Where the Future is — and Where it is Not

Where the Future is — and Where it is Not

(Back to English — I somehow feel respon­sible for those colleagues/friends who have become loyal followers of this blog outside our small country here in the North Pole. The fight against the absurd “contracts” of Sanoma Magazines Finland et al. continues — regardless of language).

It’s been extremely busy couple of weeks and I want to draw together couple of things which sort of came together today. The example I am about to present now comes from a workshop of Brian Storm in London I attended about ten days ago. Those NOT familiar with Brian: he is the most important figure in multi­media story­telling by far in the world today.

I have to add: I am (hopefully) joining him and his team for an extended workshop on multi­media metho­dology in New York in December, but as I noticed he was giving a brief (8 hours) workshop in London I immediately jumped into a plane to attend it. And if you have never heard of him, it’s about the time. Check www.mediastorm.com

Briefly put: it was the best 8 hours of my profes­sional career ever spent. Seriously. It was that good. I remember saying afterwards when we were sitting in a bar, having a drink: “It felt like this freight-train loaded with clear, intel­lectual vision of our future hit me right into my face.” I hope to share some more thoughts about this workshop later on in this blog.

Then: today I was part of a panel discussion in Helsinki, talking about media, publishing, copyright, these ridiculous “deals” our major publishers (Sanoma Magazines Finland leading the way now) are black­mailing us with, etc.

I presented this example there in public and I am not sure people really got it — and thus I really want to do it again.

I feel this is important. Every working photo­grapher should really think about this. When you think about your profes­sional future — when you think about our future in general.

Driftless — Stories from Iowa

Danny Wilcox Frazier documented the life of farmers and local people of Iowa for five years. He made a book about it. Hardcover, 128 pages, 80 photo­graphs. 39.95 USD. Sold: 2000 copies.

Great. Photo­graphy book. 2000 copies sold. Any photo­grapher should be happy, right? I mean, 2000 copies, that’s a lot, right? Two thousand people saw his vision, his message, his story.

Mediastorm and more speci­fically Brian managed to talk Danny into making it multimedia.

Now: watch one chapter of this which I recommend: Harry and Helen (length 5:25, the sixth from the top) before you continue. Seriously, do it. Put on your headp­hones and concentrate. Click the image below:

I don’t know what you felt (I truly hope you watched it), but my heart stopped beating when Harry says: “We are starving to death on a full stomach”.

How much infor­mation, life lived, wisdom, bitterness, concern for common good, love and longing you can put into 5 minutes of visual story­telling? What an amazing piece.

Now, the point Brian made and I want to repeat here is this: this multi­media was published four years ago. Today (yes, literally TODAY) it was watched by c. 4000–6000 people from 170 different countries. That is: daily 4000–6000 people watch this piece. 365 days a year.

Quick math: 4x365x(average) 5000= 7,3 million views during the past four years. Yes, the math is simplified, but it gives you a ballpark.

Demograp­hically: 53% of these viewers are between 18–24 years old. And the majority of them watch it to the end.

Youngsters, who have attention spans “measured in seconds instead of minutes”? Young people who are “not interested in anything serious”?

Let me repeat that: 7,3 million views. As opposed to a book i.e. pages with “real paper”, which sells 2000 copies. Gathering dust on your shelf…?

If you are a photo­grapher — living these times we are living now in Finland (ref. to my two previous posts) — ask yourself: do you really want to sign away all the rights to your own work? All the possi­bility to create something great in the future about the things you’ve shot in the past? Your stories, your visions, your life lived?

If you are a publisher: 39.95 euros or USD? Hardcover? Maybe reach an audience of 1ooo people in Finland? You still want to put your money on the printed paper?

Worth contemplating upon…

21 Replies to “Where the Future is — and Where it is Not”

  1. As Kari knows, I’m writing my master’s thesis about this and “Driftless: Stories from Iowa” is one part of my sample. What I would like to emphasis here is something that every creative profes­sional should think: What started as Frazier’s personal photo­graphy project about his old home state and it’s trans­for­mation evolved into an Emmy-nominated project that didn’t only employ the photo­grapher himself, but also a video­grapher, musician, two producer / editors, two audio journa­lists, a graphic designer and two paid interns. The video­grapher was Frazier’s friend, but the photo­grapher himself acted as a director to keep the visual style of his images in the cinema­to­graphy too.

