It’s interesting how quickly things move these days; the 2011 BJP link in the course notes doesn’t connect to a live web page, and a search of the site for ‘crowdfunding’ brings up as the first result the news that Emphas.is, the specialist photojournalism crowd-funding platform covered in the OCA article, went into liquidation in 2013 (and WeFund seems to have similarly disappeared).
However, that seems to me to say more about how specific platforms were operated than anything about crowdfunding as a general phenomenon, which appears to be gaining ground.
For the contributor
I’ve personally had experience as a sponsor of a crowdfunded project, Les Monaghan’s Relative Poverty, and it made me think about the benefits from an contributor point of view. In some cases I presume the expected audience is the contributor – “I’d like to see that”.
For me it was more about wanting the project to go ahead because I felt its messages needed to be heard than it was about wanting to see the results myself; I acted as more of a (small percentage!) patron than as a potential viewer.
Most photography crowdfunding involves some kind of contributor ‘reward’, such as a book, an exhibition invitation, a print etc. Particularly for projects with a social documentary photography focus, the notion of getting ‘rewards’ for contribution struck me as potentially problematic – for the Relative Poverty project I contributed at a level that got me a couple of key rewards: a portfolio review (extremely helpful, and the main reason I contributed at the level that I did), and a copy of my choice of image from the exhibition – this latter reward sat oddly with me: much as I want to support the project, I can’t see myself wanting to display an image of abject poverty in my home (sorry, Les!).
For the photographer
The benefits of crowdfunding from the photographer point of view are self-evident: one can confirm a level of interest and – more practically – money before committing to a project.
More specifically, spreading the funding across multiple small patrons could potentially alleviate the risk (or perception) that there has been some invisible editorial or curatorial hand influencing the message. Crowdfunding actually strengthens the photographer’s authorial hand.
The flipside is this though: what happens to the potentially fascinating, imaginative and enlightening projects that don’t get made because a crowdfunding target isn’t met? The success of a crowdfunding campaign relies not only on the strength of the idea but also the marketing skills of the creator – the Prison Photography case study reaffirms this, with its focus on the sophisticated promotional skills of its founder Pete Brook.
The fact that crowdfunding platforms exist and have produced success stories is clearly a good thing, and as per the OCA article it does help to ‘democratise’ documentary photography. I’m not averse to the idea of using such a method in future.
Crowdfunding http://www.weareoca.com/photography/crowd-funding/ (accessed 26/06/2017)
Relative Poverty http://www.relativepoverty.org (accessed 26/06/2017)
Prison Photography https://prisonphotography.org (accessed 26/06/2017)
Emphas.is story http://www.bjp-online.com/2013/10/crowdfunding-platform-emphas-is-goes-insolvent-amid-internal-conflicts/ (accessed 26/06/2017)