I talk with a lot of photographers on a weekly basis.
Most of them are frustrated. I hear magazine and newspaper work isn't what it used to be, the papers just don't care anymore and the assignments are lame, and some of this complaining is from photographers with staff positions. Freelancers are having a tougher time yet.
"And those damn colleges, pumping out more photographers than the industry could ever absorb. They push the rates so low with their willingness to work cheap." I hear that one a lot.
Most people would agree that the quality of many publications is going down, while papers are putting up pay-walls so they can charge for content that isn't original and hardly worth reading. "Why would I buy it?" is a better question?
The industry is in trouble.
"What are you giving that's new?" is the question Louie Palu asks?
Palu is trying to create new content, and in the last two decades as the traditional Photojournalist has hit harder and harder times, Palu has had his best years and done his best work.
Last week Palu's work opened at the Annenberg Space for Photography as part of the major show: War Photography.
A couple weeks ago he won a second place in the Pictures of the Year International competition and a week before that he won first place in International News Picture, first place in Portrait, and first place in Pictorial at the White House News Photographers Association.
You get the idea Palu is at the top of his game right now but it wouldn't be fair to miss mentioning his participation in The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston show: WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY which showed some of the greatest war photos of all time at the gallery, or that Photo District News honored him as One to Watch in the magazine.
Palu doesn't consider himself a true Photojournalist, but does identify with farmers.
"For the past few years the Photojournalists business model has been similar to that of waiters. Go get something and bring it back to someone. A few photographers are more like chefs, creating something on their own, something more unique, but I want to be the farmer. I want to create something from nothing," he says.
"There is no silver bullet in photography and not really any new revenue streams. The days of waiting for the phone to ring with an assignment are over. Photographers are looking for a revenue formula that doesn't exist and photojournalists are getting frustrated shaking that old business model to keep things going," he says.
Yet the things that are working are older models, models from the art community.
Palu started as an artist, attending Ontario College of Art and Design and follows an artist business model. "You have to find funding, you have to pound the pavement and find places for exhibitions and you have to approach museums and galleries about collecting your art. Sure sometimes you get work published in magazines, papers, or on the web but I look at these projects as art projects not traditional photojournalism."
For Palu's latest project he found grant funding through the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for his work Drawing the Line: The U.S. - Mexico Border. His work is also represented by galleries and he sells to collectors of art through the galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts: Houston recently added a few prints to its collection, and he's started selling his portraits of U.S. Marines to collectors.
"The art world is about sharing ideas. It's always idea first, produce something unique to the market since people want unique content, and don't worry about where the revenue will come from. Its idea first, then revenue. You're not really selling prints, you're creating a dialogue with collectors to share ideas," Palu said.
"Right now is the time for the artist business model. People want to work with unique content curators and the industry is about these curators. What are you giving that's new?"
At a time when there's more photographers than ever before, Palu works on long term issues that are timeless. His earlier work on Hard Rock Miners took 12-years to finish, and he put himself through the documentary by working three jobs at different bars so he would have the money and time to make the trips north to the mining areas.
Then came the success with the five year project on Canadians fighting in Afghanistan. Five years is a long time at the front lines and he made numerous trips from Canada to Kandahar. "Canada was going to war. It was the first time in decades that Canada was going to war and I had a chance to create an archive of all this. It was hard, but yet so simple when I look back on it."
You can find a piece the BBC did on Palu here and the Houston Center for Photography's Soldier, At Ease here.
Although I've worked as a photography all my life, I'm currently back at school trying to finish my Master of Fine Arts Degree at Maine Media Workshops and College.
Jan Rosenbaum is one of my mentors for this semester and the project I'm working on is a paper on social media and future revenue streams for documentary photographers.
My retail store for rangefinder gear and Zeiss lenses is www.rangefinderstore.com
My retail store for large format photo supplies is www.bigcameraworkshops.com