Last week in two separate conversations, I used the words “thinking ahead.” Conceptually we like to think we do this well, but most of us fail even with our best new ideas. Big thinkers take a small concept that exponentially expands. They gather interest, investors, partners, and collaborators to take that small idea to an extravagant completion. I hear from big thinkers almost every day asking me to help them create imagery. Though, some of them wait too long even after their project is already underway or practically completed.
These conversations with filmmakers, real estate developers, technology entrepreneurs, and other innovative businesses making transformational changes all have stories that I want to help them tell if they had just thought ahead. They want photographs that they can now use to tell the story of their big idea. But there is no way to re-visualize their process measuring what they have accomplished because no photographs were made with that intention—not thinking ahead what images they will need in the end to tell the story.
While living in New York City in the early ’90s, I thought I might want to make motion pictures. Not knowing that much about filmmaking, I offered to work on small indie films. I was working with many talented individuals. I learned that one of the many required “assets” film festivals ask for are publicity stills to assist in “promoting” the movies. As a photographer, I was a valuable asset on these indie productions and taught myself how to package these with other materials for festivals. One evening at a wrap party, a young filmmaker approached me. He had heard through a colleague that I created festival packets. And he needed some help with his festival proposal. So we went through my mental checklist – script, application, list of cast and crew, synopsis, check, check, and check he said – still photos? (cue the sound of film breaking in a projector). Ahhh! He said someone did make some snapshots with their camera, but no one was responsible for making those still photos. He asked if I could help. I shook my head and said, look, we could recreate a scene or two if you have access to the location and the actors, but it is not the same.
I was preparing, before the pandemic, to deliver a “lunch and learn” session about documenting your startup story. I planned to say that good visual storytelling is critical to rising above the startup competition. Thinking ahead for visual stories requires commitment, discipline, and money. Yes, money! A business school leader reminded me that seed money is for the core purpose of startup culture. My reply, without planning for storytelling (READ marketing) images, no one will visualize the value you are building. Indeed, I am sure that some early-stage funders will disagree with me and point to examples of startups that prove themselves without marketing imagery. But in a global conversation of visual media, pictures and videos matter. Without visual images, you are only as good as your best textual metaphors with bullet points on a pitch deck.
Once in a conversation with a client over a project launch. I told the story of being commissioned by a financial institution to create artwork for their new office. Their ask was for images of the city from their skyscraper point of view – not postcard-style photos but images that reflected their unique worldview. He loved this idea, and then I revealed that often the “process photographs” that I make for long-term projects also end up as artwork on the walls of their company Headquarters. These images can rise above the initial purpose and can be aesthetically beautiful as well. We closed the deal on the spot.
Learning about future-forward projects and the people who put these into action is my favorite part of my storytelling. Thinking ahead to craft a visual story for publicity, fundraising, and memorializing history is what I do.
If your organization has an emerging story to tell and wants my visual point of view, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.