Sunday, January 3, 2016


I am working on a thing, I swear. Soon. I am calling it a "lightning book" because I am hoping to get it together in 3 week. KA-CHOW! It involves Actually Posting Pictures, which will be a bit of a novelty here.

Back to the topic. Michael Reichmann, when questioned about the way he runs his business, will invariably, every single time, mention that his team has 100 years of business experience. Every single time, I am reminded of a sailboat I used to race on, where the core team had a combined 120 years (or something) of racing experience. They lost Every. Single. Time. They were soooo slowwww. Vast sums of money were spent. New sails, new rigging, blah blah blah. It was painful, but they all had a good time (and so did I expect for the part where we lost every time, usually very badly).

The biggest problem on the boat was that they were complacent. They had all the answers, and they were very skilled, so obviously whatever decisions they made were the right ones. When they lost, it was always due to external factors of some sort, or inadequate equipment, or something (that's a bit of a simplification, to make a point, of course).

Consider now my favorites. Michael Reichmann, Ming Thein, Eric Kim, Zack Arias (although more on Zack in a moment). These guys are all just typical members of a group, but let's think about them a bit. They are all selling themselves as experts and so, of course, act confident. Each of them pays some lip service to the idea of growth and expanding frontiers but one senses (i.e. I sense) that they genuinely think they've got all the answers. This leads to the circular reasoning that because they are extremely skilled, everything they shoot is pure gold. Of course they throw 98% of their shots away because they're Super Picky etc, but it's all artifice. They are brilliant, so their photographs are great, and their great photographs are proof of their brilliance.

Which is why they shoot the same handful of boring frames over and over again. They've got all the answers, and the answers are wrong.

A common theme among artists is the failure of confidence. On the one hand, you have to be confident enough to carry on. You've got to believe that the answer is out there. On the other hand, you've got to believe that you haven't found it yet, otherwise you'll just drag out the same tired tropes and shoot the same thing. Antarctica will look like Kansas with an ocean, Kuala Lumpur will look like Berlin.

This is, I think, an aspect of the stereotypical struggle. The artist is balanced between fear of failure, and confidence that persistence will, might, may, produce a good result. Eventually. The search for the answer must be fraught and worrying, for if it is not you're in the arms of complacency and are going to start grinding out the same old crap.

Zack Arias is an interesting case. He's got the swagger and the confidence, because he's selling. But sometimes he struggles and questions and worries, occasionally in public. And when he is doing that, the quality of his output spikes upwards amazingly.


  1. In my opinion, the sailboat analogy is a bit flawed: They lost by objective standards - you are either the fastest (or 2nd, or 3rd), or you've lost the race. Those self-acclaimed photography experts, on the other hand, are successes *by their own standards* - this is lots of followers and popularity across the web. It is only if you apply the standard of art that they fall short. However, I think your observation that this might be due to a lack of self-doubt on their side is spot on. Self-doubt keeps you thinking and questioning what you do, but if it becomes overwhelming, you're in trouble.

    Looking forward to see your work, I am curious to see what you do (aside from demolishing experts).

    Best, Thomas

  2. Um. Thank you for not including me in the list. I'm still looking for the answers; I swear.

    1. You are! Let me preface this with 'but what the hell do I know' but it seems to me that while your work necessitates a degree of just of grinding it out, your definitely a seeker.

      To be honest, I think you're fascinating, since you seem to straddle some line between the grind-it-out commercial bloke, and the serious seeker of some kind of truth. I have respect and affection for both roles, but I never visualized them as being occupied by the same guy.

      I try manfully to conceal my slavish fanboyism.

    2. I agree amolitor. In the end a seeker of some kind of truth will probably produce a result for a client that has a certain something special, even if it wasn't part of the original brief. Something personal. I think Dan Winters also falls into that area.
      Kirk's work certainly does - even if he is and I quote " a stone fox" :-)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Lula is not telling you what their real business model is.

    I’ll tell you a little story. About 20 years ago, I was active in high-end audio. The digital revolution was about 10 years behind us and the capacity to record digitally was still relatively novel. There were already forums at the time either on BBS, Compuserve or Usenet.
    The high-end forums appeared to be populated from end users and only a few “experts”. The experts superbly ignored progress and worked actively to convince the users that an analog turn-table, tube amp and exotic speakers were what high-end was about. At the same time, the fashion about exotic audio cables also started.

    I am actually an engineer and have also worked in recording studios, so I tried to point out some basic laws of physics on a forum I was a member of. I was ridiculed. It went about this way:
    1-you can’t measure these things, you have to use your hears
    2-just post uncompressed recordings for us to analyse your errors
    3-we have arranged numerous tests with real experts between us and they agree with us
    4-how many concerts have you recorded anyway? John here is a working audio engineer and I would rather believe him than an unknown forum user.
    Interestingly, there were also always a number of less active forum members who became suddenly more vocal against me and sided with the “experts”.

