The Power of the Unconventional

November 2, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Two nights ago, I did something that for me is quite different. I took 5 hours out of my day to execute a well planned photographic shoot. Most of my photography is very unplanned, and relies on a heavy dose of chance combined with many miles of walking. The photographs that I made at the OccupyLSX camp at St. Paul’s Cathedral were the opposite to this – I had clear intentions, had established media contacts on the ground, and while I wasn’t sure exactly how the photographs were going to look, I was 95% certain that I could come back with an interesting set of images.

You can see the photographs here: Occupied Spaces.

Café Tent, St. Paul’s Camp, 31st October 2011.

The process of making the work was really interesting; while the actual taking of the photographs was fairly routine, the conversations that I had to enable me to gain access were varied – sometimes the people I spoke to just ‘got it’ immediately, and welcomed me to take photographs almost straight away. Others needed to know more, and I had to engage in some serious ideological and theoretical debates to gain access. Some people just gave me a straight ‘no’, and had very little interest in getting involved. There was a strong mistrust of press photographers from some sections of the protestors.

What I am now finding interesting (and a good experiment) is how the work is disseminating itself. Around midday yesterday, I sent the full story to my contact at the Guardian Weekend magazine, who had previously expressed an interest in the work even before I had shot it. All credit to my contact – while the ultimate response was a ‘no’ on publication (no room in the upcoming issues) – their response was quick and helpful, and included contacts for other sections of the Guardian newspaper. I then pitched it out to G2, the main Guardian Newspaper, The Independent New Review and the NYT Lens Blog. I waited for 15 hours, heard nothing back, and decided to change my approach.

I got the story live on my website, gave full responsibility for syndication to my Parisian rep Picturetank, and then did a simple social media blast on all the usual networks – twitter, facebook, flickr and G+.

 

the original tweet about 'Occupied Spaces'

 

In the last 3 hours, the traffic to my website has been brisk, and links back to the work have proliferated on both facebook and twitter. It’s also been picked up by Alison Zavos at Featureshoot.com – a blog I’ve wanted to show my work on for a while. I’ve had almost 900 unique visits to my website in the 3 hours since I posted the first tweet.

 

screen grab from google analytics showing the upsurge in visits to my website.

 

Ultimately, I’m not overly concerned about traffic to my website or any personal (imaginary!) fame from the work – my intention was (and still is!) to shine a light on an issue and get that issue seen by as many people as possible. I know that mainstream media is still the best way to reach a huge audience, but I was also aware that my photographs were of a very current issue, and there was a limited time span to get the work out there. When the response from the media outlets that I contacted was so muted, I had little choice but to go it alone.

This all brings me back to a very pertinent statement made by Jason Larkin at a panel discussion that we were both involved in:

“If my work is only ever going to be seen by photographers, then I might as well just give in now.”

If I have one goal for this work, it’s that it can reach out to a wider audience than just the closely-knit photography community. It will be interesting to see whether a ‘new-media’ approach can deliver this dream!