Saying Goodbye to Oslo 2011

Saying Goodbye to Oslo 2011

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It has been pretty hectic two weeks. Long hours. I came here almost directly from Garmish (Alpine WC) and maybe the first time ever, I really felt tired couple of days to the extend that I think it affected my perfor­mance. Hopefully it was just a fleeting feeling — and nobody really noticed… ;-)

Agency Images vs. Working Alone

A friend asked why did a paper use agency picture for Matti crossing the line or Northug “stepping” over the line, instead of mine?

Very easy, obvious and abslutely a right choice from the paper. Heikkinen: I was not around. I was two kilometers away, doing a story on the spectators camping… His medal was such a surprise that none of us saw it coming. Northug: I followed him all the way to the finnish line with my 400mm — and then shifted the lens to Matti Heikkinen coming after him. Being a single photo­grapher working alone in an event like this, one should concentrate on other stuff than the obvious “crossing the line, hands up, I’m the winner” ‑images. Sure, those are much needed. But genlemen known as AP, Getty, AFP and Reuters etc. do that anyway — they each have several guys doing this — and my clients all have some of those services. Why do duplicate work if you can use your time for something a bit different — at least try to do that.

So I shifted my lens to number four over the line — a totally conscious decision — and it was absolutely the right decision from the paper’s part to run agency images on that. And: I made the cover with my “number four” — i.e. Matti Heikkinen image from a couple of seconds later.

Working alone, there is only so much one person can do. One has to make choices, sometimes take risks — as I’ve said before. I think I did OK in these games — no WOW-images but that is not what one should be after in the first place. That results very easily into ego-tripping. Instead, it’s delivering the best you can do to your client and the readers. I think I did images for well over hundred pages , including about ten covers ( i.e.he covers of the sports section in the paper) — plus the web, naturally. So I really can’t complain.

In addition, there was the multi­media on the Norwegian Skiser­vicetruck — which I thought was pretty infor­mative and fun to do. I did another multi­media — which never got published — on the spectators living in tents and following the games. But again, Matti Heikki­nen’s gold medal sort of managed to rearrange my day that afternoon…

Fog, Fog and Fog…

Something which might be interesting for photo­graphers — and what the TV has not managed to deliver — is the challenging lighting condi­tions. The visibility has on many of the days been between 20–40 meters. With shades of white and gray — and that’s about it. So no spectacular blue skies nor the city of Oslo in the images — I think yesterday was the first sunny day of the whole competition.

Marit Björgen — as seen on the finnish line.

This is the ACR dialogue and histogram of Marit Björgen coming over the line. Shot head on, maybe 15 meters…? This is what you saw when looking thru your camera.

Not too much dynamic there even if the blacks are pushed to 100%, clarity is raised, etc. And still, the dynamic range used is like 10%.

But, naturally you can stretch the dynamics and make it presen­table (as below). The quality degene­rates badly when you do that but sometimes you just don’t have any options.

Marit Björgen after some dynamic stretching…

Credit where Credit is Due

A big thanks to Santtu, Miia and Pekka — it’s been a great pleasure working with you. We’ve had a good team. Guys back home: great work. Really. Mean it.

I’ve been working mainly for Iltalehti but the whole of Almamedia has been using my images. Some of you may not read Lapin Kansa on a regular basis ( ;-) ), but let me urge you to do so occasio­nally. Every day I have opened the paper during the past three weeks, I’ve just been one happy photo­grapher. I wish we’d see more papers like this who really make an effort to do good visual impact. A special big hand to Risto Pyykkö in there — what a great guy to work with.

Let me finnish with three examples — two from Oslo and one from Garmish-Partenkirchen.

Three images of mine and three covers of Lapin Kansa — by Risto’s hand:

8 Replies to “Saying Goodbye to Oslo 2011”

  1. Kudos to Kuukka! Good work…but why I still smell yeah-okay syndrome in the air?

    Rant begins here: Yeah-okay syndrome is the situation where an organization greets important inputs/ideas with a mellow yeah-okay. “Yeah-okay, these are nice shots, very good photographs…really fine. Yep.”
    Or that is one half of it. The other half comes when these inputs/ideas are in jeopardy. “Oh, you are leaving us…Yeah, okay…” “Oh, you want that much money, but we won’t pay that much. Yeah, okay, then we use screen captures…”(re: your earlier post.)

    For background: some years ago a Finnish newspaper pushed three photo­graphers out of the door for no apparent reason. Two of those were actually good ones: Kari and one of the best fashion shooters of the day, and the third one was no particular loss, i.e. yours truly. I didn’t create great art, but still I was the only writer-photo­grapher around who could be sent anywhere and expected to come back with mildly interesting reportage.