    This means the new, computer-mediated audio­visual story­telling is not good news just for us photo­graphers. A better reference point would be a short documentary film, but even then we are not seeing the whole picture, because computers have one signi­ficant advantage over television, radio, newspaper, book and even cinema. Interactive elements can be deployed into the story simply by giving the viewer a chance to choose what she wants to see next (http://interactive.nfb.ca/#/), by giving her control over interactive data graphics (http://tsunami.trust.org/#/the-waves/) or even by making the reportage to appear more like a game (http://conditionone.com/). And that’s not a joke: the game industry revenues have surpassed both those of pop music and Hollywood films, so it’s not kid’s play anymore regardless of what you may think about them.

    I believe digital story­telling, also documentary, is something that can really give birth to all kinds of creative teams. I’d love to see myself working around the same table not only with tradi­tional journa­lists, but also code geeks, classical composers, illustrators, game designers and audio engineers. And if I have to start winning Emmys, I have to.

    So where the money comes from? “Driftless: Stories from Iowa” did (and does) very well because it’s so good. I’m also writing this as the counter at Apple’s website gets closer and closer to 25 billion sold App Store apps (http://www.apple.com/itunes/25-billion-app-countdown/). So no, internet is not all free. Someone’s clearly paying for digital content.

    1. I seem to be a big fan on closing lines… but your last line says it all.

      Someone’s clearly paying for digital content.

      People are willing to pay for high quality content. It has signi­ficant value. We should treasure it, respect ourselves as visual story­tellers, not give away our rights when some big bully demands it… just because they can. 

      Because: the work we do has value. 

      Why else would they be demanding ALL THE RIGHTS to its redistribution? 

      The ridiculous clause in some of these contracts “you can do your own, non-commercial books”. Right. 

      So I can make my book paying all the expenses — maybe 500 copies? — and you get to do whatever you want in the platforms where we are talking millions of views. Interact freely with the population willing to pay for digital content.

      If I have to start winning Emmys, I have to”. Laughing. Tough, but somebody has to do it, right?

  2. Very interesting indeed! Does anyone know if the team generated any income from the millions of online views? And if they did, what was the mechanism making people pay?

    1. Absolutely -

      I’m sure they did. This “reply box” does not give enough room to explain it fully. They sustain their operation very well, I don’t know how many people MS employs but it’s quite a substantial number. I don’t know what media storms yearly budget is — actually I don’t care (I mean: I’m not envious of it). I do know where the revenue streams do come from (but again, this is not the place to discuss it in depth). 

      But I state the under­lying principle which is crucial: high quality, kick ass visual journalism respecting the people doing their job, respecting the people covered in their stories.

      It’s no gimmicks, no tricks. It’s kick ass, high quality visual journalism.


      Let me put this to personal perspective: there is a reason why I have put all the money I’ve had, all the time I have had now for the past five years learning the ropes of journa­listic multi­media story­telling. There is a reason why I have my own (very small scale and experi­mental) multi­media company where we try — as a team — to educate ourselves in this field. Push forward.

      Voice of experience (I teach this stuff) now: it is NOT about technology (coding, software or iPads). It’s about story­telling. Which takes lots of practice — it’s a skill which has to be learned.

  3. Alkuun pakol­linen hehkutus: kerrassaan mainio blogi sinulla Kari! 

    Printti on keskellä kovaa myräkkää tällä hetkellä, mutta lisätään tummia pilviä hiukan multi­me­dia­tou­hu­jenkin ylle. Jotenkin itselleni pisti silmään menneellä viikolla kommentti Telia­So­neran toimi­tus­joh­tajan suusta: “Datalii­kenne kuluttaa verkko­jemme kapasi­tee­tista 80 prosenttia, mutta liike­vaih­dos­tamme 80 prosenttia tulee puheesta. Näin ei voi jatkua.”

    Operaat­torit eivät vielä ainakaan täällä Suomessa ole heränneet (en tiedä tilan­netta muualla isossa maail­massa) siirto­mää­rä­poh­jaiseen lasku­tukseen, mutta tämä on varmasti vielä edessä jokai­sella toimi­jalla. Ihmiset joutuvat kohta oikeasti miettimään mitä sisältöä sieltä netistä haluaa/raaskii kuluttaa. Voi olla että miljoonien hittien multi­me­dia­videot ovat tulevai­suu­dessa vain kaunis muisto 2010-luvun alkupuolelta? 

    Täytyy vain toivoa että kilpailu pitää huolen hintojen pysymi­sessä siedet­tä­vällä tasolla, ja ettei Suomeen pääse koskaan syntymään operaat­to­ri­bis­nekseen yhtä liian isoa toimijaa (tyyliin Kesko, S‑ryhmä, Sanoma jne.)

