1854 Media: harnessing our heritage for a new age of photography

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every day, three billion photographs are taken. Powerful images – those with the instantaneous ability to tell a story, connect with people, make them feel something – can spread across the world like the lighting of a match: on an unprecedented scale, at breakneck speed. But much of the time, they’re at risk of disappearing amidst an ocean of disposable content. 

© Alice Mann/INSTITUTE

So what has this meant for the photography industry? “The whole media landscape has changed, forever,” says 1854 Media founder and CEO Marc Hartog. “Both the way people consume content, and the way that brands reach those consumers.” Photographers are finding it increasingly hard to get noticed and make money; at the same time, brands are finding it steadily harder to create visual content that cuts through the noise. 

As the world’s longest-running and most influential photography title, this last decade made it clear it was time for a sea change at British Journal of Photography. Capitalising on 165 years of unmatched visual content expertise, 2017 saw us harness our heritage for a new age: “it culminated in a complete rebrand to a multi-platform digital media business, and the launch of our new visual content agency, Studio 1854”, explains Hartog. With advertising as we used to understand it — interruptive, heavily branded, in your face — effectively over, 1854 Media made the bold leap to transform its commercial arm into a visual content agency. “We had to risk everything,” reflects Hartog, “but it worked. 1854 Media now exists to curate the best contemporary photography for an international audience; to provide a platform to help photographers succeed, and to help brands create standout visual content”.

The business model that 1854 Media has developed sits at the center of the sell-side (photographers) and buy-side (brands) of photography, creating cutting-edge platforms to solve problems for both groups. On the photographers side, we provide an editorial, awards and membership platform, the mission of which is simple: accelerate the careers of the most talented photographers and help them achieve their creative potential. Meanwhile, on the brand side, our creative agency and photographic commissioning platform Studio 1854 works with major international brands to create narrative-led visual content that stands out from the crowd.

© Gwendolyn Keasberry, Female in Focus 2019 Winner

Crucially, we connect our Studio clients with global talent from our community — often before they become established — to generate career-changing paid opportunities for emerging photographers. Alongside hard-to-come-by funding, Studio commissions offer our community a platform to showcase their work to millions, and to bring meaningful, socially relevant work into the world — whilst enabling our clients to reach and captivate the attention of millions of potential customers using raw, new creative talent.

So how has it all played out in practice? Just last week, ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, we launched our largest-scale Studio 1854 project to date, Star Wars Families. The project saw us commission ten photographers and ten filmmakers from our community to shoot ten families in ten countries. Together, they produced a spellbinding immersive photographic and editorial project paying homage both to the Star Wars saga and the families worldwide who have enjoyed its magic for nearly half a century. “I just love how BJP champions the photographer’s individual aesthetic and approach,” says Camila Svenson, Star Wars Families photographer. “I’ve never had a commissioned gig where I could have the freedom to use my voice to lead the narrative”. (You can see a short film from the photographers who took part in the commission here.)

Or rewind to summer, when we began our ongoing collaboration with Panasonic LUMIX – Stories for Change – celebrating the power of photography in driving positive change. Three photographers from our community were awarded a creative grant and a LUMIX S Series kit to create a new body of work exploring themes of ‘Inclusion’ and ‘Belonging’. Next week, we’ll publish Catherine Hyland’s response, which celebrates the strength and resilience of the largest population of North Korean defectors outside of the Korean peninsula — in the unlikely London suburb of New Malden.

In the Spring, our collaboration with adidas enabled an open call for one woman-identifying photographer from our community to create a narrative-led series exploring London-based women’s football clubs. Alice Mann was awarded a £10,000 commission to produce an intimate documentation of Sisterhood FC, a South-London football club for Muslim women (‘a minority within a minority’, in the words of Sisterhood FC founder, Yasmin). The commission marked a union between adidas’ She Breaks Barriers initiative, which inspires and enables the next generation of women athletes, creators, and leaders, and 1854 Media’s Female in Focus award, which celebrates exceptional women-identifying photographers.

© Alice Mann/INSTITUTE

“As these commissions gain traction”, explains Pax Zoega, commercial director of 1854 Media, “the more opportunities develop off the back of them. As more opportunities develop, the more incentive there is for photographers to join our community and membership. From a brand perspective, the wider our talent pool becomes, the more compelling it is for them to tap into it — and so the virtuous cycle continues”. Certainly, in this way, the last year has seen exponential success in our business growth — but so much potential remains untapped. This last year is merely the beginning.

“The incredible work we see from our community through these initiatives redoubles our commitment to their success with every commission,” says Marc Hartog, CEO. “As we move into the next decade, we will continue to elevate and build on the tools and opportunities we offer our community — and in doing so, continue fulfilling our promise to accelerate the careers of the most talented lens-based artists, helping them reach their full creative potential.”