Starting up and moving on

Since writing my last post, in which I entreated readers to join me for a collaborative project, I’ve let this blog fall largely silent. Here is why: I realized one day shortly after writing that post that the collaborator I’d been looking for was right in front of me, my boyfriend Jackson.

When he and I put our heads together, we came up with a much larger project than I had originally imagined. I wanted to teach creative professionals how to collaborate more effectively; but what if we could help them find the best collaborators to begin with?

That’s a problem I’ve helped hundreds of people solve through endless emails, Facebook posts, and phone calls. Now there is a single platform to help us all keep track of our trusted contacts, ask them for collaborator recommendations, and keep up with the most exciting projects across many industries—we’re calling it Dovetail.

Starting a web company with your significant other struck us as unusual (and difficult) enough to warrant a blog of it’s own, so we created This Starts Now, where Jackson and I write about this whole start-up thing. Between that and actually starting up, I don’t have enough time to keep up with Hey Miki, so I’m taking a hiatus for the foreseeable future.

I hope you’ll join me at This Starts Now, and sign up for updates from Dovetail if it makes sense for you. I’m unbelievably excited about this new endeavor—knowing you’ll be following along and hopefully offering your insights is the icing on the cake.

Stephen Mayes – Liveblog from Flash Forward

 

Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo and one of my favorite photo thinkers, is presenting a lecture titled, “Restructuring the Photographic Process,” during the Flash Forward Festival today, June 3, at noon EST.

If you’d like to see what he has to say but can’t join us in Boston, please check in here, where I’ll liveblog his talk and any subsequent discussion.

[liveblog]

Panel discussions that don’t suck. Any ideas?

I’m leaving San Francisco soon for a month and a half of travel, which will happily include a stop in Boston, where I’m joining the Future of Photobooks panel discussion during Magenta’s Flash Forward Festival, and in Charlottesville, VA, where I may be organizing a panel for LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.

As I wrote in my “manifesto” last year: I love photo events, but they kind of suck. And since I’m on my way to these panel discussions, I’m especially interested in how to make sure they don’t suck, either. (FYI, Matchstick has been tabled for the near future, but I’m still dedicated to those principles.)

Can we all agree to stop being this guy?

Ok, so I’m being a little hyperbolic, but I’ve sat through A LOT of panel discussions. When they’re good, they inundate the audience with so much information you leave feeling excited but overwhelmed; when they’re bad, they drag on while inept public speakers give overly vague or insultingly obvious “advice.”

In an attempt to improve on this scenario for the Future of Photobooks discussion, I’ve been brainstorming with FlakPhoto‘s Andy Adams and moderator Stephen Mayes. One of my ideas: Instead of each panelist talking about their own projects and providing disconnected overviews of a topic, we will each present a specific case study that we think exemplifies an important theme in the larger topic. For instance, I’ll talk about Simon Robert’s We English, a great example of how photographers can create a dedicated pool of supporters (and buyers) for a book through early online engagement.

I also love how Andy has been linking a larger online discussion to a real-world talk. For his recent Photo 2.0 discussion at the New York Photo Festival, he created a Facebook event where he asked people to send him discussion topics, which he folded into the talk. Now he’s asking his FlakPhoto Network to chime in about how best to integrate social streams with our Future of Photobooks discussion.

Do you have other ideas about how to improve the panel discussion template? Have you experienced panel discussions that worked really well, and what did they do right? Also, I’m particularly eager to get feedback on the questions below:

1. Discussion with the audience, helpful or annoying?
I’ve had varying degrees of success creating real dialogue between the audience and panelists, but I know that it’s key. Yet I often dread Q&A sessions when I’m in the audience, since “questions” are too often posed by people who just like to hear themselves talk.

2. Background Tweet streams, distracting or useful?
We are considering streaming tweets about our discussion in real-time, so the audience can comment instantaneously and content can easily be shared with those not in attendance. I often find these side conversations distracting, but I have faith we can find a way to make them work.

3. Setting intentions, too touchy feely?
I think it would be helpful to ask the audience, before we start, to take a silent minute and decide what they most want to get out of the talk. Why are they there? What questions do they want answered? That way they can zero in on the information most important to them and have a focused question to ask during Q&A. But, then, I live in San Francisco, where this kind of touchy feely stuff is totally normal 😉

How to fall in love a little with everyone you meet

 

Communicating through a screen can be hard, but a good story works in any medium. Image from video by Peter Earl McCollough.

