2017 wrap-up from ProCounter

ProCounter published hundreds of articles throughout 2017, offering concise coverage of what shaped the industry over the last 365 days.

But looking back through the archives, a number of those articles combine to create a narrative. We’ve looked back on the 2017 archive to cobble together a rear view of the last 12 months.

We hope you have enyoyed our newsletters through 2018. If you have, tell your friends: The more subscribers we accrue, the more appealing we become to potential advertisers, and the more enthusiastic we are to continue doing what we do.

One thing which is clear when looking back like this, is that a lot of the bigger stories in ProCounter simply wouldn’t have been written if we hadn’t tackled them. We would humbly suggest that as far as relevant, ‘bespoke’ content is concerned, we provide a unique resource to Australian professional photographers.

Copyright battles
The adoption of a US-style ‘Fair Use’ exception to copyright infringement in Australia has been an agenda item for years, but major developments occurred in 2017. ‘Fair use’ pretty well smashes copyright protection for ‘smaller’ content creators at the expense of institutions and larger content aggregators like Google. At the start of the year the Federal Government began public consultations, asking for feedback based on the Productivity Commission Final Report into copyright law. The report strongly recommended, among other major amendments to copyright law, the adoption of Fair Use, which is potentially harmful for content creators as it offers a broad set of exceptions to infringement. For instance…

Fair Use in action: On the left is a photo captured by French photographer Patrick Cariou. On the right is work by art appropriator Richard Prince, who in famous for evading copyright infringement by claiming his work is Fair Use.

In September the Federal Government released a formal response, indicating it required further consultations to determine the effects of Fair Use. There was enough noise from content creators, and the industry associations which represent them, to dissuade the Government away from touching it. For now.

A robust lobbying battle was fought by two well-funded organisations: The Copyright Agency (CA), representing the interests of content creators, and the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA), representing content publishers and collectors.

In May, ADA slammed CA for creating a $15 million ‘future fund’ to fight the proposed changes to copyright law. The CA fund was really being used to fight the ADA, which is funded by Google, Facebook, universities, libraries and museums.

Then there was a battle of hashtags. The CA launched #Freeisnotfair, a response to the ADA’s Wikipedia-endorsed #FairCopyrightOz. FairCopyrightOz attempted to sway public opinion by claiming the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, couldn’t exist in Australia without Fair Use, and Australians should write letters to politicians to encourage them to support Fair Use. The CA campaign had famous local musicians, Australian photographer Chris Shain, and authors warning the public that Fair Use would destroy their livelihood. The CA also paid for Pricewaterhouse Cooper research reports, the latest released in November, that found copyright-dependent industries do wonders for the local economy.

Stay tuned. One battle has been won but the war is far from over. The Barbarians continue to lurk at the gate.

Start-ups monetise photography
Tech start-ups are scrambling to develop apps which will cash-in on any and every service industry, and that includes photography. The start-up model works similar to a photo agency. It builds a platform that handles back-end administration for a service provider, typically a casual semi-pro or amateur worker, and facilitates communication between them and a customer.

A fair few start-ups are having a crack at photography in 2017. But professional photography is a more complex industry than, say, private transport, food delivery, or holiday accommodation.

First cab off the rank was Sydney start-up Snappr, which ProCounter covered throughout 2016. It’s the closest to ‘Uberising’ professional photography, and expanded to the US after receiving crucial investment funding from venture capitalist Y Combinator. This funding likely went toward Snappr having its $59 photography service spruiked in an infomercial on Channel 7’s breakfast program, Sunrise.

Does $59 photo shoots seem a little cheap?

Kodak expanded its own rent-a-pro service, Kodakit, from Singapore to 37 countries, including Australia, at the beginning of January. The service has been quiet since its launch. Quite possibly a flop – as are most things Kodak touches these days. Shortly after the global expansion was announced, a French professional photographer met the CEO of Kodakit, and ultimately concluded that Kodakit is a ‘very non-professional’ service that cheapens photography.

ProCounter also stumbled upon another Australian start-up called Travelshoot, which connects tourists visiting destinations around the world with a local photographer.

