Strangely enough, the future of photography is in curation. With the onslaught of images invading the web in an ever growing pace, the task of finding the right image is becoming more and more arduous.
Strangely, because it is mostly in the editing department that companies are making cuts (pun intended) . The recent trend has been to let go of talented photo editors and curators, in favor of poorly designed algorithms , crowd-controlled selections or freshly out-of-internship semi-volunteers.
One would think that for websites boasting millions of images, the ability to get to the right one would be a priority. But, because of the sheer volume, it has become almost impossible to have it done by human. While sites like Flickr( billions of images) rely on a sophisticated secret sauce of “rules” that allow certain images to bubble up, others, like microstock companies, rely on penny paid armies of humans spread out across the world. Still, the result is overwhelming.
For now, the burden is on the searchers. They are the ones, the curators forced to push their way past irrelevant images to find the right one. It can be overwhelming.
Thus, the next step is to deliver the right image to the right person without them having them to cut through pages and pages of sub par or irrelevant images.
Because the volumes have become inhuman, the solutions offered are also inhuman: Each company is intensively trying to develop their own Google like algorithm that will magically extract the correct result. Is it working? no. will it work? maybe. No-one, however, has thought to hire professional photo editors that could create a highly edited collection of perfectly selected images : The best of breed.
However, that would solve a lot of problems. Sure, there would be less choice. However, there would be much, much better results. See, the “Long Tail’ theory has polluted the photo industry in making people think that the more you offer, the more chance you have to be successful. A bit as if your local supermarket decided to carry everything ever made. Sure it could be appealing but could you imagine the size?
Even Walmart decides what to carry and what not to carry.
Algorithms can not only be beaten, (Google is constantly changing theirs) but they tend to create averages. Actually, they look for conformity. Thus creating more.
Crowd sourcing? well, that is also a source of average conformity. Crowd photo editing sites like Fotopedia or Acquine are a good example of the results you get. Middle of the road images that everybody likes or that no one hates. Not really the curation that is so badly needed.
In order to differentiate itself from the masses of camera crazy photo enthusiast, the photo industry needs to stop trying to compete with Flickr and its offering and start heavily editing its content for perfect results. It needs to look to incredibly knowledgeable photo editors that the publishing industry has dropped and tell them to work their magic.
The future of photography business lies in its ability to continue to be a medium of excellence. For that, it needs to shed its good-enough branches in favor of its prettiest blossoms.
About the author
This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians” Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.
Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog