My name is James Kell and I am a photographer and sailor. Recently during my work in Haiti I had an opportunity to put my subjects on the other side of the lens - to give them the chance to experience the pleasure of photographing people. I found the perspectives of the locals - when they were making the photographs - was completely, strikingly unique. This was the kernel of the idea that is now Tribe Photo.
What is Tribe Photo?
Tribe Photo will be a business that offers access to equipment and skills to communities in developing countries. It will rent cameras, offer free training and enable villagers to upload their best images for sale around the world. It is believed that the unique viewpoint of such people and the low prices of their photos (starting at $1 each for non commercial use) will encourage people in other countries to buy the best images. Tribe Photo will be a social enterprise.
How will it work?
A person in the village will act as the camera store Partner. Cameras will be sold to the Partner (in the pilot stage they will be donated). The Partner will then rent these cameras to people in the village. Pricing will be relative to other costs in the village. For instance a 24 hour camera rental will cost roughly the same price as a ticket to the local movie cinema. How-to instructional videos will be dubbed in the local language and be available online and through CD/DVD that the Partner will manage - Tribe will work within the technology constraints that exist in the village. Best photos (initially judged manually, later by an algorithm allowing the most popular photographers/images to be displayed more often) will be uploaded for sale. With every photo that is sold for $1, the photographer gets half, the camera-store partner gets one quarter and Tribe Photo gets one quarter. Tribe Photo's quarter will be reinvested among other things to improve the platform, invest in new computers and improve line speed to the villages.
What sort of cameras will be used?
Rugged ones. We wish to enter into a partnership with one of the major camera companies to collect old digital cameras, refurbish them then offer to hire them at very cheap prices to Tribe Photo’s shooters. This could be seen as a pilot project for what is known as the circular economy: where things are made to be stripped down, refurbished and reused rather than discarded.
Why do it?
Why not? For no real cost we provide opportunities to many other people to build their skills, foster their creativity and in doing so unearth great photographers and amazing images. By working this way the photographers themselves are bringing wealth to their local communities without handouts. This is hugely important stuff. Art that improves communities in such a tangible, independent way.
Where will Tribe Photo be?
Tribe Photo can be wherever there are locals who are interested in the concept and where there is a computer with a reasonable internet connection. In the beginning we will run a pilot in a village in Haiti, then work either through partners or direct with villages in other parts of the world.
Will it have a website?
Yes, the Tribe Photo website (tribe.photo) will be the central element to the enterprise. It will allow photographers to upload, the public to view and purchase, and the program to scale to communities all over the world. This is where the major cost is for Tribe Photo. The website needs to be very light on the photographer-side (to handle the slow internet connections yet allow photographers to upload their images at the same time) and rich on the viewers’ side as they will typically have high speed connections.
Does Tribe have any competitors to worry about?
There is always competition in some form. Tribe will actively seek partnerships with photo-sites where it sees a good fit. Tribe’s shooters are a group of people with a genre of photography that is yet to reveal itself. Their work will be unique because of the unique perspective of the photographers themselves.
I love the idea but why not charge market rates?
This is a foundation platform. This is where photographers get discovered. When they are discovered at Tribe Photo they can hop off this platform and work for western market rates. Charging western market rates would kill this with best intentions before it starts. Nobody would buy the images. This needs to be a high volume market. Ten year old boy makes an image that is surprisingly good and 300 people buy it for $1. That kid gets $150 in his pocket!! More importantly he gets noticed. ImageBrief or some other agency says to him “you have talent. You should be earning $150 per image (at the very least!)." His career has started. This is a nursery. Or first gear. Whichever metaphor gets used, this gets people trained, noticed and with cash in their pocket to spend in their communities. If it has done that then Tribe Photo’s job is done.
Where will the money go?
The majority of the funds will go into the web development. Once the business is selling images the costs of Tribe Photo are expected to be met through the 25c fee collected for every image sold. If there is profit after costs of operation this will be invested back into the business.
Here are some images of the rewards:
We will be leaving the UK in December 2014 and reaching Haiti in February 2015. Here is the schedule:
Acknowledgements (so many already!)
