August 23, 2019

Far from starving—Dealers are now giving their star artists luxury residences too

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Art residencies give artists the space and time to create and there are over 1,500 art residencies worldwide. Many of these are run by private patrons, nonprofits, schools, art institutions and artists themselves. But recently, commercial galleries are starting more of their own residencies and keeping their artists happy, inspired and coming back.

Why dealers and galleries are starting their own

Until recently, it was pretty uncommon to find private art dealers and commercial galleries starting their own residencies. Hosting their own residencies—and keeping artists happy enough to stay—gives their programs dynamism and a competitive edge in an evolving art market.

As one of the first to do so, Vienna-based dealer Ursula Krinzinger started her first residency in Croatia in 1976 following an inspirational stay there with performance artist Marina Abramović. She later expanded to Hungary, Sri Lanka and Vienna.

More recently, other large galleries have stepped into the fray:

  • Thomas Dane: In late 2017, the London gallery launched theirs in Naples, Italy.
  • Hauser & Wirth: Since 2015, the global mega-gallery started offering 1-3 month stints in the town of Bruton in Southwest England.
  • Catinca Tabacaru: The New York gallery is in the third year of its program, the CTG Collective Residency.

How these new residencies differ

  • They’re more about hosting fewer artists (or maybe just one) at a time, emphasizing the connection to a place versus a group of other artists.
  • This means helping artists disconnect from art heavy cities like New York and London and to provide opportunities at destinations that shake up their daily lives.
  • They pay for just about everything and especially travel, room and board whereas traditional ones might charge fees. Even smaller galleries are helping by donating air miles to fly artists in.
  • Some galleries are located in Brazil or China where import taxes or customs are punitive, something that’s avoided by having art produced there.

They may connect residents with artists outside their roster, students and the community where they’re situated.

If only we could join them

The benefit of a residency is not just a matter of “getting away from it all” and being able to focus on creating. It can also mean focusing on the act of creating without having to produce. Many residencies are okay with artists not producing any finished work by the end, allowing the craft to take precedence over the product. This means artists are free to explore new directions away from both the influence of their original communities and perhaps even their artist peers, but also the sense of urgency of having “something to show for it.” There’s a major and often undiscussed difference between an artist and a creative. The latter has to adhere to (relatively) strict parameters of time, budget, and creative restriction. Artists, on the other hand, are left to their devices and therefore able to create on their own terms which typically allows for the best work possible, and not “the best work, given the limitations.”

August 20, 2019

How Algorithms Replaced Gatekeepers and Lowered the Bar on Quality

The fall of last generation’s analog gatekeepers meant that everyone with an internet connection and the desire to create (and share) their work could potentially make a name for themselves. But the social media giants and the spate of algorithmically-driven content that comes with them may have caused more damage to creative expression than any stuffy executive could.

Pre-social media gatekeepers

Among others, these types of powerful positions would decide what works made it to the public consciousness, which remained in a slush pile, and which were rejected altogether. These titles included:

  • Magazine editors
  • TV producers
  • Publishing execs
  • Gallery curators

How things changed

  1. The Internet and especially Facebook democratized fame by allowing anyone’s work to reach a news feed
  2. Almost overnight, major outlets had to share more work to both keep up with the times and to shake the “bad” aspects of their gatekeeper image
  3. Aside from creatives getting their due, there was also a deluge of content of all types
  4. The social media giants introduced algorithms to sift through this massive amount of content, inevitably pushing the most popular, likeable and shareable content to the top

How that made things worse

For one, the rise of the IG artist and the boosted metrics their content brings has shifted entire marketing strategies to favor a very specific set of aesthetics and content. This means a lot of creatives are focusing on their social strategy over their craft to stay afloat.

This also means that in this new age of democratized media where everyone and anyone has a creative voice that can be amplified via shares and likes, there’s less room for critique. No one argues that content with tens of thousands of likes isn’t successful, but is it good?

The new “gatekeeper” is us

Unfortunately, short of creating our own platforms or opting for indie social media, the onus is back on us as individuals to gatekeep for ourselves. We’ve previously outlined this in the Creator’s Paradigm, but here’s a quick overview of some strategies:

  • Taking our own deep dives into that sea of content to find what’s truly meaningful to us
  • Re-evaluating our sources of content and realizing which ones are merely the “easiest” to digest
  • Concentrating all our preferred sources in one spot using apps like Feedly
  • Taking more time to digest quality content (and archiving the best stuff) rather than simply scrolling through forgettable content that’s recommended to us

Or if you’re feeling like filtering all of the internet, apparently there’s a program for that too.

