I’ve had extended conversations with the people who run the “development” offices of various educational institutions – a.k.a. the teams responsible for donations. Although it is a truism that the bulk of giving comes from a very small and wealthy set of alumni, the development offices at every school also strive for a high percentage of participation because it’s a sign of engagement. High engagement is a sign of high satisfaction, which leads to more giving. But arguably more important than the amount is the regularity of giving. That’s why schools spend so much time trying to engage young alumni into developing patterns of giving from the moment they graduate. Even at some of the most prestigious and expensive schools, tuition rarely covers the total cost of educating a student, so schools are financially reliant upon regular giving.
Much has been written about the rise of digital photography and its democratization effects. The glut of imagery that it has produced has challenged the role of the professional photographer, and has caused precipitous declines in photo budgets. We see so much incredible imagery on a daily basis that we are effectively desensitized to it. Desensitized to the effort, experience and determination that it takes to consistently produce good work. And because so much imagery is presented to us for free, it’s hard to remember that someone is pressing the button to feed their families while simultaneously trying to tell a story.
I’ve often challenged photographers to consume more photography. It’s too easy to go get tunnel vision while taking our own pictures, and forget the inspiration that lies just beyond our LCD screens. But today, I’m also challenging you to financially support more photography. And like the development offices, I want you to do it with regularity.
The Chicago Tribune’s Scott Strazzante first set foot on the Cagwin farm in 1994, and since that day 19 years ago, he has been going back to chronicle the changes around this former farming community and how its developed into a subdivision. After showing the work to a classroom of photographers in 2007, he found that one of the students was now living with her family in the subdivision, so he returned again to capture this strange juxtaposition of lives – a farming family destroyed by suburban sprawl, and the lives that have taken over the space. It’s the type of project that only exists as a longitudinal study. It cannot be faked. It cannot exist without a dedication to longform story telling. And now Scott has a Kickstarter project to produce a book that is nearing its funding goal, but still needs your help.
Similarly the photojournalism site Emphas.is continues to raise money to support its on-going mission to support in-depth photo storytelling. Since its inception in 2011, it has supported 50 independent projects by photographers around the world whose stories would otherwise have no way of being heard.
Crowdfunding is only one of many ways to regularly engage your predilection with photography in an active manner. Buy a book. Hire a photographer. Purchase a print. Whether you’re able to give $10,000 or $10, there are professional photographers who are producing incredible work, and they need your support. If you believe in the power of photography and the civic value of professional photography, then you should figure out how to help make it sustainable. Put your money where your mouth is. I did.