Being nimble for our clients : A case study.

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We don’t know what it was exactly. Spring slowly sneaking in through the longer days and warm breezes which tease us with a jacket on or jacket off challenge as we walk in the park during lunch. Or maybe the lightness which follows a spring clean. Or we were reacting to the evolving terrain of our industry – whatever it is we thought it fitting to update our website and provide a wider and clearer perspective of what we do here at The Mango Lab.

Since 2009 we have built our business primarily around our courses but we have grown over the years to be much more than that. You see, we have come to see photography as the new literacy, as we have witnessed the visual image no longer ‘bombarding’ our lives as it was once referred to, but now it is being embraced and becoming a major player in society’s lexicon. Sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram only support such a postulation. Through the use of image alone, non-celeb folk have been able to draw communities reaching far into the 100s of 1000s or more based on curation and/or edit of either their own or others’ images. Their image, the image ‘collective’ becomes a micro-zeitgeist and with it no words are needed. Only follows, retweets, or likes. The picture in cahoots (we love that word!) with social media has created a sentence structure – a modern day hieroglyphics that pushes away our old ways of thinking and assembling of information. We see a picture and ‘get it’ instantly. Look at any Facebook or Linkedin feed and see that the Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram approach has leaked in. Today we see a run of images where once it was word which occupied the space. This has only happened in the last three years but for most of us it feels as if it has been around for much longer.

As the industry for providing and consuming imagery is in a constant state of flux, we find we must also be nimble. If you look at our portfolio there are examples of traditional photographic commissions, but also the use of visual media collaborating with contemporary dance as qualitative research to explore the impact of mobile phone interruptions at public events. We feel we can no longer just teach the mechanics of image production. We need to understand that with the technology comes responsibility. It is critical that we have our finger on the pulse in ways that never existed pre-Instagram and Vine. It’s not a desperate measure, but one we feel is very important. Everyone is a photographer today, yes, the technology allows for that. But we are advancing into a place where people are wondering, “what am I saying with my images”? It’s as though we are all new to this exotic language and we need confirmation or approval for what we are saying. Not everyone can write – but photos we can all ‘make’. And having its roots in an art form, albeit a technical art, there comes in the package the potential to communicate in an instant. We feel we don’t need to work that hard to make our feelings or expressions known. We don’t have to articulate our feelings. We simply need to shoot and upload and let the imagery deliver something back to us. But just as in any expressive art, there are those who seem to do it effortlessly and with punch, and there are many others who stumble along, looking for the right words, the ‘right’ thing to reflect on and communicate. Photography can feel like the art’s easily won over friend – with its host of 99p apps offering anything from font overlays, layout options, post-production effects and hip filters. However it is worth a note here that the craft of image making can be lost in the shadows of these tech heavy apps.

So it comes as no wonder then that because of this explosive democratic in image making, production and publication portals, there has been a shift in the way we need to teach, whether business, adults or teens photography. Here too we must be nimble, listening and improvising to the needs of our client base as a whole and individually. How do I express self? Are the visuals we use creating the right image for our business, company or political party? Why are my images not as strong as my colleagues’? Why didn’t I get into university with my portfolio? Can I just use an iPhone for my promotional material? What is post-production and how much do I need to know? What am I saying?

We have been teaching for long enough to see the contrast between analogue and film photographers and the different needs that have arisen due to the advance of digital photography and the affiliated technology. In the past it was enough to learn the skill, to know how the camera worked, and if you were more adventurous the next level would be to get into the darkroom. The conversations were around creating aesthetically pleasing images, something that could be hung on the wall, in the home, maybe given as gifts. I’m speaking about the general user here. Today, technology casts a much wider and more personal net. They still include the traditional requirements of composition and technical understanding in building the aesthetic, but now there is this awareness of the audience, or the potential of audience. To speak to an audience visually opens up a host of questions which include concern around use, projection, need for understanding, acceptance, entry (club, network, peer group), successful applications, etc. We are extending the complexity of the visual language to the general audience and user. Our teaching needs to be able to address this.

Anyone in design or photography has had to learn these skill sets along the way as a matter of practice. We know many software languages. But for the SMO selling widgets, or the independent selling a service, trying to cut costs by not hiring a photographer, this means learning. For us here at The Mango Lab it is about teaching communication. About learning a language that is quickly becoming an inclusive means within our collective vernacular.

If you have read this far you are relying on a mode of communication which we increasingly no longer have time for. You are in a minority. Congratulations!