I have worked in Italy and across Europe, as well as the United States. I can tell you from my travels that the virus that has infected the photography industry is a global epidemic.
I’m not sure we will find a cure anytime soon.
I am writing this article as an addendum to Paul Melcher’s recent post, “Photographers and Publishers: End of a Love Affair.”
I could add a long list of examples to amplify the points in Paul’s article. I won’t share all of them here; instead, I’ll offer three salient snapshots from the Italian photography market.
Great Images, No Outlet
A few weeks ago I stopped at a friend’s house near Rome. He is an accomplished photojournalist, now in his 60s, and he had just returned home from Afghanistan, where he’d been embedded with the Italian army.
I was enthralled by this photographer’s stories and his knowledge of the political intricacies of Afghanistan. He had brought home amazing photos and video from his time there.
A couple of days later, I spoke with a mutual friend and casually asked where the photojournalist planned to publish his photos. The answer was shocking: nowhere.
The photojournalist not only had been unable to find a buyer — he couldn’t even find an outlet to publish them for free. One of the newspapers he had worked for in the past told him there simply wasn’t any space.
No More Travel
One of my colleagues is a travel photographer. We met at a photo lab a long time ago, before developing film became the nightmare that it is today.
This friend always took great pride in his work, and it showed in the enormous attention to detail in his photographs. He captured all the light, shadow and colors in glorious, remote locations that most of us only dreamed about.
The last time we talked, I learned that things weren’t going well for him. He had recently been turned down by virtually every publication or editor he had worked for in the past. The best gig he had gotten lately was a trip to Cuba that paid only $500 on top of his expenses.
No Time for Quality
A friend who is a commercial photographer recently finished an assignment for an Italian company. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as she had hoped it would.
She had been excited to get the job, because she admired the words of the company’s entrepreneur owner. The entrepreneur had espoused the premise that products from Italy should be differentiated based on quality, because Italian companies can’t compete with the scale or other advantages offered by bigger economies.
After waking up to begin her preparations at 5 a.m. on assignment day, the photographer showed up to shoot some of this entrepreneur’s new machinery. She had loaded her car with all sorts of lights, stands and light modifiers to be able to capture the best possible images of the equipment.
But before she could get started unloading, the entrepreneur stopped her. “I just want a few pictures for a little brochure,” he said. “Nothing fancy.”
The businessman who liked to talk quality cared nothing about it when it came to this photography assignment. He wanted it over quickly so he could pay my friend less.
These three snapshots should come as no surprise to photographers in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.
Like I said, I don’t have a solution and I’m not sure there is one at the moment. But if we continue down this path, we are being shortsighted — and we will all suffer, photographers and audiences alike.