For the past six years, VII Photo and Canon USA have been working together to benefit from each other's strengths, but since 2009, this partnership has been developed further in a bid to help the agency reach new audiences. BJP talks to Stephen Mayes, VII's managing director
It’s no secret that photo agencies, at times, closely collaborate with camera manufacturers. Often, these deals don’t require each and every photographer to use the company’s gear, but the relationship allows for certain advantages. In the case of VII Photo, this relationship has turned to a partnership with the launch of a co-branded website destined to help Canon sell its cameras and VII Photo reach a new audience.
The website, maintained by Canon USA, focuses on three of the company’s cameras – the EOS 7D, the G11 and the compact S90. Each camera has a selection of images shot by some of VII photojournalists such as Marcus Bleesdale, Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Joachim Ladefoged, Christopher Morris, James Nachtwey, Franco Pagetti, Stephanie Sinclair and John Stanmeyer. Some of them offer tips and advice in a series of videos, also available on the site, which was launched only recently.
“All the photographers at VII have been working with Canon gear for many years,” VII Photo’s managing director Stephen Mayes tells BJP. “In the past, we’ve always focussed on the EOS gear because that’s the stuff they mainly used. But then these smaller cameras started emerging – cameras with new extended capabilities. We started asking Canon if they were available and could be used. Canon said: ‘Sure. What does the photographers want to use them for?’ and that’s how it blossomed. The photographers say they use the cameras in different ways.”
It’s been an interesting project, says Mayes. Not only because it has allowed the agency to deepen a partnership it had with Canon, but also because the new cameras – the G11 and the S90 – challenged the photographers to look at things around them differently. “Some real surprises came out of this,” he explains, citing as an example Natchwey’s images of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. “For me, the most interesting part of this project was having the photographers look differently at things. Not focus only on the assignment, but what is around the assignment.”
But beyond the simple use of new kit, VII sees this collaboration as an integral part of the agency’s strategy to reach new audiences at a time when its traditional market is shrinking. “One of the things I talk a lot about at the moment is partnership,” he tells BJP. “It’s one of the ways forward. We should think less of clients and the client-supplier relationship, but think more about partnerships. That’s what we’re doing with Canon. We both realised there was something else possible – that the equipment could do more than just take pictures. It’s a looser relationship that the typical client-supplier relationship. We ask them what works for them. We tell them what the photographers like about these cameras, which they have been very keen on hearing.”
He adds: “I'm interested in finding ways to reach new audiences for VII's work and to expand the range of VII's coverage. Talking about ways of seeing is relevant and core to VII's educational mission and partnering with Canon has allowed us to develop both ambitions - to reach new audiences and to use VII's journalistic skills to talk about more than journalism.” While VII is used to talking to an audience of photographers, and, to be more precise, photojournalists, it’s seeking, with this partnership, to reach a more general audience that is more loosely interested in photography itself and doesn’t necessarily knows about VII. “It’s about finding a way to address a different audience that’s beyond print.”
But, Mayes admits, “one of the challenges of this project is not to make it into a sales pitch. We try not to become advertisers. It’s the equipment we use. It’s a very delicate balance since you’re talking about branded gear and their various attributes. These photographers are journalists, essentially, not advertisers or PR people.”
And in fact, each photographer has been able to choose whether they want to participate in the creation of the co-branded site. “It was a choice,” says Mayes. “You’ll find that not all the photographers are present or using all three cameras. They choose that.” But, he adds, as the relationship develops, some photographers are becoming more comfortable talking about it. “It’s been terrific.”
Now, Mayes wants to develop more partnerships as this one. “I talk to different clients and also Canon about developing this further,” he tells BJP. “How can we work together to bring what VII has to a much bigger audience – an audience that is more generally interested about photography? This is a foundation for more work developing in the future.”
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