I’m just sitting down here at my desk in Saint Petersburg, Florida this morning to write about some experiences and observations from my career as a photographer that you might find useful. I’ve taught photography all over the states from 2005 until today.
It’s very hard. It’s not fun. But it suits some personality types, at least for a few years. As years went on with me, I hit closed doors and problems, and eventually resigned from some aspects of it because it was a learning process. I was finding my way. I would feed off of the beautiful images but would neglect business relationships, and quality representation of my professional image. I didn’t work on building a portfolio to make money, but only of images that I liked, without regard for making money. I was an artist. Maybe I still am, and maybe more than ever.
Freelance work comes and goes. My favorite job was probably shooting products for a major online store for a month or so. It paid well, and I got to travel there to do the job and get out of Florida. I learned new things, and had new experiences. It was different for me than my usual one on one shoots. I was in a large team of people. I enjoyed that. It’s just a different workflow. Then I left that job, and it would have ended anyway. I should have stayed longer. But I did get in trouble by saying something that offended one of the team members. She had already been making remarks at me to get a reaction out of me, and then she used my reaction to make me look bad. I don’t really like that about legit office jobs. But, if I worked in one again, I would be aware of inter office relationships and use language that’s constructive, and be patient and build bridges. It was my fault for not understanding and not being mature enough to deal with that. That’s on me because it’s something I can change.
Social games. Even in the art world where there’s just non business relationships, let’s say, but art is being pursued, there are major vulnerabilities, especially when you get into a circle of people where one of them sees you as a threat. You don’t have human resources to protect you. There are always vulnerabilities and attacks when you’re competing for anything, including the coveted role of being a master photographer in some field. I have had lies told about me at opportune times, many times. Mostly they were found to be without credibility, but at times they got away with it at least for a short time. Basically, going at it alone, without a tribe is going to be hopeless. You will eventually have to team up with a few people so you aren’t a target.
Drugs, mental illness. This is just everywhere. It’s not exclusive to any industry but there is plenty of it in the art world. I was in the middle of it. I feel like half of my friends have died from mental and emotional illnesses complicated with drugs and alcohol. All of this just gets harder as you go. You see a lot of pain. But somehow there’s beauty there.
Fame and fortune. Ha. Not likely. You can get published in international magazines like I did, but not get paid for it and not get a single bit of worthwhile recognition from it. That just gives you the right to brag about being published and to show that off. I like being published, here and there, but that’s not the goal.
Your story. You must have a story, as an artist. Everyone can have a story. Just write it. I am only just now realizing the importance of this, and learning to not be so shy and hidden in the world. What is your story? What points in your life defined you as an artist? What is your current path?
Focus and build. The more you know, the better. But at first, we don’t know some important things and we can make big mistakes and waste time and money. It’s very important to know the industry. It can be one genre, like architecture, and master that, and move to another, like product photography, and portraiture, but each one has a history of photographers that developed those to a science through handed down techniques. Each of those should be learned for a given industry within the world of photography. This is the way to be competitive. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Or, if you feel like being experimental, do it on your personal work. Keep a focus, a vision, and surround yourself with resources to support that. Take steps toward that goal. At some point, one must learn a specialty in order to compete within that specialty. Everything is a specialty, outside of luck. And luck comes to those who do the work and have the right knowledge.