 

August 15, 2019

Avatars and Beyond—The digitalization of the self

Last November, fashion retailer Carlings released its first digital-only collection, allowing customers to be virtually dressed up in their purchases. While paying for virtual items is nothing new, could we see a greater shift towards digital personas in the near future?

Carlings: From retailer to digital designer

Carlings is already a successful retailer based in Norway that promotes itself as having “the best jeans in Scandinavia.” It also started carrying digital-only collections since its first foray last November.

Customers purchase an outfit from the 19-piece collection for £9-30, upon which a group of 3D designers will digitally ‘fit’ the look onto the consumer (or the desired subject) in the photo of choice. Just like that, it’s ready for the gram.

For the rest of us, it’s nothing new

As history shows, people pay for perceived value, no matter if that value gets instilled in them and even if that value is contained within something intangible.

For example, ebooks helped bring whole libraries with us in a small device. For online games, it was about busy or casual gamers getting rare items that could help improve their experience. For creatives, it was plugins and stock assets that ultimately saved us time, energy and money.

For the people doing it for likes or just for fun? It’s the promise of looking like a million bucks in a catwalk worthy outfit, but only paying $15 and without having to search for the appropriate size, nor having to deal with a store’s return policy.

Avatars and Beyond

Avatars, handles, usernames and the like are all facets of our digital personas. They provide anonymity, notoriety or enjoyment, perhaps even all at once. But if the mainstream decides to move beyond the headshots and profile pictures and starts to embrace more dynamic and customizable three-dimensional avatars, we might start to see a profound shift in how much value we ascribe to those personas. Eugene once Zepeto-fied the whole team, and thankfully that didn’t become a thing, but who’s to say the cultural currents won’t embolden him to try again?

Could we see a shift in valuing the digital over the physical? If society and companies continue on a path that sees human features as limitations and liabilities, we just might. The rise of virtual influencers like Lil Miquela does show brands’ willingness to play with the idea of having an asset that will always look perfect, never step out of line—and will never have to be paid (unless the humans behind them do wrong, also a real possibility).

What’s Stopping Us?

For the rest of us, our digital personas could be written off as simply an extension of the “personal brand” we use to streamline our complex selves for online interactions that encompass our work and careers. However, like the struggle for work-life balance, we’ll have to be wary of an upset digital-physical balance where we conflate living our “best lives” and living it through our best lies.

For real value to come through, we believe a handful of things need to happen:

  1. Our digital lives become increasingly important, such as video games and social sharing (check, social media anyone?)
  2. The ability to showcase and acquire rare and collectibles assets (check, especially in video games via skins)
  3. The ability to take these rare and collectible assets all across our digital worlds (WIP, the infrastructure is emerging but definitely not consumer friendly)
  4. The digitization of brands that have existing real-world relevance (Carlings is a start, though far from a globally-relevant brand. Give us Nikes, adidas, Gucci, Stone Island, Rimowa, and more)

It’s important to consider that in this particular use case, our general human behavior of wanting to collect and show off hyped things hasn’t changed so much as it has reemerged in digital worlds. Game on.

August 8, 2019

Keeping Eyes on the Game—How Sports Stadiums will Shrink or Swim

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The live sports experience has always been about maximizing the occasion for everyone present, especially between and even during the action. But in our digital-first era, turnout is dropping thanks in no small part to a shift in viewing habits. As a result, stadiums are changing their layouts and introducing features to shift their revenue stream, which includes greater support for sports betting.

Why is this happening?

We’ve written about how theaters and stores are closing because, nowadays, more people would rather enjoy their entertainment from the comfort of their home where they can adjust every second of the experience to their liking. The same is happening to sports arenas.

This is part of a greater trend towards the atomization of entertainment, where the individual experience is becoming more fickle yet financially crucial to impact large-scale entertainment spaces. Because holding onto hearts and minds is the key to maintaining profitability, the whole sports industry will have to play ball (I apologize).

