Since 2004 Tomas van Houtryve, photographer and member of the VII Network, works on a long-term project about the communist states of the world. Many of his journeys have been paid by renowned magazines like Time, New York Times or Newsweek. To fund his work in Laos he decided to try the crowdfunding platform Emphas.is. For his project „21st Century Communism – Laos“ he needed 8800 Dollars but even acquired 10.105 Dollars.
You have been the first one whose project was successfully funded on Emphas.is. What does this mean to you?
Tomas van Houtryve: It’s quite a ray of sunlight and a sign of hope. In the last few years in photojournalism there has been a lot of bad news. Agencys closing, magazines closing. So to see a new platform successfully pop up is a quite reassuring feeling.
The people who supported your project about communism in Laos can also participate in the editing process on your website. Do you think the people are good editors?
Tomas van Houtryve: It’s an experiment. You can see that people have different backgrounds. Someone who has an art background for example might like ambiguous photos. Someone with a journalism background likes something quite clear cut and quite informative. But so far there are certain photos which almost everybody has an agreement on as very good and certain photos everybody agrees that it should be rejected. But the good news is: I know what the good photos are now. And I try to make my story mostly from those.
Was there something that surprised you? A picture that you like but all people say it’s bad or the other way round?
Tomas van Houtryve: Both, definitely. There is one: The moment I was taking the picture was a very emotional moment, very high tension. And when I saw this picture I associated it with all that emotions and tension. But somebody who was not there looks at it and says: I don’t really get the picture, sorry.
So it will not be part of your edit?
Tomas van Houtryve: It will not be as prominent perhaps or maybe the beginning or ending photo. But there have also been other pictures that I was not that excited about but many, many people love it. They can leave comments under the photo and say why they like it. And when I think „that’s reasonable for what I am trying to do with the story“ than I will include it.
What will be your next project on Emphas.is?
Tomas van Houtryve: I learned a lot from this first project which I will use in shaping my second one. I know more about my crowd now, about what kind of people like my photography. Before I just sold it to a magazine and didn’t know who buys it and was not able to talk to this people. Now I know a profile: Ah, there are people from this country, of this age, who are interested in this stuff and so on.
So what will you change next time?
Tomas van Houtryve: I will probably think about doing a collaboration. So bringing in another partner, whether it’s a writer, artist or video person. Then I can also bring in that person’s audience and fans into this project. I think that is a very effective way of spreading to different publics and meeting new publics that you have not met already.
Also read our interview with Emphas.is funder Karim Ben Khalifa, who says why you should participate.