Here’s why your startup must make more than money

Two of our Gigsy Apprentices and a group of students from Sci High hold space at the Triple S food store where a man was needlessly killed.

My best friend once told me a story about two hikers.

They were resting by the bank of a knee-deep stream and enjoying the afternoon sun when a plastic bottle came floating their way.

One hiker, alarmed at the careless pollution, dove into the stream and pulled the bottle out from the water, but no sooner had the first bottle hit the bank, a second, a third, and a fourth bottle came bobbing his way.

The hiker, panicking, dove left and right across the stream plucking bottles from the water and throwing them to the shore. More bottles came floating down the stream and quickly a pile formed. Looking up at the bank to see the growing plastic mound, the hiker was shocked to see his companion running away upstream.

He shouted at him, but his friend was too far away to hear.

The hiker spent the next thirty minutes soaking wet, fishing plastic from the stream until the torrent of bottles slowed, then stopped entirely.

I founded Gigsy just over a year ago with dual purposes in mind, and I often think of this story as I build my business and struggle to define what a ‘social venture’ or ‘for-profit/for-purpose company’ actually means.

Our first and foremost solution is to resolve the major inefficiency in finding and hiring a professional photographer or a group of photographers. Rates, availability, access, and even basic business skills are difficult to find when you’re looking for someone to shoot your grand opening, gala, or even birthday party. By standardizing pricing and process and moving administrative functions into a central office, we give photographers and editors more consistent work with better clients who book for 20 to 30 hour blocks instead of 2 or 3 hours at a time.

The second purpose has to do with who actually creates the images we consume.

If you Google the phrase, “professional photographer” you’ll be greeted by a slew of individuals who are, unsurprisingly, holding cameras in front of their faces. What’s striking, however, is that 99% of them are Caucasian, the majority of whom are white males. You’ll scroll through a sea of smiling faces before you see (by my count) one African American male on the search page and one Asian male.

But of course this data is anecdotal.

Hard data on representation in the photography industry is tough to come by. I called the Professional Photographers of America, who directed me to US Department of Labor Statistics, who gave me the number to Federal Industry Staff and a fantastic woman on the other end who led me down a rabbit hole of government spreadsheets and a final calculation that approximately 7.5% of photography firms are minority owned.

It’s a striking result, not only in the obvious lack of representation, but for a deeper and not typically considered reason.

Photographs have editorial bias.

Depending on how I position my subject, myself, how I adjust my lighting, posing, and lens choice to fit a scene, I can drastically change the tone of a given shot. The content a photographer produces varies based on how they see the world.

These are our personal and artistic angles as content creators.

Gigsy has a role to play in the broader photographic community, and as a result an obligation to consider the data, both anecdotal and hard. It is our belief that businesses do not simply exist, as the old cliche goes, to turn a profit, but rather to add value to those we serve, the customers and talent who work hard to produce incredible photographic work with us.

Because of this, we believe there is more power in deeply investing in talent development and self sustaining skills, than developing plug and play tech solutions in the photo industry.

But, back to those hikers first.

Sitting back on the shore, now beside a pile of plastic bottles, the first hiker turns to admonish his friend for running off in a time of need. His friend cut him off and explained, “While you were pulling the bottles from the stream, I was running up river to find the source. About a half a mile away from here a recycling truck tipped over on the highway and its contents were rolling down into the stream. I helped the driver block the mountain of plastic falling towards the stream and made sure everyone was alright before the police and a second truck arrived.”

The point of this story is clear, but we often forget its implications for us today.

If we look at the lack of representation in the photography industry and believe the best solution is to simply find minority youth and put cameras in their hands, we are, in truth, practicing racial targeting and thinking of our communities as diversity deficits who need our help, not creative assets that we have yet to partner with.

I believe it is the responsibility for Gigsy to create the world it wishes to exist in by intentionally seeking the creative gifts and talents all of our community has to offer, as opposed to labeling and targeting our community based on skin tone, ethnic background, or socioeconomic status.

We believe this because we understand the power of imagery and the power of the photographer, and we want to see our community grow and reflect the full beauty of the world we live in.

Developing an equitable talent pipeline is Gigsy’s charge.

Elden asked me to snap a photo of him paying homage, I was more than honored to take the picture.

Our method is to provide equitable apprenticeship opportunities to driven youth, and to train them under our professionals on real life, paying gigs, so they are able to sustain themselves independently through an art form we all love.

This commitment forces our startup to have hard conversations around identity, power, and bias, but we are happy to forge this path because of the knowledge that we as individuals, we as a business, and we as a community are better for it.