What Professional Photographers Can Learn From Kodak

To cut right to the point, Kodak

The logo from 1987 to 2006. "Evolution of...
The logo from 1987 to 2006. “Evolution of our brand logo”. Eastman Kodak . . Retrieved 2007-09-26 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

found out that “quality” wasn’t necessarily what the public wanted.  In Seth Godin’s blog today, “Misunderstanding quality”, he states:

“It turns out that what people actually wanted was the ability to take and share billions of photos at vanishingly small cost. The ‘quality’ that most of the customer base wanted was cheap and easy, not museum quality.”

He goes on to say:

“Quality is not an absolute measure”

Before you shoot me, or Godin, stop and think about the world we live in where we are bombarded by millions of images daily.  Some are great, some mediocre and some are really bad in terms of quality.  Add to that the millions of videos on You Tube and we are witnessing an avalanche of imagery.  It makes my eyes glaze over and my head hurt just to think about it, let alone try to digest it all. But the fact is that we have become a culture where imagery is quickly replacing text to communicate.

So, with imagery becoming so prolific in terms of how we communicate, why are so many professional photographers struggling or going the way of Kodak and Polaroid?  Because they assume that the general public wants quality images.  Quite honestly I wonder if most people these days even notice the difference. Like Seth says, they just want to take photos and share them with their friends. Ironically, companies like Kodak, Polaroid, and other camera manufacturers, along with the ever-growing supply of electronic platforms enable us to do this easily and cheaply.

So how does a “professional” photographer compete in a culture that doesn’t always appreciate or need quality imagery?  Two suggestions – recognize what the market wants and is willing to pay for and produce something that is unique and authentic to whom you are.  Oh, and one more thing – don’t whine about the state of the industry because it won’t do you any good.  Instead, of looking in the rear view mirror and lamenting the past, embrace the opportunities that technology has brought to our craft and prosper. And remember that “change” is inevitable, so stop resisting it.


Embrace Unpopularity

There have been more than a few times in my life when I have said something or spoken my mind that made me “unpopular”.   You would think that I would learn.  Learn to keep my mouth shut.  Learn to be more diplomatic.  Learn to say the things that people want to hear, rather than say the things that I feel need to be said.  But, yet I seem to have a knack of saying and doing things that make me “unpopular”.

I just can’t seem to help myself from being true to who I am.  And each time, I’ve done or said something that seems to polarize the status quo; I beat myself up for it.  Bent stop sign at crossroads, Mississippi DeltaYou would think I would learn.  After listening to this TED talk this morning, I have learned.  And what I have learned is that maybe I’ve been trying to appeal to the wrong demographic.

In the talk, speaker Erika Napoletano, states:  “We spend our lives trying to build ourselves into something that other people think that we should be, when in fact we should be spending our time trying to actively polarize our audience.  Give them tools to help them know whether or not they should love us and give it early and give it often. Because that’s when we stop wasting time, both ours and every one else’s”.  Erika went on to say some things that really resonated with me because she was being perfectly honest.

I am a creative being – a photographer, a filmmaker, a writer and an explorer of what the world has in store.  After listening to Erika’s talk, I realized that I have wasted an awful lot of time and effort trying to appeal to the wrong demographic – the “popular” and the “majority”.  When I think about the things that I have created that I am most proud of, and that have been the most gratifying, I realize that every one of those triumphs have come when I’ve been honest and true to myself.  In other words – I’m at my best, when I stop apologizing for who I am and instead, I embrace it.

So, when I wake up on those mornings after I’ve beaten myself black and blue for being who I am, I try to remember that “being myself” is better than the alternative – trying to politely appeal to the “popular” crowd.  While, it may be easier to fall in step with the “status quo”, it is not only counter-productive to being true to oneself, it stifles creativity.

It’s tough to stay true to oneself in a society that often teaches us to favor politeness over honesty but at the end of the day, it’s far more rewarding.

“Here’s to the Crazy Ones.  The misfits.  The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently”.  Steve Jobs

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