Ulli Barta and Fabrice Nadjari founded Studio 55 in 2013, a creative bureau producing cultural content for unusual people, organizations and institutions. Their conclusion is simple: we are now evolving in a society where we can choose to work in multiple worlds, and language is once more becoming visually orientated.
Laurence: Can you start by explaining what Studio 55 is?
Ulli: We work at the crossroad of visual arts and entrepreneurship. Fabrice and I have very different backgrounds, but at the same time, we both have substantial experience in the arts and as entrepreneurs. We dare to say that these two communities have more in common than sets them apart and they definitely have a lot to learn from one another. That’s what we are trying to do with Studio 55 – instilling business and entrepreneurship values and ideas into the art world while translating creative principles and ways of thinking into entrepreneurship.
Fabrice: Photography is the perfect example of that interaction. It is a heavily artistic field in which storytellers have no choice but to behave as entrepreneurs – the photographer needs to become what we call, ’the creative entrepreneur’. By working at this junction between these two fields, we help visual storytellers take their craft to another level through the use of social networks, the articulation of a specific kind of content, and marketing elements without going against their creators vision. On the other hand, we also advise and consult entrepreneurs to see how visual arts and creativity can enhance their message and the vision of their venture and hence creating new jobs for photographers and storytellers.
Laurence: Can you give us some details about the program you put together at ICP?
Ulli: The program is divided into three different categories: #ICPtalks; #ICPmeetups; and #ICPworkshops.
The #ICPtalks aim to continue the traditional photography talks, where you listen to a respected photographer speak about their creative process. We all love to learn from the masters. At the same time, there we see urgent contemporary challenges and topics that need to be discussed in the world of photography, so we also feature panels in which we explore mixed perspectives on topics such as drones in photography, data visualization, etc.
Fabrice: Various people should be talking about photography; you have people from the technology world, social media experts, storytellers, multimedia artists, even hackers. Of course, we want to pay respect to the very traditional way of presenting photography, but we also want to be open to this new audience who is making the field evolve. The #ICPmeetups focus on the entrepreneurial spirit and the technology component which are becoming so present in photography. Once a month, we invite people who come up with ideas for new image platforms, and who ultimately make the photographers shift gear in terms of how they have to interact in their practice, and how they are turning from photographers to videographers, publishers, editors or marketers.
#ICPmeetups is really about talking with people who challenge the boundaries of photography. Not only do we want to hear from them, but we want them engage in a dialogue with storytellers. We give them the possibility to unfold their vision in front of what is ultimately their audience and their clients, and at the same time we want to challenge the way videographers or photographers see their field – hopefully in a more “entrepreneurial fashion”.
Ulli: It’s the meeting of different mindsets that we want to encourage and foster. Often start-up entrepreneurs sit in their tiny little tech bubbles with no direct access to criticism or questions – we hope, over time, that there is a good potential to create a real platform of exchange, one where tech entrepreneurs get good feedback from industry representatives and their direct audience – the photographers.
Laurence: Is that the reason why you always present kind of provocative choices in terms of who you invite at your panels?
Ulli: Provocative choices of speakers make for interesting panels, and hopefully different vantage points. We believe we learn most from people we do not share opinions with…
Fabrice: In general, there is a crucial need for this kind of conversation in the photo world. This is something that Magnum Foundation does really well, but only once or twice a year. We have so many questions ourselves in this field that we wanted to take this concept a lot further to a continuous conversation. The field is evolving so fast – there are at least five new companies every month. Storytellers have no choice but to keep themselves updated about different evolutions within the field. So, we have to keep this conversation current and bring as many different people as possible into the mix.
Ulli: That’s ultimately why the match with ICP was perfect because they wanted to open the doors to contemporary conversations about photography. We hope for ICP to become the place of continuous conversation keeping photographers informed about the most important challenges of the industry, and present these in a curated program with the opportunity to directly connect and meet the people who are the founders and innovators of the field.
Laurence: How about the #ICPworkshops?