Across America’s big three

The drop in attendance is tangible enough that stadium architects are rethinking the upper deck and dedicating that space to lounges and other social spaces:

  • MLB: The Braves, Marlins, Twins and Yankees have all downsized since 2009, and the Rays plan to reduce seating at Tropicana Field from a league-low 31,042 to roughly 25,000 this season.
  • NBA: New arenas in Sacramento, Calif., Milwaukee and San Francisco will all have 40 or fewer traditional suites, a huge decrease from their predecessors.
  • NFL: The 65,000-seat stadium the Raiders are building in Las Vegas will be one of the league’s smallest.

More than a love of the game

While this might seem like a bad thing, it’s simply the latest stage of evolution for the professional sports industry. In addition, the profitability of sports teams — or more specifically the venues that host their matches — has never been solely about ticket sales; to support that much infrastructure, it could never be.

Even an airport’s revenue is almost evenly split between both aeronautical (from airlines and landing fees) and non-aeronautical (parking, concessions, hotels) streams. With upkeep so high, these massive facilities have to think of other ways to make bank.

For a sports venue, that means finding new ways to tap into fans’ powerful and diverse love of the game, whether that means the worship of athletes and their reality TV-style drama, their obsession with stats or the thrill of a shared live sports experience. In short, there remains plenty of spectacle to monetize besides the match being played and to an extent, teams and leagues have already adapted ages ago. Today, they’re supported by cable TV and online-based media contracts to the point they’re not concerned about empty seats anymore.

There is a future, it just looks different

So long as economics don’t negatively impact how the sport grows, old-school hardcore sports fans will still show up, but for those who leave, there will have to be others to take their place.

  • Gaming: statistically the most profitable form of entertainment, could bring the physical presence back to stadiums with the popularization of video games and the rise of esports, their athletes and their teams. In fact, many of these teams could be owned and sponsored by traditional sports teams in the future.
  • New Audiences: But before that, there remains immense potential in the form of fans that can be converted with a repackaging of sports culture for underserved demographics. This is already happening with the rise in media coverage and awareness of women’s football. The other half is changing the in-person experience so that it’s safer (ie: zero tolerance for douchey fans) and thus more inclusive for families and a casual fanbase.
  • Gambling: And for those who care more about numbers than the actual game? There remains plenty of potential in the sports gambling industry for both traditional and digital sports (in the States for now, at least).

In short, stadiums and arenas still have many cards to play in order to stay afloat. They might start to shrink, but they’ll never sink.

August 5, 2019

A "Hit" for Every Mood — Spotify's analysis of our emotional states

Spotify’s business model is about finding not just the music (and now podcasts) we like, but also music to match how we feel. There’s nothing wrong with having a Spotify playlist for every mood, but we should be concerned about relying on an algorithmically-generated “hit” for every moment in our lives.

In the past few years, streaming services have convinced us via aggressive marketing that listening to playlists that match our moods and activities is a service to listeners and artists alike: they help users navigate and choose from some 40 million songs and curate our mood. In the process, it’s likely that listeners find new songs and artists they might not have otherwise found, elevating the platform into an “engine of discovery.”

By the numbers: Spotify the new beast

The decision to define audiences by moods and activities was part of Spotify’s advertising strategy leading up to its IPO in 2018.

  • 2014: Spotify acquires Echo Nest, a music intelligence firm
  • 1.5 billion user-generated playlists at Spotify’s disposal
  • 400,000 user-generated barbecue playlists. This becomes the company’s big epiphany
  • 2015: The year Spotify starts selling advertisers on the idea of marketing to moods, moments and activities instead of genres. As of May 1st of that year, they could target ads to free users
  • 2016: Spotify shares mood data with their partners, including some of the world’s biggest advertising firms.
  • 2017: Spotify partner with Ypulse, a “youth marketing and millennial” research firm to create Understanding People Through Music—Millennial Edition.
  • 207 million: The total number of people using Spotify across 97 different countries. 96 million are direct subscribers with the remaining 111 million relying on the ad-supported version.
  • Billions: the number of daily data points Spotfy claims, in their advertising deck, to receive across devices.

From data to dollars

As part of its aforementioned study with Ypulse, Spotify gathered 600 in-depth “day in a life” interviews recorded as “behavioral diaries.” They then paired this data on their streaming habits with data about their interests, lifestyle and shopping behaviors from third-parties to create a comprehensive profile of them.

In 2016, Spotify signed a multi-year partnership with WPP, the world’s largest holding company for advertising and PR agencies, giving the conglomerate unprecedented access to its mood data, again part of its plan to ramp up its advertising business ahead of the IPO.

