How the Boreal photo collective got stronger

If Brett Gundlock, a Canadian documentary photographer and member of the Boreal Collective, had his way, all photo events would be free, not just for professional photographers but to the public as well.

Gundlock’s recent Kickstarter campaign might just of gotten him close to it.

Later this summer the collective will throw an event called Boreal Bash, a place where photographers come together to learn from each other and socialize. The Bash will be featuring guest speakers from photo collectives MJR, Prime and #Dysturb, as well as other influential and recognizable curators and editors in the industry like Raf Katigbak from Vice and Pete Brook of Prison Photography.

Boreal Bash will also include a formal gala, portfolio reviews and Boreal’s first-ever photo documentary workshops at O’Born Contemporary Gallery, which has partnered with the collective to host the venue in Toronto, Canada. This will be Boreal’s third Bash and the first time the photo collective partially funds the event with crowdfunding.

The Kickstarter campaign has already reached more than $5,000 USD, out of its initial goal of $4,763. The campaign still has roughly a day left to collect donations for the event.

Through the Cracks interviewed Gundlock, who organized the Kickstarter campaign for the Boreal Bash with help from the collectives’ members, via e-mail.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Through the Cracks:  Congrats on meeting your goal and then some, it’s no easy task. The type of audience that read our stories comes to us for the latest crowdfunding news and are always looking to find out how others succeeded in getting their organization’s or individual projects through crowdfunding. That said, what did you learn from this crowdfunding experience and would you use crowdfunding in the future for these type of event(s) or the Bash again?

Gundlock: I think the biggest thing we learned is to be persistent. The hardest part about crowdfunding is constantly promoting it and trying to figure out new approaches and ideas over the campaign. We didn’t want to be annoying, but I think it is a rule in advertising that people need to be exposed to something multiple times before they pull out their Visa cards.

We will likely use crowdfunding again. On one hand, it is just a really simple platform for collecting payments from people. We have sold workshops through PayPal before, but to sell our workshop, portfolio reviews, prints, books and all of the other rewards would just be a nightmare. Plus a lot of people found our campaign just through Kickstarter’s website, people that had never heard of Boreal but were on board with our work and the idea of the Bash. Being able to have the video and our pitch and dedicated updates was really a helpful way to get people to pull out their Visa and support the Bash.

In order to make this event happen for our community, we needed the support of our community. And over the campaign our community grew.

A perfect storm.

And love or hate crowdfunding, everyone likes to watch a good Kickstarter video.

Through the Cracks:  Why go with Kickstarter, instead of other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, Patreon, Beacon or others? Why do you feel that the Boreal Collective would get more support through the Kickstarter platform than others?

Gundlock:  Being Canadian, Kickstarter is actually a pain in the butt. You need an American bank account or a Canadian business registration number. We didn’t have either. But Boreal is now registered as a business and we have a bank account (in the future we will likely go for nonprofit status, but that will be a lot of extra work.)

Personally, I like Kickstarter the best out of all of the platforms. I like the all-or-nothing idea. It ups the ante for sure. I think the website looks the best out of what I have seen and it has the best brand recognition.

We were going to go with Indiegogo but we decided to go for it and commit to Kickstarter.

Through the Cracks: Were you in charge of the campaign or was the task of getting the campaign off the ground a team effort? How does a collective go about organizing themselves to launch a crowdfunding campaign?

Gundlock: Basically everything we do has collective input, but Ian Willms and I are in charge of fundraising for the Bash. The tasks are all divided up and we all have a job covering a certain section. There is a lot to do – organize the workshop, portfolio reviews, guests, schedule, travel, opening party.

But I was the mad scientist behind the kickstarter. Our video is based on all of us giving our pitch, recorded with our phones in selfie style. The quality is horrible, like most selfies are. We could have done a much more professional video with our pro cameras, but I think this was much more personal. Plus it was easy for everyone, which is important when you are trying to organize 10 people.

Through the Cracks:  Have you found that using crowdfunding is as effective as receiving grant money or sponsorships to host workshops and guest speakers like the Bash? Is crowdfunding the only way you are raising funds for the Bash? And why use crowdfunding now instead of just sponsorships or charging a fee for admission to attend the event? Was there a reason for you to seek support through crowdfunding?

Gundlock: Our goal is to make the Bash as accessible as possible, but flying in people from all over is expensive.

We are charging admission for the workshop and portfolio reviews, but we want the talks and presentations to be open to the public. We also had a scholarship for the workshop and portfolio reviews.

Roughly, we are making 50 percent of the funds needed from the Bash off of the Kickstarter and the other half off of private sponsorship. We have had some great support so far from the private side. The Magenta Foundation, Namara Repersents, O’Born Contemporary, Narrative.ly, Toronto Image Works and Downtown Camera have all supported the Bash through funding.

Through the Cracks: From what I can tell, this seems like Boreal’s first crowdfunding campaign for Bash or any other kind of event, right?

Gundlock: This is our first collective crowdfunding. I did one a few years ago which was a success.

Through the Cracks: Do you find crowdfunding to be a beneficial and sustainable way to keep financing these Bash events or other future projects the the collective would like to do?

Gundlock: The entire idea of the Bash is based around crowd support. So likely yes, we will be doing another one next year in the same fashion.

One thing that we were amazed at was the amount of support from outside of Toronto, people that won’t even be attending the Bash. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would say about half of the donations came from this type of person. That was really inspiring.

Our print sales did way better than expected. We anticipated the workshop selling out, and the portfolio reviews as well. Those two would have fully funded the Kickstarter and then some, but sales on them have been slow.

There are a lot of photography-related events in Toronto and I think we overestimated the amount of people that would be interested, but the outside support was much larger then we anticipated and really that is the only reason we reached our goal.

Next year I want to improve on this more. I want to expand the Bash’s audience- further away from the community of photographers and more into the general public, introducing them in documentary photography.

Also, it would be great to grow the Bash on an international level.  Ambitious, but all big goals are.

To learn more about the Boreal Collective and the work its photographers do go to their website. Want to attend Boreal’s Bash get further information here.


If you are interested in #crowdfunding #journalism #photography stories or how to start your own crowdfunding project, you should check out our success tips for a campaign and subscribe to our weekly newsletter to keep up-to-date on the latest trends and stories from us at Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism.

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Carlos Moreno
Carlos is a freelance photojournalist and part-time fashion staff photographer at Designer Studio Inc. He is based in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico and does freelance work across California, Baja California and beyond. Carlos is the co-founder and photography / Latin America editor of Through the Cracks. He is also a photo contributor at Getty Images. When he is not taking photos, he is a photo mentor at Las Fotos Project branch of Tijuana.

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