Friday, January 21, 2011

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Flavor of the Year


We are about three weeks in to 2011, and I am already trying to figure out who the "flavor of the year" is going to be. You see, every year in this industry there is only one or two magazines, newspapers or online publications that "have a budget" for original documentary photography; which is what I like to think I specialize in.

These "flavor of the year" publications generally buck the trend of diminishing budgets and layoff's. These publications often have money to burn, indeed some even refer to it as a "burn rate" of original imagery they need to purchase per month. Identifying these publications early, and making good pitches for interesting story ideas, can be the difference between having a great, creative and productive year; or having another year of stale and repetitive work.

Past publications that made a statement by funding original reporting include, but are not exclusive to, Portfolio Magazine,,, and a host of others. Even the WSJ, after it was bought out by News Corp, was flying me all over China to do some really important and interesting stories. But alas all of that has dried up, and so the trend continues. This leaves photographers, like me, bouncing around looking for the next editor who can actually afford a day rate for a whole week of shooting.

Now sure, many of you may be reading this and think that I'm bitter. I'm not. I'm a happy-go-lucky kind of guy and I've had a lot of great memories and moments being a documentary photographer in China. I will also continue to be a documentary photographer in China no matter how bad the industry gets, because I still strongly believe in what I do and I believe that I have a unique vision of China and how to document it. This is what keeps me motivated. This is what gets me up in in the morning.

My blog today, however, is a REALPOLITIK version of what the photo commissioning landscape looks like at the moment outside of a war zone. As one photographer mentioned a few weeks back in a Facebook posting, "It's like a lottery out there, and I am tired of buying tickets." He was referring to the assignment photography industry, just one job out there for hundreds of photographers who have entered the market in the last five years hoping to earn a living as image makers. Competition is fierce and pay rates are dropping.

So as I sit back and write to editors wishing them all the best for a happy and productive 2011, I wonder which magazines I'll be able to collaborate with best this year. Which magazines have the budgets for the ambitious ideas and strong stories that I want to tell. Sadly, my mind is drawing a blank. Most of friends, who are also editors, have lost their jobs in the last two years; forget about photography budgets most say, there isn't enough money to run the magazine let alone fill the pages with content.

Sure there are lots of problems ahead, and that also means there is a lot of opportunity. Let's put our thinking caps on and pull ourselves out of this industry wide funk.

Ryan Pyle

No comments:

Post a Comment


This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle