Kickstarter I up.

I’ve been looking again this morning on yet another well known photographer’s attempt to get money through Kickstarter.

First Larry Towell, now Gerd Ludwig.

In both cases, I am left wanting to know more. About the why’s, the how’s, the intended results and outputs, about how the money breaks down and is spent ( ie Gerd says it costs $25000 for two weeks work near Chernobyl…I cannot see how that figure is arrived at, and I deserve to know).

In both cases the arguments/pitches are poorly made. There is not enough space devoted to the above questions. Larry wants to finish his book, which I’m sure will be stunning, as Larry is an awesome snapper. However, how many people will buy it? What sort of audience will it reach?  If small, as I suspect, what effect has that book had? I know Larry wants to finish his book, but that’s not the point.

Gerd wants to go back to Chernobyl after 25 years to see what’s what. Again, I cannot measure the efficacy of his approach and output.I don’t -really- know why either, other than he wants to, and it’s the 25th anniversary.  In Gerd’s case, I have no idea how he intends to disseminate the information he gathers, it’s not mentioned. That’s not good. What is mentioned, in both cases, is what you get if you donate. Larry will give you signed bits and bobs, as will Gerd. That is all very well, and may indeed work for them, because people are greedy enough to hope that the signed card they get, or whatever, may be worth a few bob one day. Unnamed snappers cannot play that game. It’s a crap game anyway.

Because the donations are typically small, it seems there is no need to explain properly to the giver the full picture. I think that is an error.

If you want my money, you need to work a darn sight harder at telling me why you deserve it, why the story deserves it.

If I am to donate, I want to know how much the photographer takes in fees, how the work is to be produced, where it is to be distributed, to whom, in what formats, and I would also like some sort of ‘success barometer’. Otherwise I’m just giving money for a thankyou on a facebook page.

There is also no way built in to share the success….should the project have any. If I have funded your project, and then it sells massively and gets you rich, can I not get some money back? A percentage? Something? Tell me.

I am trying to be constructive here. I like the kickstarter idea, but I think we need more transparency, more openness, at least in the above examples.

  • For my trip to the region, it cost me around 2000 US for a week. This included flights, hotel, numerous drivers, ‘donations’, couple of bottles of vodka and a present for Rimma (who later passed away). 12k seems like a large amount, unless he’s going all the way but even then….

  • I visited Chernobyl and Pripyat twice in 2006. The first time it costed me around 1000 euro because I could split costs between two other participants. The second visit however, I was alone and paid 1800 euro for a three-day access to the zone (accompanied by a driver and a guide), hotels, meals and flights.

  • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher

    I would buy Towell’s book but only when it is finished – it looks really beautiful and I love his stuff but why should I have to both fund AND buy it too?

    Why do I have to take on the financial risk of funding Towell when he reaps the reward?

    What is my return on equity?
    What is the tangible on sale here?
    Is Towell a charity?
    Is Magnum turning into charity?

    If I am having to fund Towell, what is the point of being in Magnum? Why are they not funding him? If the foundation is funding him, are they using their own cash, or funds cleared by the 5 stated supporters?

    I had an interesting discussion a while back with David Campbell.


    Apparently I fail “to grasp the dynamics of crowd sourced funding (via the likes of Kickstarter, and through cases like the Sochi project), especially the importance of developing a community of interest around one’s practice, rather than just seeking ‘customers’ for a commodity.”

    The rest is on the blog. Obviously I disagree with him and I think his understanding of buisness is simplistic and in places conceptually deficient – but at least there is debate so good on him!!!

    • Olivier Laurent

      iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher wrote: “I would buy Towell’s book but only when it is finished – it looks really beautiful and I love his stuff but why should I have to both fund AND buy it too?”

      I agree! I like Towell’s work, but in this particular case, he’s messing around with his “backers”. If you need the money to finish a book, then that book should be the reward to your backers (anyone contributing more than the retail price of that book). It makes sense, and doing otherwise is taking the piss, in my opinion. Here, you can only get the book if you pledge more than $1000. I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong. And I’m surprised no one at the Magnum Emergency Fund saw it that way.

      The sad thing is that this kind of Kickstarter projects will undermine others that are more worthy and respectful of the rules and goals of such sites.

      They need to realise that Kickstarter is a new way of interacting with your followers, not just a new way to find cash!

  • John

    Less than a year ago, Magnum sold 180,000 prints out of its collection sold to (quoting the New York Times) “MSD Capital, the private investment firm for the family of Michael S. Dell, the computer tycoon. And the new owners have reached an agreement with the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.”

    The sale price was not announced, but the Times reported that the Ransom Center had insured the collection for $100 million.

    Now, exactly why are the likes of Towell and Ludwig on Kickstarter?

  • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher

    John, selling off the family silver for tens of millions right?

    That gives Magnum a huge amount of opportinity to invest a what is the magic of Magnum?

    What better way to annouce that Magnum is coming back to be both a cultural and social force if they invested in the future? Imagine the creative busines talent they can get their hands on to support the fabulous work in the imaginations of some of the best shooters they have that the public can cherish when they are realised.

    How exciting would it be for them to show the world the investment they are putting into the brand because the market is so so so big that if they succeed, they open up the opportunities for everyone far beyond their own name.

    It would be so good for photography and journalism wouldn’t it?

    Come Magnum, announce what have you done? It is none of our business of course… but imagine if you were confident and transparent in your dealings. Imagine the trust you would get back from your audience hoping you did not pay the co-operative a dividend to keep you going just as you are.

  • Asim Rafiqui is as incisive as ever

    “Here is Larry telling us what he will cover in his project;

    …landmine victims, male and female drug addicts, political detainees in Puli-Charki prison, ex-Russian soldiers, and veterans.

    My goodness, what temerity to ask for funds for a project that offers nothing new, and for subjects that have been done to death. To say nothing about the fact that they say nothing of the current reality and horrors plaguing the country.

    Larry, what about drone attack victims, illegal detainees at Bagram, those tortured and left mentally deranged, what about the millions living in refugee camps displaced by American and NATO military operations, or the families whose men have disappeared into prisons and never heard from again, what about the families of those killed in the dozens each month because of our bombs and our indiscriminate aerial strikes? Why hark back to victims whose stories we heard again and again when they were relevant i.e. victims of Soviet atrocities, but ignore the victims whose stories we most need to hear today i.e victims of American atrocities?”


  • Rastafari

    I believe many of you are missing the point here. It’s not about Magnum, it’s about getting others involved in the project. It’s about getting some press for these upcoming funding / Micro payment systems. Are all of you gonna give up your iPhone’s apps they become a pay to play model” Thats right you too will have to begin paying for those jaunts to check put the latest news on NYT. Get used to the fact that you as an artist have to start contributing to the system that you’ve come expect for free.

    Now with Larry’s and Gerd’s projects this is your opportunity to become educated in the micro funding system. This is one of the tools you and everyone else with a project will utilize to get funding and interest.

    quit bashing / start learning

    Emphas.is Flattr …

    • @Rastafari, thanks for your comment … I think maybe you miss the point. No-one argued that its wrong to seek funding, just that the pitch is flawed.

      You seem to be describing a scene that celebrates itself:

      ‘Get used to the fact that you as an artist have to start contributing to the system that you’ve come expect for free.’

      Is that thinking compatible with the web to date? Is this just posturing or do you have some evidence to back up your claim?

      If the projects are worth funding (from a journalistic point of view) then they will stand up well to scrutiny.


    • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher

      @Rastafari “I believe many of you are missing the point here. It’s not about Magnum, it’s about getting others involved in the project.” – you make a point and thanks yet I am not what you mean by the fact that it is not about Magnum.

      The Magnum Foundation has got cash from 5 sources donated generously in good faith from the likes of Open Foundation. Why are they going through Kickstarter? Are they a charity? If Magnum has failed so badly that it has to start a Foundation to “independently” administer other people’s cash to their own people without accountability, then why should the public fund it?