If this works it is because of you the funders and also because of these people, in no particular order as they all deserve heartfelt thanks. Tribe Photo really is standing on the shoulders of great people:
Katie Harrison at The Motive. The Motive are an amazing outfit. We thank Katie not only the strategic advice but offering up space in London!
Tor Jefferson, Freelance Project Manager and General Butt Kicker. Also James' sister. Tori’s many years spent with AKQA, the world’s leading digital agency, helped me when her sound advice kicked me along.
Katrina Foxe Myburgh, friend and marketing legend for her early and very insightful advice about getting the word out to the world.
Alexander van der Laan for telling us to press play.
Nicole Plummer Smith from Tinshed for always keeping things real and for giving Tribe Photo the all-important sanity check.
Adisa Hubanic for being a legend and helping out on so many occasions.
Taylor Kipp from ETV for immediately getting the concept and doing whatever he could to make the launch party a success.
Leo Alsved and Jules Brockhurst for coming up with the name during a five minute coffee break.
European Travel Ventures aka The Yacht Week. Thanks Eric, William, Johan (the model) and the rest of the crew there for supporting Tribe Photo in its earliest days.
Tim Hassenbürger who is conducting leading postgraduate research on crowdfunding and was able to give some great advice.
Richard and Tor from Orillo Productions for putting together the video on two day's notice. Incredible. They have the coolest kit and the best people in the business.
Aaron Leppard, excellent photographer, willingly giving up his time for the launch party.
Rachel Walsh, supremely talented illustrator who also heard the idea and immediately asked "what can I do to help this along?"
Andreas Alsved. Super fast turnaround on design issues. An up and coming Swedish designer people!
Steve Schenko. The graphic designer and owner of Custom Creative that I have worked with for fifteen years now. Once we are in the same mind on something Schenks is the fastest gun in the west.
Rafael Burg, one of the most energetic guys on the planet. When you have Rafa behind you it is like strapping a rocket pack on. Rafa watched the Kickstarter and within about twenty minutes had a Portuguese translation ready to upload. Unreal. :)
Awesome DJ Paul Lojszczyk who jumped at the chance to help out when he heard the idea.
Francis Sese and Rachel. For hosting James and giving some crucial early strategic advice.
Lady San Pedro of blog whatladylikes for her very insightful take on the low percentage of developing-country-inhabitants that contribute to global share of photographs and therefore the limited view everyone is getting while they stay quiet.
Sam Marks for some very sound advice about crowdfunding.
Drew White, extraordinarily good animator and friend. www.imdrewwhite.com
Jan & John Harrison. James' godparents in the truest sense. Generous, always available, helpful supportive.
Hannah Anketell of Nomad Photography London for the generous lending of her photographic equipment.
Oscar Blustin from Theatre Delicatessen who helped so much with the launch party space.
Josh Davis from Evenstagram, the excellent live-feed social media presenter.
Sarah Louise Alcala Rodriguez for taking the UK PR task and pushing it hard with fantastic results.
Kevin Hoogstad and Maya Villaneuva, Kev as a close friend for his support and for recruiting the incredibly energetic and purposeful Maya to the Tribe Photo team, specifically taking on the US PR task.
The Sharers. To those of you who shared and continue to share our Kickstarter campaign, oftentimes with incredibly generous words attached. That is huge.
The First Five Hundred. You know who you are! We have a list of you. Five Hundred likes in two days helped us realise Tribe Photo was hitting a chord.
Risks and challenges
Once funded, the challenge will be keeping the website development under tight control. The other risk will be the lack of facilities in the villages where we establish partnerships. Village-selection will be an important component here: villages will need at least one computer with access to the internet sufficient to upload images. Camera theft may be an issue but my experience is that honesty in these villages is far higher than we are used to in the west. Then there will be unknowns experienced in the roll-out of the camera hire partnerships. But this is like any new business, where keen attention deals with the crises as they happen and turns them into opportunities wherever possible. Maybe the biggest risk is apathy caused by a westerner trying to do the right thing by western standards inside other cultures. Many have failed even (/particularly?) with the best of intentions. Humility is key here, not a pathetic humility but rather one that honestly sees equality in other cultures and through this an ability to morph an idea in fundamental ways in order to better serve the needs of those cultures.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (20 days)