In the latest issue of Working Pro (the Official newsletter of the AIPP) Gary Jorgensen, Managing Director of Jorgensen Albums talks candidly of how the digital age has impacted on the wedding album.....
It only seems like yesterday (1981) when I first entered the wedding album market, with high hopes, little idea and even less money. Having spent 5 years as a bank teller and a couple working in the cabinet making industry variously driving a desk and a ute, my brother, Murray asked if I wanted to join him to try and make something of a business he and a photographer had set up a few years earlier. Six months later I liked the business so much I bought the whole company, all 0.5 of an employee, a couple of racks of shelving and some stock. What was I thinking !
So it is from this perspective, that I look back on what has happened over the last 30 years. Well, albums were pretty basic. You could have any colour pages you liked as long as they were black, you had a wide choice of mats, as long as they were 8x10, 5x7 or 4x5 and burgundy velvet was a big hit back then.
Keeping It Real
“Real” photographers swaggered about with huge large or medium format cameras slung over their shoulders (sometimes both) , toting a camera bag that required a small pack mule to carry and impressing all and sundry with their great skill with this equipment that only they had. It’s no wonder many photographers from those days suffer from back pain.
After the wedding, they would take down their 10 or so rolls of film to the “professional” lab who would take care of things after that. Come back in a week or so and pick up the paper proofs, that’s right – PAPER and so the planning for an album began.
Right about this time, video cameras hit the market and were going to put all of us out of business. The new and “compact” cameras that required a car battery to be strapped to your waist and made indents on your shoulder from carrying them were going to take the market by storm and no longer would bridal couples want albums like their parents had. Instead they would watch something akin to a home-made movie on their tellies, surrounded by family and friends who came to watch the grand event. Ummm....it didn’t happen. Though it was probably the start of another thing for couples to part with their hard earned on at a wedding.
Having recovered from this whipping with a feather, we all moved on. Around about the late 80’s the storm was whether a “real” photographer would shoot using 35mm. I remember heated debates at IAP (predecessor of AIPP) about this and the part time photographers entering the market and killing it for everyone. It was also around this time and earlier, that a group of out-there wedding photographers were changing the way they shot and sold weddings. Albums started to become more works of art and suddenly taking a picture on an angle and out of focus became popular, along with couples drowning in champagne glasses, or so it seemed. What drugs were they on? Who knows, but I think it was a drug of change and it started a whole new wave through the wedding industry.
These were the days of white suits, afro hair and gold chains. Those progressive photographers started working with album companies and labs to produce something different. Who would of thought of cutting a photo, mixing sizes and colour? Next thing innovative new albums design programmes emerged, led by Australian and NZ album companies I might add. We spent more time in front of computer screens and less time in front of our clients. Before we knew it, a professional photographer was judged by the type of car he drove rather than the equipment he used. It was Gordon Gecko of Wall Street – but not for long.
And so, around the mid 90’s, the shake out was well and truly under way. Australian photographers, album companies and labs were heading overseas to spread the word. It was good to be an Aussie – it helped open doors, others were interested in our strange accent and even stranger ideas. I have to add, there were also some of our cousins from NZ making inroads too. Now some of you who were around in those days may remember it differently and those who weren’t there probably don’t care and why would you? Because we live in the here and now and we can’t go back – or can we? Things would have gone spiffingly well if it weren’t for a few things. Firstly, the rest of the world listened to us and caught up or at least changed the way they perceived wedding photography. Soon, just being from “down under” didn’t cut it. The other two things kind of caught us unawares.
Clash of the Titans
The digital age was looming like a great cloud over us. DSLR cameras were getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. The advent of the press printed photo book and new technologies that could print on anything from a brick to a cushion to the side of a building, were moving at a rapid pace that would make even fast bowler Brett Lee blush. Everyone became an instant photographer. Photographers started shooting like they had an Uzi machine gun and now spent most of their time behind computer screens trying to sort out a few thousand images they’d shot at the last wedding, culling them to a manageable 3 or 4 hundred, knowing 60-70 would make it into an album. Suddenly the world was a lot smaller and photo products (albums, books, cups, cushions) could be made overseas and shipped here easily and cheaply. No-one said they were good. Or were they? Where was it all going? Well, just when we might have sorted it out, along came the bogie man, creeping up behind us like the grim reaper and WHAM! – the GFC was upon us.
Suddenly, it was like the pub running out of beer just when you were getting revved up - the world had changed. People stopped spending. Brides were getting confused with a wedding industry telling them to ask for the digital images and save money. What were they going to do with the images – who knows. Enthusiastic photographers thought weddings might be a good supplement to their income (if they had one). Shoot and burn became the new catch cry. “Real” photographers started running around like their hair was on fire (if they still had any). Where was it all to end? Will it end? Is this the beginning of the end of wedding photographers and wedding photo albums?? Has digital killed the industry? Or has it just thrown up more challenges, more ways to re-invent ourselves, to make changes.
We haven’t got over the last revolution I hear you say. But things are changing.
So how do we change with it. Well, I’m not about to let the cat out of the bag for what we’re going to do, but I will say, we have introduced new products to take advantage of the digital world, improved and new services to appeal to a broader range of photographer and we have also looked beyond our horizon in a geographical sense as well. But here’s some things I think we ALL need to do.
First, stopping running about like your hair is on fire. It isn’t. Realise, that like King Canute, you can’t stop the wave. Sure, some will get swept out to sea, survive and make a few bucks. DSLR cameras, photo books, social media sites and digital phones are here to stay.
Next, ask yourself why you are in the business of photography. Is it because you are so passionate about the “art”, is it because it seemed like a good business to be in or are you somewhere in between being enthusiastic about the craft and wanting to start a business – of some kind. Or should you have listened to your Mother and become a plumber like your aunty or a hairdresser like your uncle – we all know they make more money than photographers. Despite my youthful looks , after 30 years my experience says that really true artists make it, simply because they are so good and people will throw money at them. The passionate photographer with no business sense eventually fails or at best scrapes together a living. The enthusiast with business sense can do quite well. I can hear the loud cries from here – of course I know you have done well, but I generalise of course.
Good photographers with a head for business, who set themselves apart from what is on offer to the amateur will do well.
As an industry, individually and as a professional body, we need to hammer home to the end user of our products, the differences between what we do and offer to what is available to the consumer. But make no mistake, the “prosumer” (professional amateur consumer – who thinks of these names?) is out there and the blur between the professional and them is growing. More and more we will see companies who have exclusively supplied the professional, morph into a quasi retail or perhaps even a full-on retail company just to survive. I can’t see any major camera manufacturer only supplying to the professional market – why would they? The amateur market is far bigger.
Professional, hand crafted wedding albums will be one such product in a vast array of products and tools that are on offer, that will differentiate the professional from the amateur. Products and packaging will set you apart. Choosing not to use them is OK, but don’t be surprised if someone doesn’t pick up the slack and see an opportunity and takes full advantage of it. Don’t be surprised when you see your beautiful images, designed on a home computer on one of the plethora of do-it-yourself design programmes, printed at the local retailer and bound into a photo book. And don’t be surprised if you have to do more weddings to make ends meet.
We know there is a place for the wedding album in the digital age. We know that there are people out there that still want quality and custom made products, be it furniture, suits or shoes. And when there isn’t, we’ll be doing something else like plumbing or hairdressing.
On a lighter note, think of the money you’ll save not having to go to physio for your back because your cameras is lighter – or you don’t use one anymore.
(Note: The article has been re-printed with the kind permission of Peter Eastway, editor of the Working Pro.)