And then there’s Minted, an online marketplace that launched its own cheap, on-demand portrait photography service, starting at US$100 per 30-minute shoot. One disgruntled photographer described it as a ‘vampiric service sipping at the lifeblood of small businesses’.

The worst photography start-up of them all is Unsplash, an online photo community which supplies photos for free commercial use.

It’s not a start-up, but worth mentioning here is that Jim’s Group, one of Australia’s largest franchises, which started from a humble mowing business, has launched Jim’s Photography and Drones. What the?!

Then there are a bunch of other start-ups automating photography, by replacing humans with robots and algorithms.

Award excellency and controversy
Photo contests were a constant source of content through the year, and it wasn’t all champagne and celebrations. Among the photographers upon whom the laurel wreaths sit particularly well are Daniel Berehulak,  taking out his second Pultizer Prize; Kate Geraghty for scoring Walkley Gold, and Keren Dobia for earning the title AIPP Australian Photographer of the Year.

The most controversial photo contest judging decision was handed down by National Gallery of Australia senior curator, Shaune Lakin, to artist Justine Varga. Lakin’s job was to award the $20,000 Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture, and he caused a stir as Varga’s print, Maternal Line, consisted of spit and scribble (not even Varga’s), and a primitive photogram process. A camera wasn’t used to make a print, and the image doesn’t show an individual – two fundamental elements of a photo portrait. (Maybe, in this non-binary world in which we live, it was ‘on the portrait spectrum’!)

Justine Varga’s image, Maternal Line, which won the $20,000 Olive Cotton Award.

An unfortunate rule-book technicality caused Melbourne photographer, Michael Teo, to be stripped of his AIPP Victorian Photographer of the Year award. Buried deep in the AIPP’s State and National Awards rulebook is the ‘same subject’ rule, which forbids the same model to be featured in a portfolio of entries. Teo’s portfolio had the same model twice, but this wasn’t brought to the judges’ attention until after Teo was crowned winner. After what happened to Teo, the AIPP reviewed the ‘same subject’ rule and decided to strike it from the book in 2018.

World Press Photo didn’t fail to generate its annual round of controversy. The first dose was due to the top prize going to photos of an Islamic terrorist execution taking place in Turkey. Later, there were accusations that the Long Term Project category, won by Iranian Hossein Fatemi, consisted of staged and plagiriased photos – fake news.

ProCounter also climbed down the rabbit hole of contest rights-grabbing through Terms and Conditions, after an alarming set of contest terms drafted by Tourism Australia (TA) and DJI was slammed by photographers. Just another day at TA.

Government-funded tourism authorities are earning a poor reputation for sourcing cheap or free content. Tourism Tasmania went overboard with ‘sharing’ social media posts, by installing electronic billboards showing its Instagram feed. (‘Of course we will only use these images on social media’.)

To be fair, the tourism authorities do occasionally pay photographers. Mainly the ones with squillions of Instagram followers. Influencers. Otherwise, invest $1,0000 to run a low-rent photo comp and get $100,000 worth of ‘free’ photos in return. Who needs professional photographers!

Rob Mullaly, a ‘content producer’ with 59,000 followers, attended the Port Macquarie Instameet. A Vineyards co-funded the famil event, and this is one of the photos produced for them. Photo: Rob Mulally/Instagram.Doors open and close
The always-changing and ever-challenging photo industry lost a few long-standing and cherished brands and establishments in 2017. Looking back, it’s sad to see so many fall.

On the local scene Melbourne specialist prolab, Bond Imaging, established in 1970, called in the administrators in March and was looking for a buyer.

Highly respected New Zealand-based online magazine, F11, suspended operations in August.

And high-end, much-loved Sydney-based retailer, L&P, went into liquidation after 38 years of servicing professional photographers. It emerged that the space occupied by L&P was formerly Max Dupain’s studio – a double blow for photography as it is now just another commercial property.

Then just this week Michael Warshall sold the bulk of Melbourne-based Nulab Group to HC Pro, a high volume photo lab located in Horsham, Victoria.