    1. Sori Jarno -

      en osta tuota. Televisio (siinä muodossa kun se tulee nyt jatkossa olemaan) siirtyy verkkoon hyvinkin nopealla aikatau­lulla. Journ­lis­tinen multi­media on kärpäsen kakka kaistan­le­veyden kuluttajana.
      Tottakai operaat­torit pyörit­tävät omaa liike­toi­min­taansa. Mutta kun on kysyntää, niin sille löytyy tarjontaa.
      Minun ensim­mäinen “kännykkä” maksoi 18 000 markkaa. Siinä maail­man­ti­lan­teessa olisi ollut nauret­tavaa sanoa, että ei mene kovinkaan pitkään, kun jokai­sella on kännykkä.
      Se kuuluisa: think outside the box. Mennään sellaista vauhtia, että “tällaista on nyt” ei anna oikestaan minkkään­laista referenssiä siitä mitä tulevan pitää.

    2. Enpä usko, että siirto­mää­rä­poh­jainen laskutus olisi mahdol­linen tulevai­suu­des­sakaan. Sellainen oli käytössä modee­mi­lii­ken­teessä ja mobii­li­da­ta­lii­ken­tees­säkin mutta asiakkaat hylkä­sivät sen ja enpä usko, että operaat­torit tekevät tappiota datalii­ken­teel­läkään. Hinnat käytän­nössä vain laskevat siirto­no­peutta kohti tulevai­suu­dessa, koska tekniikka kehittyy. Sonera voi olla tyyty­väinen, että joku vielä käyttää puhelinta eikä vaan skypeä.

  4. I liked that 18 000 mark cell phone story. It reminded me that just yesterday I read about the new Canon 5D Mark III camera. It brought up a vision of Deutsche Grammophon vinyl records featuring the Berliner Philharmoniker.
    I felt that the new Canon was too good for the real world of today as the vinyls were too good for their day. The CD records were worse in most ways, but still it was the vinyl that went poof. In the same manner the Canon is too expensive, too heavy, too clumsy for the media that is being born. It is better in all the wrong ways.
    Yes, I’ve made several premature ejacu­la­tions about this topic. Two years ago I predicted that the iPad would create an instant revolution and it didn’t. Couple of months ago I predicted that the big media companies would survive and even dominate the change, but now I think they are blowing it.
    I admit that I might need to develop my thinking to more tantric direction, but hey, I won’t be wrong forever.
    Just to do some kegel exercises: what if the world’s best journalist today is Lady Gaga? She is covering the story of school bullying and she is doing it through several channels: 20 million Twitter followers, industrial strength web presence, top selling music and commercial/avantgarde conceptual art. She gets support even from the New York Times:
    Okay, you say that she is not a real journalist. I say that who is getting their message through more efficiently? Gaga or all the other journa­lists of the world? And what is the definition of true journalism: the status of the media or the distri­bution of the message?
    Gaga wins on the message per capita, and that might tell us something about the future of journalism.
    It might have little to do with Canon full frame cameras or even the iPad or multi­media. Maybe it will be mostly about the value and disse­mi­nation of the message. Maybe the future of media is no media at all — just the message in whatever format.
    So maybe the example you gave was not as brilliant as it looks to our old-fart eyes. Yep, it was beautiful and just about the best multi­media I’ve seen, but it was still heavily indebted to Dorothea Lange and it had an overall backward looking stance. Even if the starving-with-full-stomach was an absolutely brilliant…message. Wait a minute…!
    What if Danny Wilcox Frazier made a mistake by overlooking that crucial bit of value in his work? What if he shouldn’t have concent­rated on the pictu­resque tragedy of the old man, but instead he should have used his technical compe­tence to broadcast his highly relevant message?
    Okay, these are just kegels, but still worth thinking about. Especially on this blog that combines top technical compe­tence with top cultural relevance. I think that the value is precisely in that combi­nation, like it has always been and will always be. Gaga gets her message through because of her musical compe­tence, so maybe the same goes for Gari and his photo­graphic skills.
    And finally my point: maybe we all should snap out of EVERYTHING we have learned so far. Yes, the canonesque compe­tence might be important to get the chance to speak out and be listened to, but maybe it is just a 10 percent down payment that should be followed by 90 percent of gagaesque message.

    1. Ööööh… too heavy for my Saturday. :-) But I admit, you make couple of good points. Can I be so bold that I ignore the rest and just take one sentence?

      Maybe the future of media is no media at all — just the message in whatever format. 

      You really might be onto something with that one. And you are not the first one I know who is saying it. 

      If you got a message — a relevant message — and the skill to convey that message to a large audience… I think you have no trouble making the ends meet as a photographer.