The reason why this mood data is so valuable? Millennials absolutely destroy the traditional segmentations of the market: their aversion to being labeled means they don’t all fit predictably into certain categories that can be targeted.

Angel/Devil’s Advocate: the soundtrack to your life

Spotify’s commitment to mining and monetizing our emotional states should come as no surprise: it’s said before that it has ambitions to be one of the biggest platforms alongside Google and Facebook.

Where many platforms that use algorithms are good at serving us content based on our interests (or what’s corroborated as such based on our browsing history), Spotify’s trying to match marketing moments to the immediacy of dynamic emotional states. We might not be shopping for clothing online every day , but there’s a good chance we listen to music as we get ready in the morning, while we’re commuting, working and eventually, when we get home and relax.

On one hand, we can argue that Spotify might just be doing a good job of being our personal content concierge, offering up music and podcasts that we’re sure to like at the times we want them. These in turn help us stay intellectually and creatively stimulated, or at least they give us the emotional nudge to get over the speed bumps of a stressful day. Music, or more broadly, listening to something, has always been this sweet immaterial drug to us, whether it was when listening to CDs, cassettes, radio or vinyl.

Few people still make their own vinyl, that’s for sure, but when processes for burning our own CDs and before that, cassette mixtapes became widespread — curating our own high, if you will— it made a purer product where we no longer had to switch albums and skip the tracks we didn’t like; it was all in one spot. We’d then share these playlists with peers who could appreciate the thought put into them.

We can still absolutely make our own playlists today, but perhaps we’re more wary about sharing them (after all, no one wants to be caught sharing a ‘wack’ personal playlist at a gathering, or others overusing songs that are closer to gems, unknown to a wider audience). The issue arises if we eliminate ourselves from the curation process entirely and outsource it to algorithms that are not just vulnerable to the biases of those that create them, but also to the interests of influential companies and their partners.

It becomes less about finding and listening to content that addresses how we really feel and what we need, but more about what the data suggests.

July 25, 2019

How the Internet has shaped the way we write for better or worse

In “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language,” linguist Gretchen McCulloch discusses the dynamic between rigid enshrined rules for written language and the ways the Internet is rapidly changing them.

Internet English is fed by two worlds

Internet English occupies a special place in our language because it rapidly incorporates and modifies the language so that we can talk about the unique developments and interactions of two massively connected worlds—our physical globalized one and the digital realm.

In the former, our simultaneous de-emphasis of in-person interaction and skyrocketing phone usage means that Internet English has adapted to help us accurately and emotionally express in words, symbols and characters what we would otherwise say with tone, volume, annunciation, and pace in our voices (and body language if we were in person). We’re still emotionally complex and conflicted beings, we just happen to tap and swipe our feelings out more now.

In the latter, the digital realm creates common areas to users and groups from different cultures and sub-cultures that are separated by geography. Whether as a by-product of the rise of these groups or as a means of identifying within shared publicly visible parts of the Internet, unique written speech habits, ideas and vocabulary have become an invisible text-based membership card. Put another way, our word choices, structures and habits become our unique writing “accent.”

Examples of Internet-origin Writing Habits

We’ve seen a wresting of authority from literary-inspired formal writing as the de-facto standard for writing in the digital space (though we surely all know at least one person who writes overly formal emails) and a greater emphasis on incorporating informal writing habits that help us imply—at least in some small measure—some of the nuances and undertones we’d get with speaking. Groupspeak, emojis and slang aside, here are a few examples writing habits that come directly from the Internet or informal speech patterns.

  • “Because noun” construction: Why has written language changed so quickly? Because Internetz.
  • Sarcasm Tilde: Well, aren’t you ~considerate.
  • Expressive lengthening: Yesss. Buy errthinnggg.
  • Stacking punctuation: The nuances of adding and combining different numbers of exclamation and question marks.
  • Softening Filler: You’re late lol.
  • Punctuation: I don’t know why my dad keeps using ellipses at the end of every message…

Why Formal and Internet writing will always be needed

Research shows that the brain is trained by having to use different language depending on context and speaker, which enhances attention and memory skills. Even better, this same benefit applies to speakers of dialects, which are variations of a given language depending on the demographics of a group of speakers such as region, class or ethnicity.

