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Archive for December, 2011

Looking at Photographs (Book Review)

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Looking at Photographs

John Szarkowski (1925-2007) was Director of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art from 1962-1991 and during that period put together Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art. This collection of images, published in 1973, accounted for a mere one per cent of MOMAs photography collection including work from the mid 1800s through to the early 1970s.

Each photographer is only represented by a single photograph in this book regardless of their standing or the number of images acquired by MOMA. Also, each photograph is accompanied by a short essay written by Szarkowski on the adjacent page. Each photograph is a black and white. The accompanying essays range from a historic understanding of each image through to discussion about its conception, execution and interpretation that places it into a context beyond a mere picture on the wall. It is important to know who made a photograph, why they thought it was important and how it contributed to the spider-web lineage of photographic geneology.

Szarkowski goes to great lengths to explain another way of seeing photographs. As he reminds the reader, often photographs can misrepresent a situation as much by what is left out as what is included. So knowing a photograph is much more than standing in front of a wall and making a subjective thumbs-up or thumbs-down about aesthetic beauty. A photograph also changes in meaning over time as culture and society change around it.

For example, Robert Doisneau’s photograph At the Cafe, Chez Fraysse, Rue de Seine, Paris, 1958 on pages 172-173 depicts an older man and a younger woman at the bar with wine glasses in front of them. The man is leaning on the bar with his left elbow. The woman faces forward, only part way through her first glass. In Szarkowski’s 1973 interpretation of this photograph he writes of the power between a man and woman in a pseudo-sexual dance, of sorts. In fact, even I found this interpretation offensive given we are now in 2011. This photograph, 50+ years after being made and 40 years after Szarkowski’s interpretation, now reflects a dirty old man, very sleazy, pushing drinks on the young woman who is thinking – “How do I get out of this situation?”

I know that too often I see photographs, particularly in Internet communities that I avoid like the plague, merely judged on sharpness, technical expertise and aesthetic contribution. As an amateur photographer interested in another way of viewing the world I find that perspective slightly repugnant. Give me instead a meaningful moment to step inside the photographer’s mind.

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Burning our Coal on Christmas Lights

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

OK I get that Christmas lights are a tradition that radiates joy in our privileged society. I get that the festive season is about Santa and goodwill. What I don’t get is this obsession with Christmas consumerism and the accompanying energy glut that gets public adoration.

Tell me this… why do we cut down our use of paper clips in the office all year and turn off the lights when we aren’t in a room? Why do we bother carpooling and why do we recycle? Because in December every year our media rush out to promote the houses that do exactly the opposite by stringing untold party lights across their roofs and gardens in some hope of becoming 5-minute famous.

The media should be doing the opposite. But how many newspapers are running the story about the arsehole wasting resources to become that local 5-minute neighbourhood hero? Next to none, if any.

What lesson about the urgency of global warming does that Christmas light display send to our children other than “BURN MORE COAL”? We wonder why human induced global warming isn’t taken seriously across society… take one look at those Christmas light displays on your local news channel.

I look at the newspapers pushing these “fabulous displays of Christmas spirit” as somehow socially irresponsible. It’s about selling papers. But at some point we need to turn our consumption and consumerism around into some coherent society that can operate on the idea of enough, equity and moderation. And we are going to need mainstream media to help facilitate that change of attitude on a broad social scale.

So just consider two small things this Christmas… will one more present from China make your child love you any more or less in the long-term? And, will burning another truckload of coal in a Queensland suburb really be harmless entertainment in the long-term?

If you can’t see the link between consuming more energy and the science of human induced global warming then nothing will change your mind about Christmas lights or rampant consumerism. That extra Chinese toy took resources, water, fossil fuels and trees in production. At a certain point Christmas stops being about goodwill and peace to all and metamorphises into “fuck the rest of the world because I’ve got money.”

Remember this… with privilege comes responsibility. Try this Christmas lesson::: teach your children to be good people, to work hard and to make a difference.

Signed

The Environmental (Green) Grinch
Pooping Parties across the Developed World
BecauseICan, Australia

All Customers are not Created Equal

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

There is a misconception in the world that online businesses should treat their customers equally. However, I’ll suggest that’s not entirely the case. When you look at customer value, for example, you have to admit there is a strong case for treating high value customers in unique ways that you wouldn’t offer your low value customers.

Your first step in this valuation process is to categorise your customers into three groups:

  1. The few who are highly profitable and contribute the most to your business
  2. The larger group who might move up into the highly profitable section and who have a high lifetime value
  3. The largest group that are unprofitable and show little hope of increasing that value

The first group have to be considered in terms of retaining their business – build on their customer loyalty, value-add and offer special deals and consider offering some level of personal support. The happier and more satisfied your highly profitable customers the less likely that you’ll see a migration over to a competitive service.

The second group is going to be larger and your emphasis has to be on growing their value to push them into the first group. Individually these customers could provide less value for the business but they are profitable spanning their lifetime value. Lifetime value includes their sales but also the new business they bring in through advocacy. You would address this group with strategies to up-sell, cross-sell, offer recommendations and try to incentivise buying behaviour and develop customer loyalty.

The third group are simply unprofitable and you may need to consider whether you want them on your books. You have to weigh the cost of possibly moving them up to the second group, but for a whole bunch of these guys it’s not going to happen. They’ll drag your business chain like a sea anchor. Keeping or losing them is a judgement call… but unprofitable customers ultimately cost you money and you have zero hope of developing customer loyalty.

Once you’ve segmented your customers into these three groups the information can also be used to assess responses to requests and complaints. Obviously a request or complaint from a high value customer is going to warrant some effort. Whereas the same request or complaint from the unprofitable customer could lead you to recommend a competitor who is willing and able to serve them.

Because when you think about the idea that we should treat all customers equally in an online business it can be naive and ridiculous. You only have X amount of capital, Y amount of resources and Z amount of time.

And even if you’re trying to maximise your market share and feel that you need the bottom tier as customers be aware that you still need to address the top tier in a separate way. One size rarely fits all and a good place to start is assessing the customers’ value.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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