A conversation with Catherine of Eleven
The true value of a photograph stretches beyond its aesthetic relevance and practical purpose to the way it is produced, sourced, and ultimately, used. In this post, Catherine of Eleven explains how their experience of helping businesses unearth their true values has strengthened their human-centric framework, leading them to develop more than purely transactional relationships when purchasing photographs.
The true value of a photograph lies as much in its aesthetic relevance and practical purpose as in the wholesomeness of its making, sourcing, and using. For a long time, the photo industry has been inclined to grant more importance to the first over the latter. Now, given the way customers and consumers are increasingly seeking values and offerings they can advocate for, the transparency with which a photo is produced and purchased has become as important as its composition.
“To connect with customers today, businesses need to know the true value they create,” says Catherine Robertson, co-owner and director of Eleven, an advisory practice based in Wellington. “Our role is to uncover this value and show them how to mobilise their entire organisation to deliver it in a meaningful way.”
Uncovering true values is something Eleven has been specialising in since 2016 when they decided to focus on helping their clients understand that the old tactics don’t work anymore and that a human-centric framework with a transparent public purpose is the way to go. Once they are able to articulate their values, the client can confidently communicate them – first throughout the organisation, then externally.
“The most effective communication uses visuals,” explains Catherine. “Without resorting to cliches about ‘1000 words’ - a great photographic image can both concisely capture the heart of a piece of communication and connect emotionally with the viewer. Images power-up your communication and give it extra oomph.”
When sourcing images, Catherine says she often faces the issue of lack of authenticity in stock photo libraries. But more importantly, the obscure and profit-driven modus operandi leaves her with no choice but to pick the best of a not-so-great bunch. “We don’t have a good sense of their values and whether they align with ours,” she emphasises. “We want more than a purely transactional relationship – we want to connect with companies that are doing something meaningful.”
Striving for more than a purely transactional relationship should be every business’ standard. After all, a product is never just a product; time, energy, resources, and care were put into it. Yet, the notion of breaking this primarily commercial mindset often feels far out, to the point where most companies still brush it aside. One thing is certain, though: carrying on with the “old tactics” whilst market demands evolve comes with a price. “At eleven, we believe the clock is ticking for businesses that focus only on short-term transactional relationships with customers,” highlights Catherine. “People are demanding more, demanding that businesses do better by society and the planet. Businesses that heed this are the ones that will thrive because people have much more choice and power now.”
Transitioning from a profit-centric to a human-centric approach can be daunting and challenging – but also revealing and rewarding. The first step of this paradigm shift is to stand by your decision. The second is to seek out like-minded initiatives that provide progressive solutions and whose values you can get behind. “There are a LOT of companies out there who share our values and are working in their own way to change business for the better,” says Catherine. “It’s very heartening. And ideally, we will all form a network that has some collective clout. Goals!”