In December of 2007, in response to the general sense of disillusionment within their industry, six documentary photographers came together to form a photo collective united in the belief that "the still image continues to be relevant." Four years later LUCEO has garnered multiple industry accolades, hosted lectures and panel discussions across the country, funded a Student Project grant, been written up on the New York Times Lens Blog, and acquired an extensive combined client list which includes Apple Computers, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, TIME, and Vanity Fair. LUCEO Images, made up of photographers David Walter Banks, Kendrick Brinson, Matt Eich, Kevin German, Daryl Peveto, and Matt Slaby, aims to empower both its own members and the photographic community as a whole.
With members spread out across the US (and, in Kevin's case, Vietnam), LUCEO had to develop a single, searchable database from which both they and their clients could access images anytime, from anywhere. David, a PhotoShelter member since 2006, decided to setup a free Virtual Agency from his personal account to fill that void. The Virtual Agency was designed specifically for collaborative bands of photographers like LUCEO looking to benefit from group marketing efforts. Each of LUCEO's members setup their own PhotoShelter account, then copied their individual archives into the VA, creating one centralized pool of images. Because the galleries on the VA are sourced from their personal PhotoShelter accounts, each photographer has full control over their own images' organization, metadata, and pricing. When a sale is made, the payment deposited directed into the individual photographer's PayPal account. They embedded a VA search box to the top of the main LUCEO website, which clients may use to search the 300+ galleries of work compiled by all six members.
In addition to the VA homepage, each photographer has their own personal PhotoShelter site. They've all opted to use the Chill theme to maintain some level of brand consistency across their individual sites, but they can and do use those sites to conduct business not directly related to LUCEO. For instance, if one member were to take an assignment, they could create a gallery for their client and allow them to purchase prints or downloads. Because each photographer can pick and choose which galleries they want to copy into the VA, and which they want to remain on their personal site exclusively, LUCEO clients would never be exposed to those jobs.
LUCEO's members also make frequent use of PhotoShelter's file delivery methods. With over a half-dozen different quick and easy methods for delivering files to clients and sharing images with each other, the members of LUCEO can spend more time shooting and promoting the collective. "PhotoShelter is a big part of our business model," Kendrick says. The image delivery, social media, and SEO tools help LUCEO to continue to operate without middlemen, which is critical to their success.
There's a very important balance we must strike between being financially sustainable and still being committed to significant photographic work. We address this problem at its most basic level by having our daily operations managed by photographers themselves. It helps us keep our overhead low better, understand our own business priorities, keep in direct contact with our clients, and, ultimately, allows us to spend less and make more.
Each member contributes the group in their individual area of expertise. Kendrick handles social media, while Matt takes care of the bookkeeping, and so on. "We're much stronger than we would be if we were on our own," Kendrick admits.
This approach has worked well for them thus far. Most notably, LUCEO has established The Project Fund to support its members' personal projects. Everyone contributes a percentage of their editorial and commercial jobs to the fund, which they draw from when they need assistance with an under-funded project. This encourages and enables each photographer to pursue the stories that truly inspire them, unimpeded by financial constraints. In 2010, LUCEO began putting aside $1,000 from their fund for the winner of their Student Project Award. In addition to the money, the promising student will also get to choose one of the LUCEO photographers to mentor them for the following year.
LUCEO hopes their education efforts will empower other photojournalists and dispel any disillusionment with the industry. They hope to spark real and lasting change in the agency model, putting control and profits back into photographer's hands. "We want to prove that documentary photography isn't dead, even if it's not just us taking the photos," Kendrick insists. "We love what we do and want to see this industry thrive."
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