The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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The digital scholar

2 Examples of ‘openness’

In this talk Jonathan Worth provides a good overview of his conversion to an open, digital way of working. Jonathan is a professional photographer and educator, he uses social media to build upon the work conducted in his classroom. This video was produced as part of the project you looked at in Activity 1 of Week 4.

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Transcript: Jonathan Worth describes personal examples of ‘openness’

Jonathan Worth
Hey Alan, welcome to my kitchen. So here's my story about Open. It starts with me being a pretty successful photographer but with a failing business model.
And I was a pretty successful closed photographer. In fact, my business relied on me being closed. It relied on me having a very scarce product. That product was my photographs. And the only way to get to them was to buy magazines and newspapers and so on.
Of course, as the internet grew and as the media landscape changed and became more digital, it became very difficult for me to keep my product closed. People were able to find it on the internet, and they'd be able to distribute it free and copy it in a moment, you know? So, I mean, this is going to be not a new story at all to most people. In fact, it's ancient history, I've no doubt.
But there was a moment, an epiphanous moment, when I'd photographed an actor called-- who we know-- Heath Ledger. And I pursued someone who was sharing my images-- "my" images-- sharing images that I had made, of Heath, with her friends on her blog. And she hadn't asked my permission. She just stuck them on there. And I'd found this blog, you know.
And so I went after this person-- didn't know who they were-- and said, you know, you're stealing my pictures, and this is ruining my business, taking food from the table of my children, and et cetera, et cetera. You know, would you steal my car? Would you steal-- entirely disproportionate. But nevertheless I was a person under huge pressure, as I say, with a failing business model, a burning business model, and I had no way of breaking out of it.
But, to cut a long story short, this person that was sharing these images wasn't making any money out of them. She was sharing them with her friends. And she wasn't a big-time publisher, she was a 14-year-old girl in Midwest America.
And she was devastated when she received this email, and she was terrified. And, at that moment-- at that moment, I felt incredibly guilty and thought that this wasn't why I got into the business.
Now, some time later-- I mean, I-- said that I was it was fine for her to use the images. Of course it was, so long as she put my name on it and didn't sell them. You know, I have to make a livelihood from selling my images.
And she was fine with that. And, you know, I actually shared some more pictures with her, because, by this time, I'd ridden the guilt train and arrived at Guiltsville. And so I wanted to make her feel better and not to tell her parents that I had, in fact, you know, effectively bullied her online.
And so I suddenly started to see a bunch of traffic coming to my portfolio, to my website. I didn't make this connection at the time. It's only afterwards that I've constructed this narrative and now understand what was happening.
You know, she wasn't just any little girl. She was a Heath Ledger geek. And people came to her because they trusted her Heath Ledger knowledge.
And she became a hub. Her website, it turns out, was a hub for all the people that were into-- all her community that were into Heath Ledger. And she pointed them all at me.
And, you know, it's now I understand this dynamic. It's only now that I'm beginning to understand that we can reverse-engineer this. This is a very niche audience, and they gathered around that geek. And when she pointed to me and said, he's trustworthy, you can go and look at his stuff, then it paid to be open, quite frankly.
And so, you know, that story ran and ran. My business model has changed fundamentally. And what I do has changed, as well. You know, I don't just think of myself anymore as being a supplier of images.
Those technical barriers to entry to be a photographer have gone now. You don't have to do a three-year degree or 10-year apprenticeship in order to work out how to use a camera or work in a darkroom. That's just ancient history again, I'm afraid.
And so it's been very useful to me to sort of reconstruct that and rethink about how I can use those dynamics, and what is it that I actually have to offer? And so when I come now to teach the ancient and arcane history and mysteries of photography and the darkroom, et cetera, I apply some of these ideas. I run a course, and I've written some Open courses.
You know, by thinking open and by doing open with my practise, it changed fundamentally. And I found that I had a whole shedload, a portfolio, of different skills that I could use that I ultimately can, like, live by-- live off-- other than just making photographs. And so as I now teach this stuff, I-- seemed appropriate, because teaching, education, you know, everybody's going through this sort of-- the seismic changes that are going on in the media landscape, in society in general, I mean, in the connected society, in general.
So it seemed appropriate to rethink my role as a teacher, as well. I mean, is that all I do-- teach in a classroom? Is that my product? It used to be the photographs. Is it now this scarce, in-the-classroom stuff?
And so I opened the classes out, as well. And you know what? Tens of thousands of people came to the classes. The record period over 10 weeks was 35,000 people came to class, to find out what it was all about.
So that, again, was sort of very exciting. So there's two Open stories for you, Alan. There are a bunch more. And we know, but I don't want to bore people.
But there's one from ancient history of me as a photographer. There's one from me as a teacher. Here's one from applying it in business.
So a friend of mine who was trying to sell shoes couldn't sell the shoes that were in her garage at cost price. That was 35 pounds-- GB pounds-- sterling. Couldn't sell them at cost price.
And so I showed her how she should think of herself, rather than being a seller of shoes, a vendor-seller, she could think of myself as being a hub. She could think of yourself as being a club. And, as soon as she started to think of herself as being a club, someone that people came to--
Because these particular sorts of shoes had a history, and they had lots of different niche followings. And so we found all these followings. We found where they lived. And she brought them together online. And she became this expert.
She never posited herself as a seller of shoes, only as an expert. Now cut to the end of that story-- well, the end of it. 18 months later, there's a 12-week wait now for a pair of shoes, and they're 145 pounds each. And I just heard only last week that the company that actually manufactures these shoes is now buying her website as their official distributor.
So that's three. That's three for the price of one. What more can you-- and, do you know what? I'm going to give you another one. How about this. It gets even better.
So here's a speculative one. So the stuff that we did with the blog, with the pictures, with my pictures, just kind of opened them up by licencing them differently. That was how I opened up those pictures-- my photographs. I said, oh, it's OK to put them on your blog. I used a Creative Commons licence.
Now I'm just embarking on another project, which is where I'm actively seeking remixes. So I'm actively seeking people who are going to chop up what I've done, and we are going to be coauthors of it, and we're going to make a whole new thing. And I hope that you or my other coremixers, as it were, are going to make a better thing-- something better than I could ever have done.
The classes-- the classes that I teach-- because lots of people remix the stuff, they're way better than I could have done on my own. And I want to see if this will happen with my photographs. So maybe I'll get back to you. I'll let you know how that goes. All right, good luck.
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Jonathan’s website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] has more information about how he uses openness in his teaching.


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