Marc Prüst, who takes on an
Obscura Festival workshop, believes in the role of marketing a portfolio.
In an increasingly competitive industry, it takes more than a good photograph to stand out from the crowd. That’s where photography consultant and curator Marc Prüst steps in. The Dutchman works behind-the-scenes to teach and advise photographers on how to develop their work and market it. Having worked for World Press Photo, Agence Vu, Prix Pictet and Noorderlicht Festival, he has had more than 10 years of experience in the industry and keeps a firm finger on the market’s pulse.
Prüst cut his teeth with World Press Photo, which organises and holds the world’s most prestigious annual photo awards. He spent six years with the organisation before joining Agence Vu in Paris as Director of Cultural Activities for two years. Since then Prüst has taken on the role of artistic director for the inaugural Lagos Photo Festival and is currently the artistic director of the Photoreporter Festival in France.
As an educator, Prüst co-instructs the long-term Northern Lights Masterclass for the Noorderlicht Festival in the Netherlands and will be conducting a workshop for professional photographers at the Obscura Festival in George Town, Penang this month. In an email interview, he talks about his start in the industry, the photography landscape today and the role of marketing.
You wear many hats in photography, as a consultant, curator, photo book editor and festival artistic director. How did you get into photography?
My start in photography happened unexpectedly. I graduated from university with a major in International Policy Studies and Japanese language. I had an interest in photography but without a real ambition in that direction. I had taken a few amateur courses at a cultural centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, but was not a very talented student. Then came a job opportunity at the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam at the exhibition department. I decided to apply, and to my surprise I got the job.
What was your experience working for World Press Photo?
World Press Photo is an amazing organisation: I was part of a young and professional team that worked together strongly to achieve our goals. We got to work with the top people in the industry, and to see them judge, teach, and work with the best photography in the world. That was an amazing experience.
On top of that, as a member of the exhibition team, I got to travel the world, and meet people everywhere. At the time, the WPP exhibitions travelled to some 80 venues worldwide every year, and I organized 15-20 of those exhibitions yearly. The period around the judging of the annual World Press Photo competition was an intense and instructive period.
After a few years, I became head of the exhibition department. In that capacity I was the project manager of the exhibition organized on the 50th anniversary of WPPh in 2005. Curated by Christian Caujolle, with a book edited by Chris Boot, WPPh created a project on 50 years of photojournalism published in magazines: Things As They Are, Photojournalism in Context since 1955.
You gave a lecture recently (at the Europa Re-Imagined symposium in Cardiff, Wales) that the rules to a career in photography today have changed, can you tell us briefly how so?
The number of people that are able to take good pictures has increased enormously, and on top on that it has never been easier to share those images. This has affected how we look at and understand, or even value pictures. This obviously also has an effect on those whose career depends ultimately, on the value of the pictures they take. I therefore think that more than taking pictures, professional photographers should try to focus on telling visual stories, instead of focusing on taking beautiful single shots.
What then is your advice to a young photographer?
My advice would therefore be to build their own stories and their own projects, instead of waiting for clients to assign them. These clients are important of course, but I think eventually, photographers should try and become the producers of their own stories; taking care not only of the shooting but also the packaging and distribution of the stories they produce.
You are conducting a workshop on marketing and business development for professional photographers, what can working photographers learn from this workshop?
Photographers can learn more about current state of the international market of photography, and how they might be able to adapt to that marketplace. I hope to show that they can take matters into their own hands by creating powerful stories, and by identifying to whom these stories might be interesting.
With the number of working photographers worldwide, and the number of photographs that surround us, it is unfortunately not sufficient to create great work: it needs to be put in front of the right people, and that in itself is a job. Marketing can be one tool to make this job easier.
Who are your favourite photographers?
One of my favourite photographers is (British-American photojournalist) Tim Hethrington, who sadly was killed when he was working in Libya (in 2011). He really wanted to tell stories, using whatever medium was available to him – words, video, text, and photography of course. Another favourite of mine is Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi. The strength of her images blows me away, and the poetry and power she puts into her work never fails to capture me.
What was the last exhibition or work you saw that had an impact on you?
I was lucky to visit the recent Rencontres d’Arles festival here in France. The new discovery exhibition, which showed works by 10 young artists, was very interesting in that it showed the various directions that photography is taking these days.
A lot has been said about the state of photography today, what is your opinion of it?
I think photography is very much alive and I am excited about the future. The market is changing, and the financial models have undergone a revolution, but we should not look back and feel nostalgic. The only way is forward, so let’s embrace the future and the changes that come with that future.
Marc Prüst will be conducting a workshop Marketing And Business Development For Professional Photographers from Aug 18-21 in China House, George Town, Penang. Visit www.obscurafestival.com for more details.