      If Towell gets income, does it have to give Magnum their usual fees? Is my micropayment all going to Towell? Is Kickstarter taking its 5%?

      Look at what happens when you get Kickstarter right:-

      Is $10 a micropayment these days when an iPhone App cost $0.99? FIFA 11 on the iPhone is $0.99? Hipstamatic is only $3.
      $25 for a signed post card?
      $50 for his music and poems when he is not either an established poet or musician and even they sell their music for $10 on iTunes!!!!
      $1,000 for what??? A hand print choice limited from his choice of 5 and a signed book? For a grand, I want all that, a workshop, an hour with him looking at my work and a holiday somewhere exotic too (and that is if I can aford to be that frivoulous to spend $1,000 that way when I could buy my parter a laptop or iPhone 4 WITH contract that could change her working life).

      Where is the value?

      This is madness and photojournalism at the institutional level having a massive self perception and valuation problem. I do not want to get into Magnum as I am not a photographer and appears to free me ask questions liberated from the lever they have against everyone else who wants to be a photographer – their right to veto photographer’s invovlement in the Magnum brand, be part of thier gang.

      You say:- “From my view I’ve witnessed way too many photographers stand back and not be so supportive of their colleagues projects.”

      I am not surprised as there is such little appreciation of tangible value being offered by photographers that even other photographers must find it hard to support!

      There is no obligation to treat other photographers like have some entitlement to exist working to do exactly what they want to do in life and asking to get paid for it to. Most people work to put food on the table to feed their families doing things they do not want to do because they have the humility to work hard for the others they love. They need to be given something they can believe in and photojournalism is not doing that enough because it is being run by the same institutions that have presided over the current milaise trying to perpetuate itself.

      Magnum has nowhere else to go but to create the Foundation and it is structurally weak and not sustainable. Photojournalists are milking Kickstarter without offering real value and is at risk of killing the goose that laid the egg.

      Magnum and the photography industry has to look outside it own people, stop the sychophanticism and change from a sense of entitlement and self importance into a sense of duty and humility that will connect with ordinary people.

      This is not all of Magnum and not all of the industry of course but the institution of photography has to serve a much broader audience then those who can afford to pledge $1,000 for an “11”x14” fiber collector’s print (signed, dated, and stamped au verso) of Afghanistan image chosen from a selection of five. Your name credited in the Afghanistan book as a sponsor, plus a signed copy of the book, when published.” or limited edition prints where 50% of the price goes to the gallery.

      Photographers have to stop giving exclusivity to a demographic who have both time and money to throw away in artistic contemplation or building collections – around 0.0001% of the world I make that.

      Photography has to speak to the mainstream once again using a language they can understand.

      Magnum using Kickstarter is just more of the same people looking to sustain their own ideas of entitlement and I say that as soneone who really really loves the heritage of Magnum and what the brand stands for… or should I now say stood?

  • Rastafari

    I agree. I have glanced over the point of the piece.

    Speaking from my own experience with the model, I have helped fund various projects on a small scale. Choosing to do so because I once was a recipient of an Arts grant that was helpful at a time when we didn’t have the brilliance of the micro funding such as these today.

    I myself am not a collector so taking ownership of others work is not the point of my donation. I can see the flaws in some proposals -such like those you’ve pointed out- but still believe that Artists should do more to help others. From my view I’ve witnessed way too many photographers stand back and not be so supportive of their colleagues projects.

    Paying for content is something I look forward to

    • Hi Rastafari,

      totally agree. We do need to be more supportive. I guess the opening of that space has allowed duckrabbit ourselves to have a small voice. And I also think its great that you got projects funded this way.

      We think that putting photography under scrutiny is good for it. Sorry if you found us overly negative. That’s not the idea, but the debate is important.



  • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher

    I agree with duckrabbit… thanks for debating all!

    Another perspective from A Photo Editor:-

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