    This episode was entirely yeah-okay. All three were consi­dered valuable, but all three were also kind of ignored until we got the hint and left. Or this is how I remember it. The worst part could be that there was no inten­tional pressure against us to leave. It just happened like a milk carton is forgotten in a fridge until it starts to smell and has to be thrown away.

    Anyway, for some reason I sense the same kind of atmosphere here. Kari is showing some pretty high quality results, I would say solid inter­na­tional level, but at the same time he is traveling alone and working too much. When Kari says he is tired, you can believe that he is tired.

    What’s the deal here? The papers are using the stuff very well, but then they turn around and complain that he is late after ten minutes has passed since a medal ceremony (re: previous post).

    I am not saying that Kari’s ass should be kissed, or even more impor­tantly, my ass, but he shouldn’t be left feeling like this. Inter­na­tional media companies don’t kiss the derrieres of their employees, but they don’t send them to do stuff like this alone, either.

    Yes, knowing Kari’s business skills, his fees probably are truly pavarottian, but the company spends the same sum to employ one midlevel boss for a few weeks. I suspect that if the midlevel boss would threaten to leave the company, it would be consi­dered a major crisis, but it seems that if Kari would say that he won’t do another job for them, the response would be: (you guessed it) “Yeah, okay.”

    So I am complaining about the dilbertian world of office politics and weberian laws of bureaucracy. An organization, any organization, tends to value the internal power struggles as more important than the actual products. The creators of the products are left feeling like outsiders compared to the really signi­ficant people like midlevel bosses.

    The problem is about four thousand years old, so maybe we should just get used to it, but there is a storm of manure coming for the media business. Maybe, just maybe it would be the time to re-allocate some resources from management of things toward producing things.

    I am not talking about “paying more attention”. I perso­nally could care less about some boss giving me more thank-yous or paying more attention to my feelings. I even understand that I won’t be paid more — my business skills suck, so my karaokean fees are my problem, not theirs. However, I would like to see that someone at the very top would simply fire a dozen or two managers or such and employ some useful people to work with me on a difficult job. Maybe even the former managers, because most of them used to be good journa­lists. (Okay, today I mostly work for a magazine that is the very best in this regard I’ve ever seen, but let’s not let it spoil a good rant.)

    The book to read:–3

    And yes, that link is to the Kindle edition ; )



    1. WOW! Thank you — what a great comment. I have to digest it for a while (and men’s 50k is starting in 48min as well…).

      Pavarottian? No, not even close. I wish, but no… You’d be surprised.

      But Jesus, JP you write well. I’m totally lost with words. I’ll get back to this, I promise.


    2. JP -

      time to get back to you, as I promised. What a good rant you made ( ;-) )… “so noble in reason, so infinite infinite in faculty…” Ok, just showing off that I’ve read my William S. in my more vulne­rable years (ok, that then was ref. to F. Scott Fiztgerald)… More showing off… ;-). Ok, I stop…

      No, seriously: you make a good point and a strong, valid argument. Really, really enjoyed reading it. And you are right: this “Yeah-okay — syndrome” seems to be the prevailing attitude in our field. And I would go as far as saying it is particu­larly a Finnish problem — but I will not take this further here.

      Let me give three very small, yet very concrete examples, from my life lately, showing the problem:

      1) The multi­media of the Norway Skiservice Truck I made from Oslo — or the series of multi­medias I did from Whistler last year, for that matter. “Yeah-okay”. That’s it. Nothing more. Not even social small talk “how did you manage that” or “we have to start doing more of these” — not from my client(s) — nor from the compe­titors, trying to see if my work / me was for sale.

      While none of these efforts were anything THAT great — they were just efforts to come up with something new, something if/when taken a bit further might be worth paying for in the future — they still remain original efforts of one person, trying to do some creative work, some R&D. For whom? For the clients, who say: “yeah, okay…”

      2) When I came home from Beijing, I was trying to tell several people, several different medias (including two editors-in-chief at the time) that “btw, did you notice the panorama-image I made from the stadium got about 1.4 million hits on my server?” And — guess what: “Yeah, okay… nice”.

      To give some perspective: 1.4 million in 2008 was huge. It still is for a private person’s website. E.g. MTV3 at the time had c. 400 000 people following the olympics — per week — on their website. But: yeah-okay.… that was it.

