Snapshots from the Italian Photography Market

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.

8 Responses to “Snapshots from the Italian Photography Market”

  1. Even newspapers prefer to use photographs from the past year rather than having new ones made. In France you see ad nauseam the exact same portrait of a personnality! I feel that it cheats the readers.

  2. Daniel, thanks for the great post. I hope that someday our audiences and buyers will come back around and realize that not everyone can be a real "photographer". It takes work and dedication to the craft to consistently produce great images.

    - john

  3. I suppose with the availability of cheaper digital cameras that produces better quality images, and the rising of more "freelance" photographer due to that, the photography market will be saturated with seemingly endless choices of photos. Combine that with the fast pace of consumerism, of always wanting the newest, the trendiest albeit not necessarily the best quality, where the value of a work is not measured by it's quality and effort of craftmanship but by it's mass appeal, have created a market moved by superficialness.

    This I think is a market trend, I predict that as more and more mediocre and above average photos are being produce, there would be a more discerning groups wanting to find something different, something unique. These group might even be from those that produces such mediocre and above average images in the first place. While niche, these group might be a trend setter.

  4. Depressing, and all too sadly accurate. Seen it in too many of what used to be my markets in the 80s and 90s, and I for one can't see them coming back, either.
    People don't care -- they can make their own pictures on a cellphone, and what matters the quality? The alchemy of photo-making is gone, and we have to accept that it probably won't come back ever again.
    A picture might be worth a 1000 words, but now you're lucky if you get $20 bucks for it.
    When people ask me what I do for a living now, I tell them I'm an archivist...

  5. Dear readers,
    thanks for commenting.
    @ian thanks for your contribute, it's greatly appreciated.
    We all hope for a wind of change, maybe something totally different we haven't thought about yet, but still, the present situation may be quite frustrating, I agree, that's why public discussions like the opportunity we get on this great blog, may be a great chance for an eye opening experience.

    Thank you all.

  6. Today I found out that there are exceptions to the rule.. I visited a client of mine and he said he maybe had a new client for me. In fact, the association of Belgian hairdressers regularly do presentations, and after that the organize a shoot with the models and their new look! He told me that they worked a few times with a photographer who had a good reputation, but no matter how many lights he used (that is exactly how my client put it), the results did not satisfy them. So he proposed them to work with me. They would pay more, but have good results ! Even if sometimes I work with only one light 🙂 He showed them some of my work and they immediately agreed. Obviously they learned that quality need to be payed..

  7. @Johny Willemyns
    A toast for your success, I wish you the very best, I really hope that it'll be just another little tile to the huge mosaic of your career.
    The old tune of "educating the clientele" may sound overrated, but it's a fundamental rule in our job. We have to be persistant.
    Good job Johny!

  8. What you write is true. I'm not sure it's a sign of a dying market as much as a cultural reality, that there isn't enough space here to discuss. Publishers here realise that they can still sell stuff with crap photography, so why pay for quality photographs when 'obviously' their market doesn't recognise the quality. They seek out "quality" photographers and are happy to accept top rate images, but because -they- don't value them, they don't want to pay accordingly. They want a Ferrari at a Punto price.

    I sat down with an editor of a magazine who was all gung ho about my "spectacular portfolio". He went through all the examples of the foreign magazines that have beautiful images, and said it's just not economically possible in Italy and his readers just can't even see the difference, so why invest in it. At the same time, he explained his goals for his new magazine were to make it the most incredible magazine, with world-leading readership numbers and draw.

    None of this even addresses the fact that even the established outlets here agree to ridiculous rates (100 euro for a full page article including images) but then want to pay 90 days AFTER the publication date IF it gets published. Usually payment comes in at the end of the year, and is only partial. If it comes at all.

    Everyone complains that it's because everyone in decision making places has been there for 40+ years and you have to wait til they retire or die to change things because they have a rigid mentality. Yet, editors like the one above, just perpetuate it so that they can 'save money'.

    You have to spend money to make money, but as usual, the Italian market is in a very heated race to the bottom...

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