The Long Lens blog: Photography with added snaps

The photography site for sore eyes. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.

Phonar open University

It’s education with a difference.

The third-year degree course, held at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, has eleven students in its class.

But it’s the Photography and Narrative module which is groundbreaking. Known as #phonar on twitter, this course is accessed by over 100,000 users online.

#phonar is is free and open to anyone around the world.

Now this is where it gets difficult to take in.

I’m well-versed in theories of freeconomics and, specific to photography, how distributing images for free can contribute to viable business plan (it’s a bit like Prince giving away his album for free in the Daily Mail and then charging £100 for a concert ticket for one of his 21 consecutive gigs at the 02 Arena).

But this ten-week course, which explores the practicalities of how story-telling photographers can survive financially*, involves contributions from users around the world (latest stats for six days in mid-December 2010: 1,853 different people from 434 cities over six continents). The website has only been online for two months. Blimey.

What I can’t get my head around is how a small undergraduate course finds itself reaching such a staggering number of people. But as lecturers investigating new business models in photography, I guess I should not be surprised that they know how to market their project.

Photographer Matt Johnston masterminded what he calls the ‘strategies for social media leverage’. He was reluctant to reveal his strategy but said: “We have worked hard to ensure we create something that people not only want to read, but want to be a part of, and can see the value in sharing and engaging with.”

If there’s one recurring complaint I have about photography and journalism degree courses it’s that they don’t examine closely enough what skills will actually make you money.

A course like #phonar is therefore worth it’s weight in gold – and the fact that it’s free and open to all is brilliant.

* This is my description. Worth describes the course in more academic speak, looking at the ‘development of a sustainable practice.”

By using their extensive network, #phonar has also produced a list of inspiring photography blogs.

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This entry was posted on January 3, 2011 by in #phonar, coventry university, documentary, finance, photography narrative, social media.
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