I’ve been thinking about storytelling a lot lately. Partly because I recently read If You Want To Write by Barbara Ueland, which kindly nudged me into believing the title of its first chapter: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” And partly because I’ve been reading a lot of inspiring writing, lately (the best parts of which I’ve shared below).

As I wrote in one of my first posts on this blog, “this year I’m determined to make friends with my lurking creative powers.” While I was traveling last summer, that largely meant publicly calling myself a “photographer.” Lately I’m remembering how much I love writing and realizing that I might make a damn good audio producer if I put my mind to it (to which end, I recently bought myself some professional recording gear).

A majority of the books I read are novels, yet I know that “documentary” storytelling will always be my true passion. Ira Glass sums up why in his introduction to The New Kings of Nonfiction, a fantastic collection of inspiring non-fiction pieces he recommends to potential This American Life contributors.

“While this is the golden age of [great nonfiction] reporting and writing, it’s also a golden age for crap journalism. And for some of the most amazing technological advances for stuffing it down your throat. A lot of daily reporting and news ‘commentary’ just reinforces everything we already think about the world. It lacks the sense of discovery, the curiosity, the uncorny, human-size drama that’s part of all these stories. A lot of daily reporting makes the world seem smaller and stupider.

“In that environment, these stories are a kind of beacon. By making stories full of empathy and amusement and the sheer pleasure of discovering the world, these writers reassert the fact that we live in a world where joy and empathy and pleasure are all around us, there for the noticing. They make the world seem like an exciting place to live. I come out of them feeling like a better person — more awake and more aware and more appreciative of everything around me. That’s a hard thing for any kind of writing to accomplish. In times when the media can seem so clueless and beside the point, that’s a great comfort in itself.”

Maybe I forgot for a while how much I love telling stories because modern mass media make our world seem less interesting to me. I’m glad I’ve been reminded by Ira and others that’s not real journalism, at least not the kind I signed up for.

Maybe I’m also scared. Telling people’s stories, especially in a way that holds the attention of the iPhone generation, is one of the hardest things I can imagine myself doing. Malcolm Gladwell explains why in his introduction to What The Dog Saw, a collection of some of his best New Yorker articles.

“The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell. I say trick but what I really mean is challenge, because it’s a very hard thing to do. Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge. We have to. There’s just too much out there. But if you want to be a writer, you have to fight that instinct every day. Shampoo doesn’t seem interesting? Well, dammit, it must be, and if it isn’t, I have to believe that it will ultimately lead me to something that is.”

I learned very early that the only kind of knowledge worth anything is the kind you get from asking other people questions. This passage from Ira Glass gave me chills because it so exactly describes my own experience.

“I have this experience when I interview someone, if it’s going well and we’re really talking in a  serious way, and they’re telling me these very personal things, I fall in love a little. Man, woman, child, any age, any background, I fall in love a little. They’re sharing so much of themselves. If you have half a heart, how can you not?”

If I ever taught a class on how to interview people (which I’d love to do), I might title it, “How to fall in love a little with everyone you meet.” Maybe I’d write this quote from Ueland’s If You Want To Write on the chalkboard the first day.

“[T]he only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, in the poet, in them. For by doing this, you keep the god and the poet alive and make it flourish.”

She is actually talking about how she convinces her students (all non-writers) that they can be good writers. In a way, this blog is a chance to listen to myself, to honor the poet, the storyteller inside me. Now that I’m thinking so much about storytelling, I realize that telling people’s stories is still daunting to me, but teaching people how to tell their own stories is anything but.

For the past several months I’ve been working with Heather Elder, a commercial photographer’s rep in San Francisco, to build her a dynamic blog and online presence. Instead of coming up with “social media marketing strategies,” I helped her define her voice, the personality of her company and her photographers, and what kind of knowledge she could share with the photo community that people would really appreciate. It’s been a great experience for both of us, especially since she’s been having great success.

People ask me a lot what I actually do these days. Being a freelancer, my work includes magazine writing, social media strategy, and curriculum development. But recently, I think I’ve finally found a phrase that sufficiently describes what I do, how I can help people.

I am a personal publishing strategist. In our internet age, everyone is a publisher. From your Tweet Stream to your self-published photo book, you are distributing a huge amount of content every day. It’s important to be honest, consistent coherent, and transparent in what you publish — so the right people find you and, potentially, hire you. That’s where I can help: by teaching you to listen to yourself with love and to share your story with skill.