And after 25 years of exclusively showing contemporary photography, Stills Gallery closed its curtains at the end of June.

On the global front, Micron announced it was discontinuing the Lexar brand in June. By September it emerged that Longsys, a Chinese flash memory company, had acquired the brand name. Lexar’s well-established line of photo-related memory products may not continue – Longsys has no profile among photographers. Time will tell what Longsys has planned.

UK lighting manufacturer, Bowens, also went into liquidation, citing competition from Chinese rip-offs and unmatchable innovation from the competition as the primary reasons. The Bowens brands began in 1924 as a camera repair business, and moved into electronic studio flash systems in the 1950s. Multiblitz followed in November.

US magazine Popular Photography ended all media operations, after an 80 year run.

To end on a more positive note, Perth pro retailer Camera Electronic opened a second showroom in the city’s bustling CBD in February. And Melbourne professional distributor, Specular, just opened a showroom in Sydney, partly to fill the gap left by L&P.

New cameras
This year was all about quality, not quantity, when it came to new products.

Easily the most hyped cameras were the Sony a9 and a7r III, Nikon D850, and the Panasonic Lumix G9.

The a9, D850, and G9 all had major product launch events in Australia, showing the big brands fall back on traditional marketing tactics to generate publicity beyond the Facebook bubble.

Read about the a9, D850, and G9 event.

During promotions for the D850 in Asia, Africa, and Middle East, an inter-continental collection of 32 Nikon ambassadors didn’t include a single female. It was argued that this highlighted the innate sexism lurking in the photo industry, despite it increasingly becoming a female-dominated profession.

Adobe’s up in the cloud
Special mentions to the the industries master rent-seeker, Adobe for incrementally increasing the costs of Creative Cloud subscriptions, and splitting Lightroom into two pieces of software. This hubris-filled corporation seems oblivious to the hate it is generating among customers so long as it maximises shareholder returns. You know – just like a monopoly. For many professional photographers splitting Lightroom was the last straw. It caused widespread indignation from its core customer base – 89 percent of respondents in a well-supported ProCounter Readers’ Poll say they are looking into image editing software alternatives. Perhaps, in 2018, Adobe customers will finally begin to migrate towards for customer-focussed alternatives.

BIFB shines bright
The Ballarat International Foto Biennale took over Victoria’s historic regional goldrush city in August and September. It was the first event directed by Fiona Sweet, who took the reigns from the festival’s retired founder, Jeff Moorfoot OAM.

Under Sweet’s direction, the festival took on a socially progressive theme and invested heavily on a headline exhibition by David LaChapelle. The event was a success. LaChapelle, along with the hundred other exhibitions and events, brought punters from Melbourne and interstate to the city in the middle of winter.

AIPP developments in 2017
Finally, we’ll dedicate a few paragraphs to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.

The AIPP finally completed Australia’s biggest photography project, Reflections. In early 2015 the Institute assembled an army of members to photograph as many World War II veterans as possible. The project proved to be a logistical nightmare, and there were significant delays. But in August, after 6500 elderly veteran’s portraits were captured, the AIPP handed the collection to the Australian War Memorial.

A handful of veterans’ portraits, on show at the PacPrint trade show in Melbourne. Photo: John Swainston.

The Institute absorbed professional video group, Australian Video Producers Association (AVPA). It welcomed AVPA members to join the AIPP by hosting the first standalone Australian Video Producer Awards and Conference in September.

The AIPP also announced that it will launch the Mentoring Marketplace in the first half of 2018, and revealed long-term plans to become the legal regulator of the profess of photography.

But wait, there’s more!
If readers want to feast on more interesting stuff from 2017, here’s a list of stories you won’t see in any other local website or magazine:
PacPrint review by John Swainston
Drones get political: DJI steps in; and AIPP steps in
News Corp axes 70 photography jobs

Are DSLRs yesterday’s technology?
Copyright: Happy Herbs vs Stock photographers
The art of community market stalls
Safe harbour copyright provisions: Getty fights Google, Government drops ‘safe harbour’ provisions
Gameface Media leaves photographers unpaid

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