      3) Last but not least: you might have noticed how carried away I got with QR-codes couple of months back (see my blog a totally free, simple way to make the legacy print meet multi­media of the future. I shouted about it, I blogged about it, I talked about it in FB and in Twitter, etc.

      But: Yeah-okay…

      Maybe this is why I am despe­rately waiting that this spiral of death our daily print is presently experiencing would really accelerate. Now when it is going down on a steady rate here in Finland, the response is… yeah, okay.

      If — and when — we really, really start to hit the bottom — and hit it hard and fast — maybe somebody would listen and instead of “yeah, okay…” you would get “Hey, that’s great. I give you so and so much resources to take that to the next level!” or even just ask “I’ve seen some of your work… do you have any more ideas?” or very concretely: “Can you do that on an iPad?”

      Anything but “yeah, okay…” I’m just tired of hearing it — or not hearing, as not saying anything and not noticing is really just another way of saying it.

      I won’t spoil a good rant by starting to analyze the problems in the role the mid-level management… besides, somebody might falsely interpret it that I’d be talking about my client — which I’d be an complete moron to do and I never will: it would be unpro­fes­sional and I try to keep the conver­sation on a general and constructive level.

      But I cannot resist the temptation of going back in history some six years when we left together this paper — the very same incident you were referring to in your reply. You are totally right: it was a schoolbook example of yeah, okay ‑syndrome. Nobody really gave a shit. Not before, not after.

      In my personal case, it was spiced up couple of times with “well, we let the real photo­graphers do it” when I asked if I could do something — some big venue — which was coming up. “Real photo­graphers” — I understood — where the “staffers”, but the expression used was literally “real photographers”.

      I could have taken that still as “yeah, okay…” But it has probably come clear by now that “Yeah, okay.…” is not part of my preferred vocabulary.

      I protested — or maybe I should say — I insisted and met with the comment from the mid-management: “Well, you have been working for us for what, 15 years? Would be a shame to see that end…” Twice, actually, I heard that.

      I was about to have my first kid (Emma was later born some two weeks before the Athens games), they had just denied me access to the olympics (after my Best Sports Image of the year in the previous ones — done for them), because they had “real photo­graphers” on their payroll…

      I did the Athens games to the competing paper thru an agency.

      I guess I could have said “yeah, okay…”

      I didn’t.


  2. I guess the challenge here is to discern what is standard human behavior and what is not, so you don’t waste your energy fighting the inevitable.
    For example, a German man told me a story how he and his family managed to get into Berlin in the last train that reached the capital before the Red Army. When they stepped out of the train they were surrounded by a large group of people going for a picnic. Straw hats, blankets, baskets and all. The artillery fire was clearly audible in the background.
    So even a signi­ficant risk does not change peoples behavior that easily. I am sure there are some people at Apple who think that it is really sad that Steve Jobs might not come back — yeah, okay.
    The Clayton Chris­tensen book I recom­mended above tells several stories how world leading companies have been unable to change their courses and so they have become economic Titanics: rich, powerful and bankrupt.
    The best example for future action might again come from Seth Godin. He has made a career out of warning businesses about great risks, but still nobody has hired him and nobody has made any clearly visible seth-godin inspired products or business decisions.
    In a way, his latest effort might even look kind of depressing. He is now launching the Domino project that tries to revolu­tionize book publishing
    That seems depressing in a sense that even Seth Godin has to do these things on his own. Okay, he has clearly chosen to stay independent, but still the project has the feeling about it that everybody in media business is just saying yeah-okay to him. Yes, this is only a feeling, because Amazon is now behind him, but still the project does not seem as massive as it might.
    Anyway, about us non-godins. We are also trying to tell our employers that they are facing a risk and we can help them to avert it and/or soften the blow, but still we are faced with lukewarm yeah-okay. What to do? Go away, protest or conform?
    I suggest none of the above. I think the answer is mostly DIY, doing it ourselves like Seth Godin: getting really, really hardcore with the new technology and then selling the results in a really smart way. IMHO the thing to learn from Godin is to find a new balance between selling the old freelancer inputs in the old way and the new inputs in a new way.
    Godin still makes millions out of lecturing businesses and consulting their marketing, and so should we in our own ways. Then he also creates totally new and independent projects that have this kind of Amazon-connection in the background, but the project is not under the Amazon brand and organization.
    In other words, I perso­nally have already used this website of yours (among others) to educate myself about the new tech. You, Kari, utilize it better than anyone I know in Finland.
    Then I try to teach myself to sell part of my products in a new way — not getting stuck in the lower decks of the Titanic. It is a work in progress, but at least I’m trying.
    So the word is balance. I cannot afford to jump ship altogether, because there are no other ships around. I keep doing old stuff and try not to care about the inevi­table yeah-okays that are part of the old industry, any industry. At the same time I try to build a lifeboat of my own.