      1. Sorry for writing such a convo­luted text!
        I did just the mistake that I was criticizing: without the clarity of technical compe­tence your message gets lost.
        Oh well. I guess it is too late to explain that I did it on purpose, to demon­strate the point? The irony kills me.
        Anyway, thanks for picking out the one somewhat coherent sentence.

        1. No, it’s not too late. I do know your thinking has so many layers that it really might have been means to an end to demon­strate a point. :-)

  5. I think I can maybe see where Juhapekka is going here. And he’s not alone. The “backward looking stance” was something also brought up by Michael Davis here: http://www.michaelddavis.com/blog/2012/2/25/does-story-telling-lose-in-multimedia.html

    But that’s the irony of it. Driftless: Stories from Iowa has been used as the one grand example of multi­media story­telling in almost every article I’ve read about it. Hell, it was used by me in my master’s thesis. It’s easy to do as it’s so damn beautiful. It also has those great moments where the viewer really connects with the characters.

    No, it doesn’t really have anything new in means of story­telling, and it really does look back so it doesn’t feel like real journalism in the superfast online news world. The big question in my opinion is, why would it even have to come up with some new way of telling stories? That kind of clear, Hollywood-style narrative, good photo­graphy and an easy story with great perso­na­lities as characters is a winning formula. If people still watch it, it clearly works. If the people in Mediastorm love mainstream Hollywood narrative, love their job and get paid, even better.

    I’d be seriously surprised if anyone thought we saw any new kind of story­telling here, apart from it being done mainly for internet publication. It just mixes up the old stuff, because now it’s possible. You can do all that very well with the mentioned 5D Mk3 while few years ago a photo­grapher interested in documentary film had to choose. It’s also very much an internet medium (sorry for the word, couldn’t come up with anything better) as it’s short, easy to share and watch in small pieces. Trying to get that into broadcast TV could be hard, as it’s not a thing you want to watch while eating your TV-dinner, as a background noise in a fast food restaurant or channel surfing while you cook and clean. I’d say it’s more like a magazine interview with extensive amount of stage setting.

    Back to the problem. Driftless is great, but looks backwards. That’s probably because it was photo­graphed first and filmed then, after quite a while, so people in the inter­views were actually recalling their memories. Saw that girl who moved to (was it Denver?) after finding herself stuck in the town bar in Iowa for way too long? Frazier really shot those photos in the bar, they were not staged. The interview was done much later. That is to say not ALL journa­listic multi­media need to look back. As the tools get lighter, the workflow smoother and the teams more organized, I’m sure it’s possible to tell topical stories about current issues. Some things happen now, but they also happened yesterday and also tomorrow. A good example would be the Arab spring, either as one revolution or as a series of them. That kind of 10–15 minute multi­media piece is not that hard to do if you have experienced team working both in the field and in the post production studio. Add some interactive maps, an article with a specialist interview and images like Frazier’s, and I’m sure you’ll get some attention. It’s not free, it’s not updated every 5 minutes, but I’m sure in this narrative culture it has it’s audience.

    Some years later Mediastorm send two guys to Laos where they followed people who try to get rid of Vietnam war era mines. The workflow is explained here (http://mediastorm.com/clients/surviving-the-peace-for-mag), and it sure looks very different from the one behind Driftless.

    1. Tatu -

      thanks for commenting — good points as always. I’m not going to argue about anything, not lift one point over the other — just try to add my five cents now.

      You know my credo: “it’s all about the story.…” but I’d like to emphasize that one more time. 5Dmk3 or mk2 or 1Dx … they are just tools of the trade. As is GoPro, as is Sennheiser mk66, as is SONY EX3, etc. As is whatever technical thing there is in the market ( I am seriously consi­dering getting us a remote helicopter for one project we are working on… Yet another piece of equipment). They are just tools, nothing more.

      You do have a point, though. Presently the techonoly is giving us tools with which you can do things which say ten years ago were either hundred times more expensive to do or outright impos­sible. If you have — say 5Dmk2 plus Zoom H1, maybe a lavaliere, couple of lenses… and you can do amazing stuff. Price tag: less than 5 000 euros.

      THAT IS: If you know, how to tell a story visually. That ‘s the key. And with the risk of making lots of colleagues and friends upset: majority of people/photographers do not know that. Or maybe I refor­mulate it to take it down a bit: majority of photo­graphers are not masters in it.