While we can definitely argue that different internet cultures have their own way of speaking (apparently a written dialect is a grapholect, who knew?), it’d be more helpful to just think of Internet speak as a register, which is a variation of language depending on the social situation.

Suffice it to say, the more registers (read, the more modes we can set ourselves to) we know, the better we handle socially and the better communicators we become.

Knowing this all, one of the most underrated skills is the ability to properly read, understand, and communicate digitally. Making sense of somebody, half a world away, on a different timezone can make all the difference when communicating.

July 18, 2019

Worth Its Weight in Gold — Stephen Han covers the USWNT World Cup parade

Following the United States Women’s National Team’s most recent World Cup victory—their fourth championship, in fact—the city of New York threw them a celebration. But more than just about marking a victory after one long-hard battle, the celebration represented a moment for the athletes and their supporters to bring attention to the ongoing fight for equal pay. NYC-based photographer Stephen Han brings us photos from July 10, the first stop in their victory tour.

Tell us about yourself and how you got started in photography.

My name is Stephen Han and I am a Korean American photographer from California, currently living in NYC. I shoot music, editorial, food and more. I try to stay in my lane of shooting what I like so that the passion never dies.
I got started in photography a couple of years ago because of street photography. I used to roam the streets of Los Angeles during the day and at night to find new perspectives. Once I moved to NY, my world became a playground in which the city felt like a movie. The nostalgia of NY makes it so beautiful in its own way. It truly is 1 of 1. Every day, I’m learning how to document as well and have photos that stand the test of time.

What made you decide to attend this parade in particular?

I attended this parade because I was shooting for a news outlet, which would eventually never get published. Another reason was I wanted to practice storytelling and the importance of finding a connection through photos. Photos last and hopefully this event can be seen as a push towards women’s rights later in the future.

Where did the parade take place?

The Parade started in Battery Park and went all the way to City Hall. A large chunk of Lower Manhattan was blocked off. The streets were filled with roadblocks and the sidewalks were flooded with people. Half of them were trying to see the parade while the other trying to go to work.
On the way to the parade, the trains would sparsely be scattered with young girls with jerseys of their favorite players. This made me happy to see because this scene seemed so much more than a celebration. It represented a new era of women’s voices being heard with the support of New York behind it.
The USWNT team would eventually ride floats and on top of busses to end up at City Hall. There, the USWNT was given keys to the city in reward for their efforts in winning another world cup. The event was fairly organized: if any city knows how to allocate sections of the city for a purpose, nobody can do it better than New York.

What was the atmosphere like?

The atmosphere was hectic, to say the least. There was a wide variety of fans and people coming out to support. Women of varying ages, hustlers trying to sell merch, families, and more all came out to give their support. People came up with all sorts of creative banners regarding equal pay.
Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, the team captains, have constantly been speaking out about equal pay and even doing controversial celebrations during the matches (The Tea Sip in France). By being outspoken, Alex and Morgan are making it easier for women to voice their opinions and it was blatant to see during the parade. This was a proud moment to see as well as document.

What do you think this victory means for soccer in the country? For girls and women in particular?

This is actually the 4th World Cup that the women’s team has won. This moment is huge for women. It has given them a platform to speak on their woes and is giving inspiration for future generations to be treated fairly. There was a moment during the speech in which the director of the women’s world cup had to stop talking due to the roaring of the crowd. This rally lasted about a minute, but in person seemed like forever as they chanted about equal pay.

What takeaways or new perspectives did you get from being on the ground at the parade?

I’ve always felt this way, but coming to an event like this only strengthens my beliefs: Respect women.

Any projects or people you’d like to shout out?

Shout out that news outlet that didn’t like my photos. I see you.
July 11, 2019

How will immersive new media push the evolution of usability?

Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design (1994) remain relevant today even for UI in modern software, websites, apps and even video games. We’re no stranger to these guidelines being bent or broken for artistic or commercial merit, but how will the playing field change when the interfaces they were designed for eventually evolve to become us?