Ulli: The workshops are conceived as low entry level tutorials. We believe in a healthy combination of conceptual reflections (in talks and panels) and pragmatic recipes to be offered in the workshops. The first workshop we presented during the spring semester was “How to use Instagram?”. Instagram is a powerful platform; it’s also looked down on by a lot of professional photographers. So, in this first workshop we featured three very successful Instagram experts, professional photographers or artists, who shared their story and break down how they were able to get up to half a million followers on this platform – and how they were able to conceive and tell their individual story? How are these storytellers communicating to/with their audience? What kind of pictures are they posting? What camera are they using? Sharing tips and tricks. At the end of the panel we introduced a new idea – the #InstaReview, an applied portfolio review for an Instagram feed. The interest was overwhelming, the event sold out and on top of this we had more than 100 people tune in on the live feed. The panel is online on the ICP Youtube Channel, so everyone can still tune in even if you missed the event, and we are also hosting another one of these workshops at Photoville on September 19th.
Fabrice: We also hosted a drone workshop – drone flying and drone photography – and this fall one of the workshops will be about crowd funding on November 4th.
Laurence: Can you give a few examples of what you have had in the other programs?
Fabrice: At the beginning of the spring semester, we hosted an #ICPmeetup on the new networks of photography, where we invited three amazing entrepreneurs. One of them was Julien Jourdes, who co-founded Blink with Matthew Craig. On the same panel we had Andy Yang, who is the CEO of 500px – an online photo community with a very progressive approach to image sharing and image licensing. Last, but not least, we welcomed Jordan Osher on the panel, from Capture – which is a video and photography platform combined with an algorithm that enables locating where images are produced, and allowing media companies to connect with the image makers in real-time. We really feel that this new three tiered format is a success because of the diversity of audience at ICP. Whether a photographer challenged the CEO of Capture by saying “this is going to be the death of quality photography!’ to 100 people watching the live feed on “How to Instagram”, to ICP regulars learning about new storytelling platforms such as Medium by their founding art director. We want to trigger this kind of dialogues at our sessions.
Ulli: Another example we are really excited about was a meetup on the new platforms of storytelling. It took place on May 20th, and was moderated by Brian Storm of MediaStorm. One of the speakers on the panel was the founder of Atavist, Evan Ratliff.
Fabrice: Atavist allows photographers and storytellers to create their own high quality content, similar to that which is found in media portals. The second panelist we had on was Erich Nagler who is the founding Art Director at Medium, as well as Matter.
Ulli: And the third person was Jay Geneske, Director of Digital at the Rockefeller Foundation – they’ve created a platform called Hatch, that basically connects the users to a suite of tools and a growing community to create what you need in order to be a serious publisher.
Laurence: Basically, the industry is moving fast and you try to keep the community updated and inspired…
Ulli: Yes! When we bring a panel together, we are really trying to present an interesting variety of speakers so that different vantage points can be explored. For the talk about “The Rise of the Drone, Power, Privacy and Storytelling”, we had an interesting duo that made quite some noise on the Internet with their Drone Boning video. But we also featured E. Adam Attia, who explores the citizens’ response to surveillance drones; and Tomas Van Houtryve, who just received the Infinity Award and whose photographs are a beautiful example of masterfully executed drone images with a very strong political component in a fine art context.
Fabrice: The fall part of the public program is going to be centered around the links between photography and technology. From start-ups that introduced disruptive innovations in visual art to the notion of the ‘photog-hacker’, and the whole topic of data-visualization and its use by storytellers, we will once again tackle that intersection from very different angles. To sum up, I would say that the core of our public program concept is to bring the conversation to the forefront of various debates that are crucial to photography right now: the conversation about the use of network, the integration of technology, the shifting role of the image maker and the challenges of the business model(s) behind it all.
Ulli: In this environment, we introduce very different kinds of players that are pushing the boundaries of photography and that, if they are not photographers themselves, are going to be essential to what tomorrow’s photographers’ role and position are going to be.
And we are trying to do that in dynamic, engaging, funny and networking ways. Thanks to ICP for giving us a home for this conversation!
Upcoming ICP Public Programing events for September:
9/ 19: Instareview at Photoville
Laurence Cornet is a writer, a photography critic and a curator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Magnum Foundation, Images magazine, Vice, MSNBC, Vogue and Camera.
Studio 55 is a creative bureau producing cultural content for unusual people, organizations and institutions.
Feature image is credited to Kisha Bari Photography.