Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The fine line between the starving artist and the capitalist money grabber

I'll be honest, one of the reasons I've been a bit quiet on the blog lately is that I haven't been really sure about what to write about. About what I can add to the plethora of blogs out there that would help you all on your quest to be better photographers.

I seemed to have covered so much over the last few years that I was feeling a bit lost. And part of the reason for being lost was that I had forgotten that I'm also writing this for myself, not just my readers.

And then it struck me what I need to write about. What is important to me - photographically speaking that is. You see I'm not the most technical of photographers (I've never even been in a studio! although I use on-location lighting all the time), I don't own the most expensive camera and I don't even really know any famous photographers (although I do like to name drop that Bob Krist and I get along pretty well!) . In short I'm just a regular ol' (well still in my 30's so not that old!) photographer. Or am I?

I've been to a few meetings and weekend retreats of a professional photographic group here in Australia over the years and every one I've ever been to I'm the only travel photographer. Bar none. No others. And every other photographer I meet always says to me "I always wanted to be a travel photographer but gave up because it was too hard/competitive/low paying and went into weddings and portraits". OK so maybe I am a bit different from other working pros. That gives me some ideas.

So here's something I know about being a professional photographer. You need to make money. Don't give me any of this honour of the starving artist stuff. Noble it may be but it won't help you support your dreams. If you want to continue to share your art with the world you need to make money. And the more money you make the better. On one condition.

If you really want to survive long term both financially and spiritually you need to continue following your passion. If your passion is just to photograph anything that moves then you're set. But if you're like me, and can only imagine photographing certain things, then you've got some pretty hard decisions to make. You can either try to follow your passion and then, if it doesn't work out just move into another area of photography (read: more lucrative area of photography) and hope that you become passionate about it. Or you can continue in your day job, night job, part-time job until you find a way to make your area of passion pay - and pay well.

One thing I've always stood on is my integrity. If I don't think I can technically handle a photographic assignment, or put all of my passion into it, no matter how well it pays I always pass it on to a colleague. I never refuse a client outright but I always send them in the direction of a qualified professional I know can do the job brilliantly. And without a doubt that has caused me to turn down some really well-paying jobs at times when the money would come in handy. I'm certainly not trying to be the starving artist here - I've got a family to help support. But I've found over the years that the jobs that have given me the biggest headaches, and the ones I still have nightmares about to this day, are the ones early in my career that I accepted because the money was astronomical but my heart wasn't in it. The photographs themselves turned out fine - I continue to see them pop up all over the place - but they were pretty soul-destroying personally.

I spoke about being Mr Mum a couple of posts back (scroll down to find it) and how that has meant I have to re-evaluate my photography career. Well you can guess where my re-evaluation is coming from. First and foremost my passion. I want to continue to tell stories about people and places that I find interesting. To photograph for companies that have ideals and aims that gel with my views on life. Do you think this is overly-idealistic? Too much dreaming not enough being sensible.

Well I think that being sensible is probably the wrong way to be for an artist. Passion is never sensible. Following your dreams is never sensible. I'll leave sensible to those people who don't enjoy what they're doing but are too scared to try anything else. If I was a 'sensible' photographer I would have learnt to use studio lights or talk to brides. I certainly would make more money. But when it comes to listening to my inner artist I'm just not the sensible type. (When I have my business hat on that's a different matter. I'm all sensible then but that's for another post.)

So here's what I bring to the blogging world. I'm a photographer who has followed their passion come hell or high water. I've managed to turn that passion into a money-making venture without having to sell myself short doing work that I don't feel I can deliver 110% on. And I do that by listening to my inner artist and paying attention to it rather than a pay cheque. We all enter the photography profession because we love the art form. But be careful not to lose that love by walking down alleyways that might be financially lucrative but will kill your passion over time. Money comes and goes, once your passion dies it may never come back.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your insights Paul. I'm just recently decided to pursue fine art photography because all my life I've always wanted to do art but obviously it's hard living and everyone wants to put you do for that. I hope that I'll be able to get out of my dead-end job to do what I dream to do one day. For now I just take baby steps and persevere.

Unknown said...

Thanks for that Diana,

Following your dreams is definitely something we're all meant to do. Just remember that it doesn't necessarily have to be all or nothing to be successful. Baby steps help you build confidence, make money which you can put back into your fledgling business while you find your feet. No shame in doing that at all. Keep at it and remember that, succeed or fail, just having a go puts you ahead of 90% of the rest of the world! The fun is in the journey. Good luck!