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|ABOUT - Repfoto|
Repfoto evolved from the work of photographer Robert Ellis. I began in the late sixties working on local newspapers before turning my attention to the emerging 'Folk' scene. I used to frequent a club of a Sunday night called 'The Fuggle & Pippin' in the back room of a pub in Malvern, buried in the English midlands. All traditional english songs, fingers in ears and curious instruments. The club joined a regional booking circuit for itinerant and visiting folk singers. Soon, top flight singers and bands were turning up and they, in turn, were regaling the audience with stories of other singers, places and happenings. A large contingent of club members pitched up at the 2nd Cambridge Folk Festival in 1968 on these recommendations. Here I met Karl Dallas, the senior folk writer for leading UK music paper Melody Maker. The next week saw my pictures (of Tom Paxton!) in Karl's column.
In the late sixties, the electric version of folk music was just taking hold of the folk scene, but the emerging heavy rock revolution was sweeping all before it. I made a pilgrimage to London's Royal Albert Hall to witness Tommy by the Who (just turned up with my camera at the stage door!) This was a defining moment.
Within two years, the MM's rival, the New Musical Express, decided to abandon its American Pop policy, hire a new editor and embrace the English Rock Revolution. So, I moved to London in 1971 and worked for the NME for the next four years. Then a friend, colleague and inspiration, Barrie Wentzell, quit the MM and recommended me to replace him. Coinciding with that event, the apathy of NME to the major rock bands of the day was a problem, as I was heavily in demand as a touring photographer by those very same bands, (eg ELP, Genesis, Wings, Status Quo).
So within a week of leaving NME in 1975, I accepted the MM's offer but my tenure did not last long as I was soon whisked off by Paul McCartney to be official photographer on the 'Wings Over America' tour in 1976 which kept me in the States for several months.
In the late seventies many other Rock orientated newspapers and magazines began to be popular and demand for images of these new stars was increasing. Sounds, and then Kerrang beckoned. By the early eighties, other photographers, most notably new guys working in the Rock and Heavy Metal genre, were asking if I could place their photographs in the magazines I was by this time supplying worldwide. Repfoto was born. Its name is derived from Robert Ellis Photography with FOTO tacked on as a nod to the major market for Rock images in Europe - Germany. It never set out to rival the bigger agencies. Its purpose was to help support and further the careers of its contributing photographers. Credits and a decent percentage of sales in a highly specialised marketplace was what it was all about.
In the early nineties, I gave up being a working photographer. It was obvious that the demands of Repfoto were more exacting and challenging than the demands of Rock Bands. They got better organised. Lawyers and Accountants took control and limited the work opportunities and incomes of those photographers like me 'lucky' enough to get more than three songs live. The media still paid good money for the picture usage rights and this was a heyday for all. Then the Internet arrived.
At the end of the nineties, anyone in the know would say, get on the web within five years or go out of business. Not five years as it turned out. Two. Such was the rush of enthusiasm. It wasn't hard to see the attraction. No more sending out expensive dupes, or worse, precious originals. Cheap fast broadband to replace the expensive slow ISDN, Digital delivery in the best quality - better in many cases than the hard copy original so, consequentially, reviving many miles of film deemed after the original processing to be too dark or light to use. The arrival of DSLR camera equipment offering ever better image resolution and quality to rival, match and finally surpass film from SLR cameras. Control over client use and payment such as never before possible. No more couriers back and forth. What could possibly go wrong?
What indeed. Digital cameras offered the public the same high quality as the professional. Every aspiring photographer could take, control and deliver images for next to nothing in the same time and space as the established Pro's. New image agencies sprang up to cater exclusively for this new digital delivery. Some were wildly successful, drawing the attention of the big multinational Photo Agencies. A mergers & acquisitions spree ensued. At first millions of dollars changed hands, then these big boys had a better idea. Put the competition out of business first, then pick them up for a song. A tricky decision was made. To drastically drop the licence prices of images to their customers in return for a guaranteed market share. Overnight the most expensive Photo Agencies became the cheapest as they embarked on a war for that all important market share. Their customers could hardly believe their luck, and they lost no time in demanding the same low prices from everyone else. But let us not get carried away here. We are only talking about the old, established and generic stock material, not the brand newest Pap shot of some hot Star on a night out with some one elses partner. Oh no. Those images went for the same sky high premium prices they always had.
Every mid sized Agency scrambled to sign up Paps and their small organisations in a vain effort to compete. Only to inevitably go bust in a pile of debt and get taken over by the waiting big boys. More a scream of agony than a song.
The noughties turned into the teenies and the proliferation of on-line music information delivery via mobile phones, Ipads and Tablets and indeed the web itself, dramatically cut the circulations of print media across the world. At the same time Publishers income from advertisers dried up as they tried to figure out how to market their products more efficiently in this new age. Their viability as businesses were under severe threat. Many magazines folded.
Publishers everywhere cut their budgets for content because of falling advertising, sales, and the cheap deals they were cutting, helped by a Music Industry that took an ever more DIY approach. Artist and Band Managements could control almost everything and for example only sign up to a Major Label for the bits they did better. For a Photographer that meant a photo shoot was only for the initial assignee. Rights grab contracts became the norm as every Photographer, Pro or otherwise, experienced the cold sharp Heavy Breathing Of Lawyers down his neck. Images were given to the Publisher by the owner of the rights, not the Photographer who became just a machine.
Now, the heydays are over for everyone. 2008 saw the slump to the worst recession ever in this business. The Profession of Music Photographer does not look so hot anymore, yet so many people still aspire to make a living from selling photography. Most Photographers are hired sporadically to churn out the images needed by the Content Owners. They are a huge body of part time workers - here today, gone tomorrow. Others seek niche markets in specialist work and there is a lot of brilliant photography out there thanks to the continuing emergence of talent, and the advances in post production techniques.
The future is not in licensing images but in owning, or being involved in owning, Content. Right now in 2012, that opportunity is in its infancy. The business models for monetizing Content are still not even clear let alone available. That is because so much depends on on-line internet sales, what form or forms they take and how they work with retail Print. Those sales will be driven by the myriad mobile devices now exploding onto the worlds marketplaces and the fast changing preferences and habits of consumers. How will image providers make a living in this brave new world?