A Steady Drip :: This is just a brand

THE IDEA
A Steady Drip is a magazine without a print book and without a website. It is just a brand and editorial direction. The content is commissioned and edited, but then published on the contributors’ platforms. So when you visit ASteadyDrip.com, you see a very basic table of contents, which links out to individual artists’ sites, be they writers, photographers, singers, or graffiti artists.

THE CREATOR
Andrew Kornylak, a smart young editorial and commercial photographer who has worked on several projects that did very well as viral videos.

THE CATALYST
1. Several videos Andrew put together for a non-profit receive 500,000 impressions total.
2. Andrew teaches a seminar on mixed media production at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar about reaching a large audience through multiple channels.
3. National Geographic Adventure, one of Andrew’s big clients, closes.
4. The preview of Sports Illustrated on a tablet PC comes out.
5. Andrew starts wondering: “What is the future was going to be like for guys like me, who are still trying to work and get paid for it, but who are also exploring this whole alphabet soup of platforms?”

THE BIG IDEA
Andrew: In this new landscape, if I were to start a new magazine but I wanted to totally eliminate the overhead, even starting and maintaining a website is not as easy as you think. Maintaining content, art directing it, building your audience are all difficult and expensive.

So what if you could leverage all these independent producers, and by tapping into what people are already doing?

That way you don’t have to start with any subscription base. Even if no one subscribes, if you have 100 contributors, and they have your brand presence on their platform, so your presence in the marketplace is at least the sum total of all of their readerships. Why reinvent the wheel?

And it doesn’t even matter if the contributors are really different. Because they are already doing what they do best, on the platform that works best for them, for an audience that’s already eager for their stuff.

THE GOAL
This first version of A Steady Drip is basically just a proof of concept, mostly including Andrew’s friends. Over the next few months he’s hoping for lots of feedback and ideas for how to refine the project.

Andrew: I think in the future, publishing will be about independent content producers like you, me, and our friends. Right now magazines are going broke trying to garner an online audience, and yet the little guys who do it so well still don’t know how to make money off their platforms. But soon, independent content producers will be hired by editorial publications not just for their creative abilities but also for the audience they have worked so hard to cultivate. Creatives that can bring the whole package to the table will be at a premium.

THE PROS
1. Very low overhead
2. Built-in audiences
3. Can easily adapt to new technological developments
4. Low overhead means real money can go to paying contributors

THE CONS
1. Any cost/time burden falls on just one person right now
2. No funding model yet
3. Can be difficult to coordinate independent creatives
4. Need editorial vision/staff to focus content

THE QUESTIONS
1. Is this a good way to deliver content? What works and doesn’t about it?

2. Do you think advertising can work on platform? Since ads would be decoupled from the content, how would advertising even work?

3. As the audience, do you like that the art direction is very loose and you never know what you’re going to get?

4. As a content producer, would you be interested in being part of a project like this? Is the extra traffic you’d get as valuable as, say, your photo on the cover of a print magazine?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS. IT’S UP TO ALL OF US TO HELP FIND AND REFINE THE STORYTELLING TOOLS OF TOMORROW 🙂

P.S. One of the reasons I’m so interested in A Steady Drip is because Paul O’Sullivan, Yumi Goto, Jeremy Wade Shockley, and I came up with a similar idea for the IMPACT Online Exhibition. We asked photographers to put up a gallery of images that spoke to the theme of “Outside Looking In” on their own blogs, then we linked out to all of them from a post on RESOLVE. The idea had so much potential, but the webring technology we used was clunky, so Paul has worked hard to build this smooth new interface. It’s still very much a work in progress, but we think it’s heading in the right direction.

Ed Kashi ::on:: reimagining old work

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=17732038&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=eb6c0c&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

This is a multimedia piece I put together for Ed Kashi’s book, THREE, in which images from his 30 years as a top documentary photographer are combined into triptychs that consciously abandon the idea of context or traditional narrative.

The sound is rough and some of the editing makes me cringe, but this is still one of my favorite pieces, in part because the book is so beautiful and Ed’s words are so eloquent. I especially like it because it reminds us all that no matter how long you’ve been working or how tired you are of looking at your own stuff, YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND A NEW WAY TO SEE.