Digital storytelling is a powerful tool to share and create cultural records (Lundby K, 2008). However, for individuals who choose to work in the creative industries, deciding to produce content that highlights the beauty of humanity can come at a cost. Freelance and creative roles have a lot of challenges involved when it comes to lifestyles, career progression and job security. I want to highlight one of the global success stories of a digital storyteller and show how inequalities still exist even in the best case scenario.
Brandon Stanton is New York based photographer that is known the world over for his digital storytelling. Brandon found a niche of sharing the people of New York’s stories and pictures on social media. Starting out as a no-name photographer in 2010, Brandon now has over “20 million followers on social media” (HONY, 2016). The Humans of New York (HONY) project began with the aim of photographing and collating 10,000 images of New Yorkers. Via social media, stories of strangers on the streets of New York city are shared by people all over the world. Something as simple as a quote alongside an image of a stranger, has become a powerful storytelling tool that millions of people view and share thanks to Brandon Stanton.
If I had to define Brandon’s career, perhaps it aligns best to a freelance photographer. “According to Deloitte Human Capital trends report, more than 30 percent of the U.S. workforce now consists of freelance or contract workers” (Wooldridge S, 2016). Scott Wooldridge outlined, that such a trend can be connected to the ‘digital revolution which is forcing companies to become much more flexible with their workforces’ (Wooldridge S, 2016). The internet has allowed for incredible opportunities for individuals and businesses alike, to co-create and share ideas as well as allowing for innovation regardless of location. Brandon’s career kicked off thanks to social media and the Internet. Whilst there are significant benefits aligned to freelance work and the digital economy, there are many challenges that come alongside such a career. Freelance work has spiraled thanks to the internet but perhaps is generating and increasing many inequalities for individuals in the creative industries.
Authors David Hesmondhalgh and Sarah Baker wrote about the challenges surrounding freelance work in Media, in their book Creative Labour. Hesmondhalgh and Baker specify that freelancers in media industries encounter issues with ‘pay, work hours, job security, quality of working life, unions, self-esteem, autonomy and freedom’ (Hesmondhalgh D & Baker S, 2011). Freelancers like Brandon may have 20 million social media followers, however they need to ensure that their work remains relevant (job security), that they manage to generate an income (fair pay), also that they keep their freedom with their creative work (autonomy).
In continuation, Brandon decided to take his HONY project to other countries around the world. What would have happened if this authentic approach to digital storytelling from the Streets of NY did not take off when based say in India or in Kenya? Creating such a niche could have limited Brandon creatively. Moreover, Brendon describes the challenge of becoming credible in the industry, saying he was repeatedly told, “how delusional do you have to be to think you are going to be a successful photographer with no experience” (HONY, 2016). Similarly, Brandon speaks about “not having money to go out, eat out or go to bars for six months when he started out” (HONY, 2016). I’m sure this is perhaps the case for many creative as they try to discover a platform for themselves and generate an audience. Furthermore, not all freelancers and creative individuals may have such a successful story as Brandon. His story is one of the best case scenarios, now having two best selling books collating his best work, Humans of New York and Humans of New York Stories.
The internet is a tool that has opened up a world of opportunities in regards to digital storytelling and has enabled successes such as HONY. However, for the freelancers out there, trying to find their feet in the digital world, the challenges are evident. There are a lot of resources out there on the Internet to help address the issue freelancers face. For example, a UK based blog called the Precarious Workers Brigade, have created guides and tools to surviving internships and avoiding free labour in the creative industries. Unions are another fantastic way for freelancers to have some support in their careers. Moreover in Australia, the Government body, Fair Work Ombudsman have created laws and regulations surrounding unpaid work or unpaid internships. Digital storytellers are just one role in the creative industries that may be subject to the challenges surrounding freelance work. An individual may not be on the same level as Brandon Stanton, however regardless of this fact, it is important to consider the help out there, so that you can have more time to challenge your creativity and share stories through the Internet.
See Brandon Stanton speak about the Humans of New York project here.
Hesmondhalgh, D. and Baker, S., 2013. Creative labour: Media work in three cultural industries. Routledge.
Image, viewed August 09, 2016, retrieved from <http://christandpopculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Humans_of_New_York_1-29iylcx.png>
Image, viewed August 09, 2016, retrieved from <http://petapixel.com/assets/uploads/2015/10/humansofnewyorkcovers.jpg>
Lundby, K., 2008. Digital storytelling, mediatized stories: Self-representations in new media (Vol. 52). Peter Lang.
Precarious Workers Brigade, 2016, retrieved from <http://precariousworkersbrigade.tumblr.com/survivinginternships>
Stanton, B 2016, “Humans of New York”, viewed August 9, 2016, retrieved from < http://www.humansofnewyork.com/about>
Wooldridge, S 2016, ‘THE FREELANCE ECONOMY’, Benefits Selling, 14, 3, pp. 34-35, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 08 August 2016.