    1. JP -

      again, thank you for great commentary. I just wish somebody else apart from us two takes the trouble of reading this — I really think there is lot of food for thought for all of us in this field.
      Somehow I am having tough time writing this — somehow we should disagree on something in order to make a this conver­sation more animated… but I can only say yes, yes and yes… (not yeah, okay… ;-)) — as I agree with you totally.
      You are being smart not getting stuck in the Titanic (I love your similies…) — and yes, I agree on the balance and DIY.
      And I have probably told you before, I am a great fan of Seth — thanks to you. “Linchpin” was one of the most interesting books I read this summer.


      1. Damn! Too much agreement spoils EVERYTHING : )

        Seriously, I think that there is a zeitgeist of pregnant waiting happening or actually not-happening at the moment and this is even evident by the silence surrounding this discussion.

        The next steps are kind of obvious, but also so different from everything that has come before that many people just freeze and wait. When these steps or some potential hypot­heses about their nature are pointed out, everybody agrees and then go straight back and push the pause button again.

        My guess is that the problem lies in the very core of our population. Not even society, but the organiza­tional base of our population before we become a society. Okay, pompous, but that’s my middle name.

        Anyway, I think that what Seth and others are talking about is post-leadership era that basically means post-authority era that means post-bone era.

        Space Odyssey 2001 movie starts from a scene where an ape invents violence over other apes and thus becomes their leader by the force of a suitably weapo­nized thighbone. So he organizes the population of apes into a society under his authority.

        I think the yeah-okay syndrome is a direct descendant from that scene. People can say yeah-okay to everybody who does not carry the bone i.e. t‑shirt collar workers like us. Most people are only really interested in what the bone-carrying guys tell them, regardless of the potential profit to be had from the t‑shirts and also regardless of the economic risk facing their respective bone-companies.

        Seth basically says that organiza­tions based on bones can be catego­rized as some sort of “factories” and now factories are dying.

        The next step is to activate yourself to become an independent economic unit (or a Linchpin inside bigger units), but the problem of course is that most of us don’t have bones nor the muscles to use them. How do you work on your own without the protection/orders from a bone-guy or having a bone yourself? This would be very different from being a “freelancer”. A knight with a free lance has so far sold his services as fast as he can to the bone-guys in order to get rid of his freedom and get under the safety of the bone.

        Scary. New ideas are nice, but not the ones that are unheard of. Better hit the pause and wait for someone to write the next scene for the movie. Space Odyssey 2021?



  3. Great comments, some very interesting points. Food for thought indeed.

    Just remember supply and demand, as always. I believe in the increasing power of DIY in the 2010’s, just like JP said. 1.4M views on a DIY project (or was it?) sounds like huge potential. There’s a reason Philip Bloom has 23,500 followers on Twitter.


  4. (Just got home after a week of skiing with the family — great time and well earned. Now getting back to normal — whatever that might be… ;-) )

    This is a quick response to JP and the discussion (great discussion, btw IMHO) above.

    Most people are only really interested in what the bone-carrying guys tell them, regardless of the potential profit to be had from the t‑shirts and also regardless of the economic risk facing their respective bone-companies.”

    That is a good one. I always wondered — and still do — why “the collar” or other totally super­ficial tokens of “bone posession” are so valued in our society? That the fact — as you point out — that the T‑shirt guys might have something to offer is just totally ignored — even scorned upon — or seen as a threat?

    The T‑shirt guys — you and me — we have no aspira­tions of being a boss sometime in the future — so relax, we are no threat. We just want to do good — no, GREAT — work and be acknow­ledged as solid profes­sionals in our own field. Work that would benefit everybody in the organization, make even the bone-bearer to look good. And as you have nothing to fear, how about listening sometimes?

    But… yeah, okay… ;-)

    We could get into signal-to-noise ratio ‑theory here… one of my favorites. But maybe some other time — I’ve actually thought of writing a blog entry on that one one of these days.

    But, as you point out: what to do? Go away, protest or conform? I agree with DIY solution, that is one option — and a good one. One which I am putting into practice on a daily basis.

    And waiting for the walls to come down. Which is also what I am doing — while building up my skill set which is needed for the visual media 3.0

    It’s just gets very exhausting sometimes — as you noticed in my Oslo post.

    Space Odyssey 2021? No, absolutely sooner. I’d say 2015, 2016 at the latest…

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