The Original Heuristics

For reference, heuristics are “any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method, not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, logical, or rational, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal.” These can also be used to decrease the cognitive load on a person to speed decision-making. Here is a brief summary of Nielsen’s original 10:

  • Visibility of system status: The system gives users feedback about what is going on.
  • Match between system and the real world: The system favors language and concepts familiar to the user and real-world conventions.
  • User control and freedom: Users have the freedom to undo or exit functions executed by mistake.
  • Consistency and standards: No guesswork as to whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.
  • Error prevention: Careful design that eliminates the potential for errors.
  • Recognition rather than recall: Visuals are used extensively and instructions accessible to minimize the user’s memory load.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use: Expert users can access accelerators, unseen to novices, that speed up interaction.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design: Information provided is inconspicuous, relevant and efficient.
  • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors: Errors identified in plain language (no codes), and constructive solutions are offered.
  • Help and documentation: Easy to search, focused on completing the user’s task and of appropriate length.

The spectrum of immersiveness and user agency

While the above guidelines make perfect sense, developers have always interpreted or flouted them for commercial, artistic or other intentions in social media, video games, apps, websites or any other kind of interactive software.

For one, some games such as Wild West-themed Red Dead Redemption 2 offer the option of switching off the heads-up display (HUD) that includes the map, meaning players have to rely on landmarks and directions from non-player characters to find their way (just like we used to).

If you’ve mistakenly clicked into a 3rd party site when simply trying to clear a pop-up ad, there’s a good chance you’ve gotten a taste of Dark UX to use a less colorful term. Some are not as downright manipulative to squeeze that one-time action out of you, but rather are a combination of more subtle interface design decisions meant to loosen our purse strings or keep us engaged with—or dependent on—a given digital medium.

Depending on the creator’s intentions, we the users will find ourselves falling somewhere on a spectrum with every digital medium we experience, where total unconscious immersion lies at one end and complete freedom and control at the other.

Tomorrow’s interfaces and the blurring of reality

As we get closer to developing better and better media forms that involve the user on a deeper level, many of the above heuristics may become locked to certain benchmarks and inseparably merged as part of a new standard for user experience: total immersion.

Nielsen’s original usability heuristics were created in 1994 and certainly remain relevant beyond the software they were intended for originally. Today, the boundaries between software, apps and websites are constantly being blurred depending on how and how much the user can interact with them. Even though we’ve come a long way from a time when the only input devices were mouse and keyboard, and we’re still busy exploring the potential of capacitive surfaces beyond the touch screen, the interface and user remain separated at the hands.

But because the 10 heuristics have always favored the user anyway—their end goal is to reduce cognitive load and ease decision making—the interface will eventually do away with separate peripherals and the user will become the input device.

When eye movements, speech, and even thought become an industry standard input for interfaces, we’re going to reach a point where the usability of all apps, sites and software is going to be evaluated on the by-then increased user expectations (for example “the program responds quickly to my gestures in the air, moves the displayed area with my eye movements or pauses when my mind is focused elsewhere.”)

By this time, anything that delays this or responds in a non-intuitive way will effectively “break” the immersion, violating several heuristics in one fell swoop and thus affect a program’s usability—what we’d currently call “buggy” or laggy controls.

Art and industry

Regardless of whether an app, program, game or simulation is for commercial or artistic purposes, a creator’s goal is always strong user engagement whether that be evaluated in how often they revisit it or how long they spend with it. Just as long-form journalism, feature length films and perhaps eventually even podcasts decline in popularity, creators need to keep asking themselves how their respective arts and industries might change as attention spans shift and shrink while the path of least resistance shortens.

When VR and other yet to be defined new mediums reach a high enough standard to become widespread and normalized in our everyday lives (we’re getting there), we will have to figure out how we address the divide between this world and the creator’s. Photographer, artist and VR filmmaker Julia Leeb uses VR to so that her audiences can experience the terror of war in an uncomfortable but physically safe manner. What are the implications of future artists that remove user agency to execute their visions? How will industry standards evolve to address Dark UX in commercial VR apps? Should we establish upper limits—a “no go” zone—for how immersive something can be? Or will we simply treat new mediums as just another field of rabbit holes, each of which we impressionable humans can get lost in, as we have tended to do?

You might say we’ve watched one episode of Black Mirror too many, but it never hurts to be mindful of how we use the new things we create, but also how we can be used by them in return.

July 8, 2019

Research shows why employers lowball freelancers and creatives

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Through eight different studies with over 2,400 participants, researchers discovered that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions.