    When I got people at my home or at their home and arranged a blind A-B comparison, they could never tell which was which. 100%. But in the forum my success rate was 0%.

    Then I met someone at work who used to work for a high end shop, which had closed a few months earlier. He explained me how the forum really worked. The only purpose of the forum was to get in contact with well-off high-end audio fans. The whole business model was that analogue turn-tables, tube amps, exotic cables and speakers were the real thing and not CDs or anything digital. If someone suggested otherwise, the plan was to ridicule him. He pointed to me that many of the regulars were actually shop personal or duplicate accounts, these were the ones who came out of nowhere to side with the “experts”. The “experts” were just as fake. For example, John had only recorded a few concerts 20 years earlier before being fired as incompetent and now worked as an audio consultant, meaning he went to the rich buyers and “studied” how to best arrange their boxes in the room. He also explained me that there was a lot more going on that what I could see in the forum: selected buyers were contacted individually and invited to special listening sessions where, invariably, they would get “special offers”. That is where the money was made. That is how John could sell consulting time and how one can sell a 20 grand audio system at 15% discount. The manufacturers played the game as well. They had no choice, they had a real expertise in mechanics, speakers or tubes, but the market had gone from under them.

    Lula is similar I’ll explain in a further post.

    1. I think it's pretty clear that LuLa is, to first order, a wholly owned subsidiary of Phase One. That's their primary advertiser, and the CEO is a former Phase One guy who maintains a good relationship with Phase One. LuLa gets early access to P1 products. Etc.

      And P1 is pretty much what you describe, it's a company devoted to make equipment that normal people would describe as absurdist, and selling it to the well heeled.

      So far so good. While it would be nice if LuLa were more open about the P1 relationship, as a privately held concern they're under no obligation to do any such thing. While they're not being particularly chatty about the details, they're also not making long bogus speeches about a fantasy of an "arms length relationship" or any particular degree of objectivity.

      I'm OK with it. Skinning the well-heeled amateur is a long standing tradition, and I have nothing bad to say about it ;)

    2. You won’t publish the second part of my post (I had to cut in two because it was too long). I understand that, sorry for having send it twice (I think). Please correct the last sentence of the post you published from “Lula is similar I’ll explain in a further post.” to “Lula is similar”.

      Nice pictures in your post about Vancouver. I especially like the ones from the forest.

    3. There was no second half! I was rather disappointed, to be honest. I love a juicy conspiracy! Blogger must have gotten confused somehow, for which I apologize.

      I understand it's tedious to retype these things, but I would like to see it if you can stomach the work.

    4. Well, that was weird. It was here this time, I published it, and now it's gone. Perhaps I stabbed the delete button on my phone?

      Perhaps blogger hates some of the text and silently deletes it? However, it's in my email as a published comment, so here it is again:

      From Anonymous:

      *** Repost:

      Lula is similar. When you or others try to disrupt their sales tactic, they have the same contingency system:
      1-you can’t measure these things, you have to use your eyes
      2-just post raw files for us to analyse your errors
      3-we have arranged numerous tests with real experts between us and they agree with us
      4-are you a working photographer anyway? John here is a working photographer and I would rather believe him than an unknown forum user.
      And there are always a number of less active forum members who become suddenly more vocal and side with the “experts”.

      Lula is in the business of technical cam and lenses (turntables), Phase One backs (tube amp) and workshops (John’s consulting). Probably, they’ll get involved in printers soon (boxes) and maybe exotic colour profiling gear (cables). Their paywall is actually a smart move. They won’t make money out of it, most of the people who registered were probably already using their videos, so they actually reduced the price of their service from 150$ to 12$. They also still have free articles regularly, today the test of the new Phase One.
      The objective is simply to better select naive users (if you pay 12$ just because you feel the need to “support them”) and to know which ones are loaded. From your bank details and address, they’ll get that info. Then, the select ones (not you) will get contacted privately with offers for workshops or special photo sessions where they will be offered a 50 grand camera system at 15% discount (50 versus 20 to account for inflation in 20 years). The manufacturers have no choice, the market has gone from under them. Not that Alpa tech cams or Phase One cameras are bad, high-end turntables and tube amps were also very good, but people preferred to listen to CDs and use cheaper Japanese solid state amps.

      Lula knows what they are doing, they are just not doing photography. It was a bit naive of you to suggest they do something else on their forum, they had to start their contingency plan. If you continue, eventually, they’ll ban you. They don’t want that, because they need people like you to write free content to make it look as if the forum is user generated, but they’ll eventually do it. Their business plan depends on them being experts for their real customers and experts cannot afford not to be right 100% of the time on the forum.

      Kevin Raber worked over 13 years for Phase One, arranging their marketing and sales. Michael Reichman or Alain Briot could not live without sales of pictures to lula members and workshops. THAT is their business. Not 12$/year for articles.

  5. Funny, I have about forty years of experience shooting but must willfully ignore about the first 38 years just to have a chance of doing anything relevant to NOW.