What started off as a blog to display their artistic output has become something a lot bigger for the guys behind The Futurists. The website, which promises the “life/style of the young and restless in Vancouver,” was originally just a way to get some publicity for the photographer, cinematographer and writer behind the project. Like such websites as Clubzone or Clubvibes, they went to clubs and parties and took photos of the revellers, hoping that vanity would compel them to visit The Futurists, and better yet, maybe check out some of their creative work.
And the website has exploded in popularity since that launch two years ago. Now, The Futurists is about telling the story of Vancouver, capturing the zeitgeist of a city that’s truly alive. Yes, they still do party photography, and party photography is a big part of what drives their traffic. But that traffic has yielded other opportunities for the contributors, including founding member Kevin Lewandowski’s big project, directing a music video for Hot Hot Heat.
I caught up with co-founder and writer Jurek Szymczak, to talk about what makes this website so unique, and how they’re parlaying success online into success in their careers.
What is The Futurists?
The Futurists is basically a local Vancouver blog. Our mission from the beginning was to try and document the energy, the passion, the lifestyle of a certain age group and a certain, I guess, clique within the Vancouver nightlife and academic scene. Basically, it began with a few friends who had differing artistic tendencies — a photographer, a cinematographer, a writer —and what we wanted to do was create an umbrella under which we could each express those talents to an audience. It began within a small, tight-knit group of students from Emily Carr, and that’s kind of the audience we’re looking for: people between the ages of, say, 17, 18, to 26, 27, 28, who are artistically inclined, creative, but who are also spending a lot of time and money and energy dancing, and sleeping around and going out. Each of us knew that we wanted to express ourselves, that we wanted to get our work to a larger audience outside of school, outside of the normal avenues like social media, microblogging, Facebook, that sort of thing.
What is it that makes The Futurists different from other party photography websites?
There were a few kind of “party blogs” around Vancouver but it felt like there was a void still could be filled because these blogs that already existed were a bit non-inclusive. They represented a core group of friends, and all the photos were of those people. At the beginning, like I said, it was a few students from Emily Carr and myself. But over time, people began to see the photographs on the website and we began to create more traffic, it was hard for simply two photographers to cover enough parties, enough events, in order to give our audience what they wanted.
So you had to expand your crew. How collaborative is the creative process with The Futurists? Does everyone sort of do their own thing, or is it more top-down?
We [Jurek, plus original founders Joshua Grafstein and Kevin Lewandowski] kind of shaped the mission for the website, which was always open for interpretation and change, but everyone does bring something special and something slightly different to the table. You know what they say — whoever they are — about variety: it’s the spice of life. We want to be able to express the views and the energies and the passions the desires of Vancouver as a whole rather than just one singular area of Vancouver, and I think that’s very important because I think that when we started we had a very narrow view, but we’ve been growing to include and encompass different cliques and different little societies within the city.
It sounds like you guys pride yourself on how diverse and inclusive The Futurists is. Do you ever worry about the balance between diverse content on one hand and specialized content on the other?
It’s like a tug of war that people have that is between stuff that is really underground and independent and the idea of “selling out.” And I think things are never that black and white. When you do something creatively, if you’re a writer, or a musician or a painter, I think it’s important to try and reach as many people as you can. And a lot of time I think that some people might sacrifice that in favour of trying to be too exclusive and trying to be a little above the pack, you know? But I think you can never really go wrong if you’re beginning to reach more people. And that’s what we wanted to do — we didn’t just want the website to be sort of an in club for people who are in the know about certain parties. We want it to be accessible to a wide group of youth — and not even youth, because that’s exclusive as well, and I don’t want to pigeonhole us as just for young people.
Are there any plans to monetize the website? I’ve been on it, and I don’t see any advertising or anything.
We’ve always been against putting advertising on the website. That would be the simplest, quickest, fastest way to generate revenue for us, but we feel it would cheapen the image, cheapen the experience of being on the website. So we’ve started speaking recently about incorporating a Futurists brand. For example, perhaps selling prints of photos that are on the website, or branding ourselves with t-shirts. But, more so than the website itself making money, it has allowed the people who participate to showcase their talents, and from there, we’ve been contacted, without reaching out, by groups of people who want to hire someone off the website to do work for them; be it someone who wants a private photographer for a party or some band that wants to shoot a music video, or someone who approaches one of the writers to do an article. So I think rather than the website itself making revenue, it’s a platform for us to really showcase ourselves to the Vancouver artistic community.