      I always talk about two separate things: WOW- effect versus solid story­telling. The web is full of WOW- things: things which make you think as a photo­grapher: How the hell did he do that? My personal example: the helicopter shoot discussed in this blog couple of months ago. That is your typical WOW-thing. Ended up onto Rob Galbraith’s site… But:

      But are they really story­telling? Stories from Iowa is. It will be great journalism (a honest, poignant record of lives lived) 100 years from now — when remote choppers and endless versions of DmkX’s are in oblivion as totally antiquated pieces junk…

      Another example: why do we — profes­sional photojournalists/ photo­graphers — so often lately go for the B&W approach? Isn’t that backwards also? Answer is obvious: it brings it back to the essen­tials — i.e. the story — not the gimmicks behind, not the fancy AE-work, not the latest Canon/Nikon model in action…

      It’s all about story­telling. We don’t have to invent something new every two years or so. The famous drama arch has been with us thousands of years. Moving images for about hundred years, photo­graphy approaching two hundred years, painting… not even trying to guess.

      The point is the story. Stories help us to navigate in this chaos we are living in, help us to make sense of the world. When I tell bedtime stories to my children, they are not light enter­tainment. They are tales of good and bad, right and wrong, about friendship, about love, about values which should be cherished…

      If you think about the first stories ever recorded… they were the paintings on the walls of the cave, describing the heroic pursuits of the hunters. It wasn’t words then, it was visual storytelling.

      Multi­media is the ultimate visual story­telling tool of our time. It’s not proactive or retroactive in a sense that “it’s new/old and thus good/bad” — see what I am saying? It’s just using tools at our disposal to tell stories which are genuine, honest, non-peris­hable, universal… True journalism — recording our lives lived, our times, our mistakes, our triumphs…

      As Thomas French, pulizer prize winner journalist, ended his lecture last autumn in Helsinki — and I have been ending several mine quoting him since: “Somebody has to paint on the walls of the cave. Why not you?”

  6. I need to re-read all these comments above since there is obviously a lot going on, but just saw this and made me think… 


    It is a warning that we still hear today in many contexts. For example, author Jonathan Franzen, an opponent of elect­ronic books, argues that tradi­tional paper tomes give humanity some much needed stability in a world rocked by change. He fears that this rapid pace is hurting us. “Seriously, the world is changing so quickly that if you had any more than 80 years of change I don’t see how you could stand it psycho­lo­gically,” he said.”

  7. Couldn’t resist my two cents either :) 

    THAT IS: If you know, how to tell a story visually. That ‘s the key. And with the risk of making lots of colleagues and friends upset: majority of people/photographers do not know that. Or maybe I refor­mulate it to take it down a bit: majority of photo­graphers are not masters in it.”

    This is one of my key criticisms of fine art photo­graphy. So much is now conceptual or technology based that the actual thing itself is empty. The images (the actual thing you look at which after all if we’re talking about the visual arts is pretty important), are not themselves that good. There may be a great story or something really important to be told, but if the images doesn’t work, then it falls on its backside. And ultimately begs the question: why make a visual two dimen­sional, still photo­graph in a gallery setting about something that perhaps would be better repre­sented in a book or a TV series or a poem or maybe going out and joining a humani­tarian group or just damn well protesting about it? 

    Whatever the story, whatever the subject or narrative the image still has to function success­fully. Otherwise, why bother…?

  8. kari: there is a discussion about “disruptive innovation ” about the future of photo­graphy going on:

    I have tried to explain where the future is, In my mind: The interactive publishing of image stories in the best tradition of reportage photo­graphy: “since gene Smith´s country doctor or spanish village” I think this seminar was just about that. If possible Pls join the discussion with your experience… Rgds “Jukka the old geek”

    1. Hi -

      appreciate that you have found my blog. I read the conver­sation (and I had read the link several times earlier); but I feel i really have nothing to add to that conver­sation — nothing of value, that is.

      I agree with you totally: I think the future is Brian Storm meets Eugene Smith ‑tradition. Danny Wilcox-Frazier’s work (Driftless: Stories from Iowa) is exactly that — just to mention the most quoted example in the industry to date. Which I have seen at least ten times…

      And I am super excited: Going to attend a workshop in Brooklyn with Brian early December. My main event of the year… No, it was not the London Olympics, it is the Metho­dology workshop of Mediastorm :-)


  9. Thanks Kari! I don‘t know if you are aware of our small (85 members) group of leica M range­finder guys, almost all amaterurs, Caj Bremer our Honorary member.
    The prospects of working in this medium: B&W images in the tradition of Picture magazine
    legacy, speech-sound- music and then having them in Internet on a freebie site, plus sporadic exhibi­tions, is just the stuff we are aiming at . We have guys that are professionals
    in internet programming, photoshop work etc. yet simple leica photo­graphy is what we want to do… I hope we can discuss more when you have had the mediastorm workshop.
    maybe we could import some vital info via you ?

    http://www.leicashooters.fi all the best, Jukka W

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