas and then go through the exercise of telling a full and compelling story in 20 strong images is a very significant step if your goal is to be recognized in this realm.  It is really difficult to tell a story in images where each image could stand on its own and the body of work as a whole does not feel repetitive or schizophrenic.

And then there is the level that I think of as truly “arriving” in the fine art world.  A photographer can create interesting bodies of work where all of the images fit together and feel strong and consistent.  But then there is the photographer who does this but goes beyond, because they are making work because they have to make it.

Finding a topic that hasn’t been done before is not the most compelling reason to create a photographic project.  Why is what you are saying significant and valuable?  How are you making the viewer see something in a way they wouldn’t see it otherwise?  How are you making them feel something unique or important?  What are you making them think about that deserves attention?  And above all, why is your voice the best one to transmit this information?

If you’ve got this figured out, you’re golden, and I want to know your work, because you are going to make me feel something.  And what other reason is there to look at art?

 

Looking for help getting to the next level with your work?  Read more here.

 

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Instagram, Say It Isn't So

If you post pictures online, there is always fine print to wade through to determine who has rights to what and protect where your images can end up.  Some people post with wild abandon.  Others go to great lengths to make sure their images are fully in their control. So to people in the second camp, today's announcement from Instagram about it's new terms of service probably does not come as a shock.  The long and the short of it - they can use any image posted on the service for any purpose, as in, Instagram can get paid by an advertiser to use your image, and you will not be compensated or even asked.

This article from wired.com outlines the terms and tells you how to delete your account, should you decide choosing which filter best suits your plate of scrambled eggs was too much stress anyway.

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Has Kickstarter Jumped the Shark?

Last fall I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to purchase Lady Blue, the 1977 VW bus I will be Crusading in around the country come March. At the time, most of my art friends had heard of Kickstarter and only a few non-art friends knew what it was. It still seemed fun and new and I had only known a couple of people who had launched a Kickstarter campaign. Now Kickstarter exhaustion seems to be setting in on everyone. If I can’t find $4 in my wallet to buy a latte, inevitably someone will suggest doing a Kickstarter for it. Hey, why not? Cash money!

I love the platform. I beyond love it. I think it’s genius. And it’s a wonderful opportunity for artists to build an audience and a funding source for their projects. My concern is that so many people are using it that potential backers are getting flooded with requests, which will ultimately cause people to write off projects before taking the time to learn about them. Too many too look at, too little money to go around.

On the other hand, when I did my Kickstarter campaign, I had a difficult time explaining to my non-art friends that yes, they were giving me money to buy a bus, and no, there were not any starving children or sick animals that would benefit from it. Now that the concept is more mainstream and people trust it, I think it is easier to fund a project, because the pool of potential supporters is deeper.

If you are going to go for it, go big or go home. Kickstarter is a one-time ask. You can’t put up a project, not have it fund or not have asked for enough money the first go-round, and then go back to your people and ask again. Well, you can, but you’ll look like an ass (unless I decide to do this, in which case I take it back. . .).

So if you are going for it, here are my tips to give you the best chance at a successful campaign:

1. Choose a goal amount that is enough to fund your project but not completely unrealistic, given your audience. This is tricky, I’ll admit, and you have to consider the fee percentage Kickstarter takes from your total.

2. Choose the shortest timeline to achieve your goal. People’s attention span is short, and most people wait until the end to contribute. Trust me, by day 4 you will be sick of hearing yourself talk/tweet/facebook/email about it. Push it hard and fast and then be done.

3. Rewards are huge. We want to support a good cause, but really, we all want something cool. Offer small rewards ($5 or $10) that get people invested in your idea. For example, I offered a $10 reward where backers could send in a sticker that would go on the bus.

4. Another note on rewards – make sure you aren’t offering too many rewards that will cost you money to produce and take away from your bottom line.

5. People like to support projects that seem popular and have momentum. It is really important to start out of the gate with a bang. Choose a handful (a large handful, ideally) of “ambassadors” – people you are close with and who you know will support you – and give them a heads up that you are about to launch the campaign. Ask them to please contribute within the first 24 hours and to help spread the word.