The findings

Duke Ph.D. graduate Jae Yun Kim and Professor Aaron Kay, University of Oregon Professor Troy Campbell and Oklahoma State University Professor Steven Shepherd studied the ways that workers’ passion is increasingly being used as a justification for their exploitation in today’s labor market. Their findings include:

  • Unreasonable requests seemed more appropriate in professions associated with passion such as artists, animal trainers, social workers and ecologists (versus others like bill collectors and store clerks)
  • When reading reports about grad student subjected to unreasonable deadlines and verbal abuse, participants rated him as more passionate than those who weren’t mistreated
  • The tendency to exploit came from two key beliefs: that work is its own reward, and that the employee would have volunteered regardless. Both beliefs are called compensatory justifications.

“We want to see the world as fair and just,” Kay said. “When we are confronted with injustice, rather than fix it, sometimes our minds tend to compensate instead. We rationalize the situation in a way that seems fair, and assume the victims of injustice must benefit in some other way.”

Creatives should put on a poker face

Knowing that the pervading industry and culture favors—or at least tacitly justifies—the exploitation of passionate workers, what solutions do we have as freelancers?

  • Deciding if a job will actually give us any of the following in an acceptable measure in relative proportion to the commitment: money, perks, enjoyment, experience, portfolio, networking
  • Containing our immediate enthusiasm for a particular job until we establish the objective parameters of the work (timeline and compensation) or better yet, until we seal the deal
  • Until the necessary cultural shift happens—that is, the one where employers and anyone who needs creative services done become aware of this dynamic—we can change the narrative by educating clients and fellow creatives alike to build awareness
  • Leaving the free market to enter the world of grants from foundations that support the arts
  • Redirecting our passion back towards our portfolios, creating the work we want to be known for and that honors our abilities the best and that could very well be the best work we create
  • Arming ourselves with a strategy that positions us towards fair compensation from our deals and prevents us from taking purely exploitative ones

Regaining Control

While creatives are currently relatively low on the pecking order, it’s important for industries’ to understand their broader impact. Their ability to create value is something that cannot be dismissed.  However, the unfortunate reality is that they will need to take care of themselves first and foremost. Until creatives take the responsibility and initiative to develop deals that ensure their well-being as well as allowing for the best work to be done (within the parameters), they’ll continue to be at the whim of others.

July 4, 2019

More than an NBA Championship — Dhani Oks Captures the Raptors Celebrations

When the Toronto Raptors bested the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Championships, they went down in history to become the first Canadian NBA team (and currently only such team) to win basketball’s greatest award.

The celebrations that followed marked the occasion, but also highlighted the loyal, passionate and diverse fanbase that gathered behind the Raptors. Photographer and Torontonian Dhani Oks was there to capture a few moments from the party that filled the streets.

The long-time documentarian provided us an impassioned perspective on why this victory means so much to both Toronto and Canada at a time where divisiveness runs rampant.

Can you introduce yourself and how you got into photography?
I’m Dhani Oks from Toronto, Canada. I got into photography and documentation out of necessity. 

A few years ago, I opened a gym without a lot of experience or money. Running a small business is tough, and I had to do a lot of things myself because I couldn’t afford to hire people to do it for me. 

I wanted to tell the transformational stories of my community members which were fascinating and inspirational, so I started podcasting, writing, shooting video daily. One thing led to another and I started working with Vice in Toronto and Brooklyn and eventually found myself focusing more on photography and visual storytelling as a passion and profession. 

Whether it was coaching athletes, shooting video or taking pictures, I’ve always been interested in the transcendent journey of individuals, community and culture. It’s what I focus on today in my work.

What’s been particularly interesting to you over the course of this NBA season and the Raptors?
Toronto and Canada are always trying to prove they matter to Americans. We have something special here. We work hard, we accept others for who they are and we lean on each other. The Raptors success put the spotlight on our values as a team, city, and country.

Looking back on the entirety of the NBA season that culminated in a Raptor’s win, what do you think this brought to the city of Toronto and Canada, beyond just basketball?
Toronto is a talented city with a collaborative nature. After Kawhi made the now legendary buzzer-beating shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in round 2, the city exploded with creative energy. Photography, art, murals, t-shirts and dope commercials sprang up almost instantly depicting the moment as if it was a religious event.

In a previous conversation, you mentioned that this type of championship victory under the circumstances was particularly special. What are your exact thoughts?
We’ve been on the receiving end of so many losing moments in our collective sports history.  Our teams have blown big leads and choked when it mattered most. We have a feeling in this city that something will eventually go wrong. 

