This week, I had the privilege of presenting to the International VR Photography Association at their annual conference, hosted this year in New York City. This is a group of some of the nicest, most talented creative professionals on the planet. As this is the second year that I’ve presented to them, I count myself lucky to have such an audience.
Although directed specifically toward the professional panoramic photographer community, I thought the presentation worthy of sharing as it’s a candid snapshot of our campaign to grow the pano industry by building consumer adoption and celebrating the industry’s professionals.
“A lot is happening in the panoramic photography space right now, but what concerns me is what’s not happening; our most experienced and talented pros are not getting the recognition they deserve. Panos are powering search, entertainment, and marketing in some really exciting new ways, and a flood of new, consumer–centric pano accessories are entering the market. But where’s the professional amidst all of this? They — you — obviously haven’t gone away, and yet despite this rise in pano adoption, is it generally that much easier to make a name for yourself? I think not.
The problem is not the growing utilitarian interest in panos. It’s not the search engines or the ad agencies commissioning commercial panos. The problem is that the broader consumer market does not yet view panoramic photographers as artists on par with musicians, fine art painters, or poets. And the longer we wait for someone else to position you as such, the harder it’s going to be.
El Greco, Kafka, Dickinson, Thoreau, Poe, and Vincent van Gogh… these are some of the highest-regarded artists in recorded history. And yet, in each case, these creative pioneers didn’t achieve much fame — or any — until after their own deaths.
Why is this? How is it that such influential work could be so easily disregarded in its time, and yet go on to be so cherished years later? The ultimate answer is simple. It all comes down to social conditioning.
El Greco was actually scorned in his time because his expressionistic paintings were “ridiculous.” Franz Kafka’s existential writings were so unappreciated that his dying wish was that his lifetime of work be destroyed. Even Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven was initially sold for just $9.
The real tragedy in these cases, is that society wasn’t ready. Like Galileo or Wegener, these visionaries poured their hearts and souls into styles and concepts that were simply ahead of their times. In much the same way, panoramic photography is ahead of its time. Like many art forms in their infancy, ours is a medium generally misconstrued as purely utilitarian. Panoramas are what you create when you need a wider field of view. When you need to help people understand their commuting path. Or to advertise highly–trafficked places of business.
There’s nothing wrong with that type of work, but what about the moments in between? Panoramic photography is an exhilarating medium. It holds the unique ability to return you to a place and time in ways that neither photo nor video can replicate. With personal photography instruments getting more powerful by the day, what makes a photographer a photographer is more than just a good lens or an eye for cropping. In our case, it’s when, where, who, how bright, how long, how many, and how to do it without cropping the image. That requires skill on a whole different skill.
So as I look down the road at what the next decade holds for panoramic photography, a potentially gloomy forecast exists; that the real momentum awaiting the industry will not be focused on art so much as science. We’re beginning to create panos for all the right reasons. We’re improving consumer decision–making. We’re helping democratize online exposure for shops. We’re archiving important, irreplaceable global monuments.
But at the same time, we may be leaving something behind. We are largely archiving, rather than celebrating. That’s what art is supposed to do… It translates. It interprets. It gives us the view we remember, or that we want to remember. You know this. That distinction is why you’re here. It’s why you’re a member of the IVRPA, and why you’ve likely dedicated your life to a relatively unknown medium; you see the importance and beauty of 360-degree storytelling.
So the question is; with all the buzz and momentum surrounding a more commoditized pano trade, how can visionaries like you stand out? The answer today is the same as it’s always been: social conditioning.
If Apple’s recent meteoric rise to household adoption is any indication, both our personal and business lives are being led by consumer-oriented technology products and platforms. The music industry was wallowing in the mess of cyclical reintroductions before iTunes and the iPod made music fun again. Printed publications were on their death bed until tablets resuscitated them. And phones; they have changed our lives in the past few years. But it’s not the hardware that made this possible. It was — and I’m not joking — the Angry Birds.
The joyful, social qualities we’re adding to our technology–driven lives are changing everything.
Whole industries are being born or reborn. Not just music, magazines and gaming, but productivity tools, books, radio, video, and photo. Even the very tenets of human communication have been affected. Four percent of all images ever shot now live on Facebook pages. Instagram hasn’t stymied the professional photography industry, but it has resurrected an interest in it. And with 2 billion smartphones in circulation by 2015, there’s no end in sight.
This is our window of opportunity — to extend the pano dialogue to the masses. To not only spread awareness, but viral interest — through the joy that 360-degree discovery enables. Some of you may recall the last time I was at an IVRPA event. At that time, TourWrist was a three–person shop. I was showing off the potential this medium has when you view it on smart devices. Of course, that type of viewing experience is old news to you today, but it’s not old news for most people. Every single time I show someone new the visceral quality of being dropped into the middle of a pano, they light up. Sometimes they swear. And they always tell their friends. This is how broad markets get conditioned, and for TourWrist, it’s just the beginning. As a company, we won’t be alone in furthering your exposure to the masses, but we are at the forefront.
Since the last time I spoke to you, we’ve seen nearly a million downloads, we’ve been praised by CNN, WIRED, and others. We were a Best of Show winner at Macworld and won $1 million in advertising for being the DEMO People’s Choice. But most of all, we haven’t stopped innovating. We recently showed off planar acceleration control, which allows people to walk in and out of the panos you’re producing. We’ve just made it really, truly easy to add hotspots to your panoramas (we call them “PanoSpots”). We still don’t charge for any of our services. And we remain platform agnostic, delivering a powerful set of free, and easy to use services to the broadest possible audience.
But whether or not you choose to join our cause, I appeal to you to join the cause. Drop the antiquated publishing and marketing models that don’t hold up anymore. Get your work out there — and I mean really get it out there. Get tens of thousands of people engaging with your brand. Surround yourselves with hobbyists (even the smartphone–spawned panoramic photographers) who are ready to be your biggest fans. Enough interest exists to cultivate a serious following.
Van Gogh’s bargain bin paintings may not have been valued much in his time, but they certainly are today. Let’s avoid a bargain bin mentality for panos by getting people excited about quality of your craft while you’re still alive.”
- Reuters – Still in the Frame, the Camera Defies Smartphone Onslaught (4/25/12)
360 Pano: New Years Eve in Times Square. Pano by Jook Leung [Pano ID: 963]
360 Pano: Grand Canyon (Cape Royal on the North Rim). Pano by Enviropix Photographer Jeff Handley [Pano ID: 22616]