6. And then after the first 24 hours, keep the momentum going and the reminders coming by posting relevant updates to the project. Tell us about a new facet of the project that just came up, a new detail that was just nailed down, a bit of press that just came out about you or your project – something beyond, “Hey, remember me? I still need money. . .”.

7. Another great method to keep momentum going is to release limited edition backer rewards every 4-5 days. We had artists volunteer to donate pieces for us to offer at a great value, which was an opportunity to post an update to announce the new reward and create some urgency to contribute, since only a few of each were available.

8. Finally, talk about it (over social media, in emails, person to person) until you are blue in the face. Then talk about it some more. If every person you have ever met (virtually or otherwise) doesn’t know about it and isn’t sick of hearing about it, you are not promoting it enough.

So what do you think?  Tired party trick or genius platform?

Looking for help crowd-sourcing your project? Read more here.

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Into the Social Media Abyss - A Rebuttal

I am a fan of Joerg Colberg's snarky (and smart) blog, but I can't say we always agree. In a post today on photographers' use of social media, he suggests that using social media is essentially a waste of time and only serves to create a new standard where everyone must use it to stay on par - that there are a limited number of opportunities for photographers and using social media to try to snag one is very much a game of chance. I agree that there is a lot of pressure for photograpers to keep up with an ever-growing standard for social media use, I disagree that using social sharing sites is a worthlease endeavor. Photographers have an unprecidented opportunity to get exposure for their work by presenting it online. Instead of sitting at home and sending slides to galleries, photographers can post images and projects to their websites, blogs, tumblr, flickr. They can share what they are doing through twitter and facebook and whatever new thing pops up tomorrow.

I can sit at my desk in Atlanta and literally find work I want to show. And I do. Often. Maybe I didn't catch it the first time you posted on facebook, but I did see it the third time. Or someone else saw it and forwarded it to me. No, I'm not saying photographers should sacrifice time making images to promote them - not at all. Although opportunities may be limited, those opportunities are most likely not going to come find you. And who says you can't make your own opportunity? This just popped up on my facebook feed two minutes ago - for the third time.

As always, bring on the comments!

 

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I Heart the Wallace Foundation

Although up until this point it remains long-distance and one-sided, I have a love affair with the Wallace Foundation. If you are reading this, you already know that I am all about building audiences for art. I think about it, I dream about it, I talk about it, I write about it. (I am so very interesting.) How many times have I said, “it’s all about creating innovative programs that engage people with the art”? Don’t answer that. It’s embarrassing. So it should come as no surprise to you that I read about arts engagement as well. After all of this thinking and writing and talking, I had a rather delayed epiphany: maybe someone else is thinking about this too! And then like a knight in shining armor, I discovered the Wallace Foundation. Their research and case studies are phenomenal, and as it turns out, the statistics and empirical research backs up what I’ve been saying all along.

This study, Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy makes great bedtime reading, but if you aren’t a giant dork like I am, perhaps you would like just a few highlights. The points that I have been discussing were very well made:

• audiences for the arts are growing older • an aesthetic experience – one that actively involves the spectator’s senses, emotions and intellect – is crucial to engaging someone with art • perceptual barriers – inexperience with and ignorance about the arts, social norms that stigmatize the arts, etc. – inhibit interest in and create resistance to participation

Arts education, of course, was addressed at length, and I have some comments and critiques of that section that I will save for a later post (the suspense!). But what I really found interesting was a discussion about an imbalance between the supply and demand sides of art. The study makes the case that a lot of attention and funding goes to the supply side of an arts equation – to educating artists and facilitating the creation and exhibition of works of art – but not to increasing the number and quality of aesthetic experiences. Demand is not keeping up with supply, and if not corrected, will create a huge imbalance where there is an abundance of art but no audience for it. Or as they so eloquently conclude, “arts policymakers have focused so successfully on stimulating production that they may be contributing to an imbalance between supply and demand that hobbles the entire sector”.

And so we come to the crux of the Crusade. My passion lies in creating unique, approachable programs that bring people to the art table and allow them to engage with art in a meaningful way. It’s not enough to have a party with art on the walls. People need to have a reason to look at the art, to explore their feelings about it, to make a connection.

 

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