But this time the ball finally bounced our way and it lifted this negative psychic weight from our shoulders.

Amidst national pride being co-opted by divisive politics including extreme nationalism, can sport actually play a different type of role?
Toronto is the most multicultural city and the Raptors are the most diverse team in the NBA.

When the Raps clinched the titled, I grabbed my camera and headed down to join the rest of the city pouring into the downtown. I knew I wanted to tell the story of the city, which I think is a model for the rest of the world, especially given the anti-immigrant sentiment that is happening south of the border and in Europe. As an immigrant to Canada myself with a family history of persecution, it was important to document this. 

My pictures from that night, capture people from all walks of life, from every nationality and religion dancing, high-fiving, hugging and lifting each other up on bus shelters and garbage trucks.  I’ve never felt more kinship and joy shared with complete strangers. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it should be like all the time. It was a small window into our potential as humans. Sports has the ability to show us who we can be.

At what rate does the multiculturalism seen on camera with the Raptors celebrations open up a new chapter? Or will things return to a previous normal?
Toronto sports landscape was forever dominated by hockey, which is very culturally homogenous and an expensive sport to participate in. 

Basketball is very accessible. And over the years, as more immigrants, like myself, moved to Toronto, we adopted basketball over hockey for practical and cultural reasons. As the demographics of the city and country continue to shift, basketball is taking more and more of hockey’s cultural market share and making sport and play more exciting and accessible. 

The other day, a city worker was caught on camera removing a basketball net from a public park which sparked a huge uproar on social media. Five years ago, no one would have cared. 

More kids, of all shapes sizes and colors, will be playing basketball together on public courts because of the Raptors win. More Canadian kids will play basketball and more Canadian’s will be drafted into the NBA.

From a global perspective, the story of Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia was by far one of the best ones to emerge in terms of shining light on the opportunities provided to people of all walks of life.  Why do you think his story was so impactful?
When you think of iconic fans of basketball teams you think of celebrities like Spike Lee (with the NY Knicks) or Jack Nicholson (with the LA Lakers). But Nav is an Indian immigrant in a turban, who fought hard to make it in this country. He’s been loyal to the team through ups and downs and is the perfect ambassador for the spirit of this city and team.  

I was watching the NBA awards the other night and saw Nav on the red carpet. That just says it all.

What was the energy like the night of the win?
Nothing I can describe in words, honestly. The picture of people dancing hand in hand outside of the Indian restaurant embodies the joy and camaraderie we all felt that night.  I was very focused on documenting these moments on the street so we could all share and more importantly remember what it was like to be this happy and open to each other.

Do you have a most memorable shot/moment over the days that led up to the victory and the parade?
Sorry, I have to choose two: A player and a fan.

No Raptor felt the win more than Kyle Lowry.  He’s the longest-serving member of the team and has suffered the most criticism over the years. DeMar DeRozan, his best friend, was traded for Kawhi at the start of the year and he felt betrayed by the team. Despite the hard feelings, Kyle was a professional, showed-up and played his heart out all year and proved all his critics wrong.  

For me, this picture captures the moment when he looks up and sees all these people parked on the expressway getting out of their cars to salute him.  

Minutes after Raptors clinched the championship, I left the bar where I was watching the game and hit the street. I saw this guy in a Raps jersey biking towards me, about to pass a TTC streetcar, another icon of the city. I knew this was going to be a moment and I grabbed my camera, dialed in the setting as quickly as I could and I got that shot. It’s pure joy. 

I posted the shot on my Instagram and the guy on the bike, who happens to be another photographer, shoutout @stevecarty, got in touch with me.  I was so grateful that I printed up that photo and gave it to him.

All of this happened because the team and the city believed and took a shot.

What did Kawhi Leonard mean to the city and how does his departure as a free agent effect his legacy?
I was incredibly proud of the way the city and our media reacted to Kawhi leaving Toronto and returning home to LA to join the Clippers.
Most of the commentary and social media posts exuded gratitude and best wishes. Kawhi did what no other player could do, brought us a title and energized our country.
His demeanour and work ethic will leave a lasting impression on the team culture and I think the younger players will take that forward with them.
I’m not going to lie, it hurt pretty bad when it was announced he was leaving.  But I’m sure he’ll get a long standing ovation when the Clippers play in Toronto next season.

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