LUCEO Images is a six-member photography cooperative comprised of David Walter Banks, Kendrick Brinson, Matt Eich, Kevin German, Daryl Peveto and Matt Slaby. We spoke with Eich about the group.
fototazo: What is the backstory on how LUCEO formed? And where does the name come from?
Matt Eich: We formed in 2007 as a collective, knowing early on in our careers that the changing landscape of photography would no longer support the lone-wolf photographer and the kind of long-form projects that we hoped to pursue. In 2009 we formed as a business, operating as an LLC under the cooperative model. The last five years we have been putting an organizational structure in place that allows us to effectively collaborate and make the best use of our resources. The name is Latin and means "to shine through," "become light" or "become visible."
f: What are the particular strengths of LUCEO as compared with other collectives?
ME: At this juncture, we don't spend much time comparing ourselves to other collectives because we operate as a cooperative. With few exceptions, our organizational structure and business model is 180 degrees different than existing collectives. Collectives are popular because they offer a way for people to combine resources and market their work together, but it is seldom that the groups go beyond this into actual collaboration or establishing a business model behind the marketing efforts.
For us, each member has individual roles within the organization, allowing for a level of specialization. We meet via Skype weekly and in-person bi-annually to discuss our business. In addition to our own photography projects we work on group projects, group exhibitions and group publications that emphasize the brand over any individual. We feel a deep sense of gratitude to those who have supported us in our formative years and try to pay this forward by offering the Student Project Award and monthly donations to creative projects via Flattr and quarterly contributions to crowdfund platforms like Emphas.is and Kickstarter. These are just a few ways that we differ from most collectives on the surface, before getting into the guts of the organization.
f: What trends have you observed about photography collectives over time as far as their growth, decline, or changes?
ME: The most common thing we see in collectives is that there seems to be a glass ceiling that is hard to get past. A group forms, draws some eyes to their work and they get into the routine of feeding the social media beast, but eventually it just sort of peters out. A lot of groups seem to suffer from a lack of organization and leadership or direction. It is no different than being in a rock band, most groups don't get past playing local gigs because of conflicting visions and oversized egos. Without membership requirements photographers end up taking work from anyone who calls, even larger agencies that are technically competing with the collective, which dilutes the brand.
f: What have you found to be the advantages of being in a cooperative as a photographer?
ME: There are a number of advantages, the most obvious of which is pooling resources. In tough economic times it serves each of us well to be able to do a lot with a little and as a group we are able to stretch a dollar and any press we might receive. A win for an individual in the group is a win for all of us. Instead of only learning the treacherous business world by trial and error, I am able to compare notes with my colleagues on rates, contracts and basic business practices to make sure that we are all on the same page. It all boils down to support on a number of levels - our industry is evolving too rapidly to be able to manage all of the necessary tasks as an individual unless you are independently wealthy and contract these tasks out.
f: How has working in such close proximity affected your personal work?
ME: Working intimately with a group of photographers has impacted my personal work on a number of levels. Developing my business has allowed me greater creative freedom to pursue the personal work that I care about. Having colleagues that are always willing to help edit work or to discuss some of the more challenging moral and ethical quandaries that we encounter along the way is invaluable. The members of this group have become some of my closest friends - each time I make the 16 hour drive to Mississippi for a personal project I stay with David Walter Banks and Kendrick Brinson in Atlanta. This keeps my travel expenses low, it keeps me sane and it keeps them in the loop about the work I'm creating, so they can kick my ass into gear if my head isn't in the right space.
f: What are the next steps for LUCEO?
ME: We plan to continue developing the direction that we have started moving towards in 2011. That is more collaborative, less ego, and trying to implement ideas that are difficult if not impossible for an individual artist to realize. This year is a turning point for us as an organization and I am excited to see how these various projects evolve in the course of the coming months.