Why we need “The Society of Good Stuff” (and Dedpxl)

Zack Arias is a cool dude. He’s a photographer and educator with a great sense of humor and self-deprecation. He’s also one of the first photographers to figure out this “social media” thing.

He’s so good, he can even take time off of the internet for a month every year and not be forgotten!

A few months ago, after running a 1500 question Q&A tumblr [1], Zack announced he was going to create a new site called Dedpxl [2]. And today, it’s finally live.

I haven’t had a chance to look at it in detail, but what I’ve seen has already convinced me that Zack (and his wife Meg) have done a very good job of it.

There is an introductory article to the site, and it’s pure ZA: a trip down memory lane to remind us of why we do this photography thing. If you’ve ever been to one of Zack’s classes, or follow him on ze interwebz, you’ll be right at home: he uses his personal experience to connect to us. And that’s what sets him apart. I’m pretty sure he’d be the first to admit that he doesn’t teach rocket science or mind blowing techniques – what he’s really good at is making it accessible: “if a shmuck like me can do it, so can you.”

The second thing that I’m very happy with is The society of Good Stuff. Actually, I would probably read Dedpxl even if it was just that column. Zack’s enrolled his wife Meg to curate [3] “stuff” that would be of tangential interest to photographers.
It’s fully in keeping with the goal of Dedpxl: make photography fun again, spark those creative juices. And it’s a classic Zack move. He and Meg just figured out something missing in “social media”, and they’re filling the gap with what, in retrospect, is an obvious idea [4].

The web has allowed geek culture to flourish by providing meeting spaces and tools to cater for all sorts of niche / fringe interests. Photography didn’t necessarily need this – it was a rich and varied culture before the web came along. But the web did enable that culture to propagate when the digital revolution started making photographers of all of us [5].
Unfortunately, making so much knowledge available instantly has a killer side-effect: we tend to become single-subject idiot-savants instead of well-rounded individuals. Culture can be defined by wide-ranging interest in many subjects, but I think that’s as much an artefact of technique (manuscripts, then books, then film) than of psychology. In a scarcity-based economy, you can only feed the beast by having interests in many different subjects: the relatively difficult access to new knowledge forced us, as curious individuals, to branch out of our comfort zone
With the cornucopia of knowledge available now, the driver is gone. We can geek out on aperture, focal and pixel count all day and still only scratch the surface of the subject, without coming out of our comfort zone. Collectively, this turns us into a series of mono-cultures, very deep yet very narrow. Ultimately, it’s the death of photography as we know it. We loose sight of the reason we make images: create beauty and make sense of the world around us.
“The society of Cool Stuff” can be an antidote to this death: by flexing the “artistic muscles”, as Meg puts it, it can help recapture the simple sense of wonder beyond the technical layer. It’s not new – Meg herself, a musician, is doing for us something she’s done for herself for a long time. But because of where photography is and who photographers are today, it’s necessary that people like her shake us up a little bit and show us where the flowers are. And because she’s in love with a photographer, you can be certain she’ll show us things we’ll want to see.

So long life to Dedpxl and The Society of Cool Stuff, and thanks to Meg and Zack.

  1. which made it into a book  ↩
  2. tagline: more signal, less noise  ↩
  3. yeah, yeah, I know – it’s an overused, pedantic word, but I like it  ↩
  4. all the good ones are  ↩
  5. and we’re all still scratching our heads – which is why it’s a great time to be a photographer  ↩

Marketing is not a four letter word

I was pointed to a recent interview in DPReview of a senior FujiFilm manager.
I’ve written elsewhere about similarities between Apple and Fuji in their thoughtfulness of design.
The DPReview interview, by contrast, highlights a major difference in approach: Apple is notoriously tight-lipped about its design pipeline; Fuji, by comparison, has been very open, giving public access to some of its senior staff, bringing photographers to Japan to participate in their Kaizen process and, if the amount and precision of rumors leading up to the X-E2 and X-T1 are any indication, by orchestrating a very efficient viral marketing campaign.

I wasn’t paying attention in the 90’s, when Steve Jobs resurrected Apple, but I’d wager it was never similarly open: it seems too much of a cultural transformation to where it is now – the external secrecy it cherishes can only work with a healthy dose of internal paranoia. This in itself is good news to me: it means there is more than one path to thoughtful products. Hopefully it means that Apple and Fuji are not one-of-a-kind wonders but heralds of a trend.

A good example of Fuji’s openness, in the DPReview talk, is Iida-san’s discussion of continuing internal dissensions over providing firmware updates to discontinued models such as the X-E1 and X100. I can’t imagine that this was not a carefully thought out marketing point, just like the casual mention of film-era engineers guiding the Image Processing teams. And, because we’ve been conditioned to reject marketing, equating it to crass, vulgar, lowest-common-denominator advertising, there is some backlash to Fuji’s growing presence 1 in social media and in photography circles 2.
But I’m reminded here, as in design, that marketing can be a thoughtful process. Fuji is trying to sell us its cameras and to ensure its long term survival. It is doing so not by showing us half-naked women taking impossible pictures, but by engaging us in a conversation about where they want to go.
I actually quite enjoy being treated like an adult.

  1. trolling some of the better known photographers like Zack Arias and David Hobby for their vocal support of Fuji seems to be the flavor of the month. 
  2. I haven’t read anyone mention “cult” yet, but give it a few months.