Rachel Hulin and I have been emailing back and forth all weekend and the subject line has remained the same: Sad.
I am sad. Sad that the PhotoShelter Collection hit the bricks. Sad that Rachel’s rich, multiple-post days at Shoot! The Blog are behind her (or so I thought, she’s set herself a lively pace already over at her as-yet-unnamed Blog).
The tone of her writing is almost as enjoyable as the photography she features: “Whoa, Blade Runner smokes a doobie and watches Koyaanisqatsi” from here. Rachel is witty and funny without being acerbic or mean. Getting laid off from a dream job may change that but I doubt it. I had the pleasure of taking coffee with her when I was in New York last spring and she is genuinely sweet and has a big crush on photography. No surprise there.
But, sadly, last week she went down with the ship as PhotoShelter closed down it’s stock photography division (leaving the popular and original PhotoShelter Personal Archive service intact).
The announcement came on PhotoShelter’s other Blog. In it, company founder Allen Murabayashi cited Getty’s far-reaching hold on the marketplace as a major obstacle to the success of PhotoShelter’s photographer-focused business model. The fickle interests of Venture Capitalists also meant that the much needed, continued-growth funding just didn’t materialize this time around.
To the outside eye (namely me- I haven’t bought any stock in the last few years so I must state that I didn’t ever use PhotoShelter as a buyer but I did make use of their resources: Archived videos of their various Townhall events, a must see here, and of course, Shoot!), PhotoShelter seems to be extremely supportive of photographers, especially in the areas of education, information and community building. In an industry where so many people are working in isolation, I’m sure this was appreciated, maybe even more so than their photographer-favoured sales split of 70/30. Despite all of this, there was a bit of rancor voiced in response to Allen’s statement last week on the Blog. I ask Rachel about it:
It’s clear from the way you talk about your experiences with Shoot! that you had a lot of love for PhotoShelter. In response to Allen’s post regarding the news and amid a generally supportive mood, there’s been a bit of trashy talk about the decision to shutter stock operations after only one year. Do you have anything to say in response to this criticism?
Mostly, I just think the shuttering of the PhotoShelter collection is a shame. I do think the powers-that-be always had the best intentions for the photographers who were a part of the collection, and in the end did not want to compromise their mission to create a fair platform in the the industry for those folks. Plus, this was a vc-funded venture, and at some point, you have a fiscal responsibility to face.
I do think that the stock industry is a very tough nut to crack. I cannot tell you how glad I was to have a subscription deal when I was a photo editor for an online magazine, at Rolling Stone, for example– I needed many images, quickly, and I just did not have the time or money to negotiate each picture. And since the industry is increasingly digital, the imagery itself has become devalued, and I’m not sure there’s going to be recovery from that.
So I can see both sides of the issue. Obviously I wish PS had had more than a year to make its case, but such is life. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the company. I think the idea was brave and smart.
And don’t forget about the personal archive– that’s still a fantastic product; I need to get an account myself, asap.
Well, Rachel has shared with me a whole series of shots from this wedding (Neil Harris, PE of CNNMoney.com and photographer Kelly Shimoda). An interesting and well-appointed group, guests included a group of shooters who met at ICP and started Veras Images.
I think those were lovely. And I like these as well:
But really I wanted to use the Lounge this week to reflect on Shoot! because it sprang up last winter as such a delightful surprise- it immediately became a rich source of photographic goodness for all. I asked Rachel about her experiences:
Well let’s start by asking about your favourite posts?
I’ve had so many posts that have been meaningful to me, so this is a tough one to answer. Aside from the fun little ditties I’d post from time to time, it was really when I was able to show something extraordinarily beautiful or champion a young photographer that was so rewarding. I loved doing interviews too– pretty much everyone I’ve spoken with has been amazingly forthcoming and happy to help other photographers learn about their processes. That community encouragement was really wonderful. If I had to break it down: for pure beauty, I’d say Bill Henson’s opera work (it just slays me every time):
An interview that taught me a lot was with Cameron Davidson, who gave me a lot of his time and was so happy to share.
I always got excited when someone I’d used previously when I was a PE would do something great, like when Ryan Pfluger shot David Carr for the Times:
This book truly blew me away, and I was so glad to be able to publicize it:
And finally, I loved being able to provide concrete information for photographers, like this list of grants I compiled back when the pulitzers were announced:
And these are really just the ones off the top of my head– there are so many that I loved.
Is there anything that you felt you couldn’t do with Shoot! that you want to do with your new Blog.
One of the most amazing things about the blog was that I was given incredible freedom to write what I wanted. There may have been one or two times I was told to pull back on something, but for the most part, it was really an ideal platform. I think I’d like the new blog to be a bit different, if only to switch things up a bit– I probably will be a bit more political, and I’ll talk about what’s going on in my career a bit more, perhaps. We shall see. My readers very much guided me with comments, and questions, too– so it will be up to everyone who is reading to sort of steer it, I think. I never really knew what I was going to come up with each morning, and that was always part of the excitement. I’d sit down, get some caffeine, and see what happened. I think I’ll still work that way.
On a related note, how did the experience of writing Shoot match up to your expectations of what it would be?
It was much better than I even could have imagined. I was hired for the position with no blogging experience. It was really a leap of faith on Photoshelter’s part. I knew a lot about the industry, and had a pretty good fine arts background, but writing about it publicly scared me to death. It probably took me two months to stop having panicky dreams about doing a terrible job! But then I hit my stride a bit; it’s sort of felt like an intense grad school project, like I’ve been writing a dissertation for the past couple months. It was just luxurious to look at everything in my life through the guise of photographs, and then write about it. I really think photography is such a pure reflection of the human experience, and it’s a joy to steep oneself in that. I learned so much.
How has this changed what you want to do- I know for myself, my Blog has changed much of my knowledge and interest base, which I wasn’t exactly expecting. I’m curious if you’ve had a similar experience- will be a bit underwhelming to go back to PE work for example?
This has changed everything. First, I’ve loved the writing, and want to continue with that. Writing was always something I wanted to explore, and I’d miss it terribly if it were gone. I feel like I’ve exercised some serious muscles by getting up every morning and posting something– some days it was hard to find a peg, and some days I had more material than I could handle. Secondly, the community of folks I’ve met has been tremendously important. We’re all so lucky to love photography, and to be able to share and encourage one another is just a thrill. So I’d hate to lose that. And finally, I felt like I was doing something important. The fact that I could post something like Eric Etheridge’s work was so satisfying. It would certainly be a hard change to go freelance edit and have to crop Christina Aguilera pictures all day.
So, with those things in mind, I’m going to try to keep my own blog going. I had about an hour on Thursday to set it up, so it’s going to take some time to hone. And, of course, it’s not going to pay the rent– so that’s where the tricky part comes in. One thing I have let lapse a bit is my own photography; I have two projects in the works, and can hopefully start shooting one in a few weeks. I will likely have a print sale in a few weeks to support the blog at least in the short term. I think I’ll document the whole thing– going to the darkroom, making the c-prints, talking to the folks at the lab– so that should be fun.
All that said, I did get a lot of joy out of being a photo editor, and I’m not at all averse to that if I can find the right place. Same thing for art buying– maybe I could learn those ropes! Or you know, if someone called and wanted me to write a photography column for them, I wouldn’t say no. I am also intrigued by publishing. Aperture and powerHouse and a host of others are doing great work, and that seems like it could be an interesting avenue to pursue.
So we shall see! Or I may just move to Buenos Aires and write a novel. Depends on who wins the election.