Sunday, January 20, 2008

Far from Heavenly

Director Todd Haynes at home

Just caught up (well, sort of) on the tearsheet section of my site and added a few that have accrued in recent months. More to come soon. We'll just have to wait and see when "soon" really is.

It brings me back to the topic of photography as business. Having gone through years of schooling in photography, I found afterwards that sure, I could make photographs, but I knew nothing about how to make a living out of them. EP (Editorial Photographers) and the APA (Advertising Photographers of America) and their online resources and newsgroup discussions are among the sources I turn to in order to learn how this world works. The online grumblings from these experienced photographers is that the business is changing, undoubtedly for the worse. The internet, the digital revolution, copyright infringement, Richard Prince, and microstock are all contributing factors to the decline of the business. Even with the downright dismal outlook, it seems to be generally agreed upon that there are more new young upstart photographers than ever. And perhaps the most commonly preached advice for the newbie is to keep your pricing consistently within range of the rest of the pack.

As in the Putney Swope clip I posted a few weeks back (which I first saw via EP), the premise is that when photographers are willing to work too cheaply, they bring the overall pricing structure down across the industry and cheapen the business for everyone. I get it. Why would an editor hire an experienced shooter for $500 a day when she could hire one of the other ten accomplished and eager photographers in the same zip code to do the job for half? Well, the trick is to prove oneself better than those other ten photographers, right? Make it worth the magazine's extra dollars to ensure the high quality product they know they can count on with the experienced shooter rather than taking chances on someone who may be a little green and untested.

But what if you're one of those other ten photographers? You're looking for someone to hire you for any job so you can break into the assignment world and build a little momentum. If, like me, you come from the art side of things, you don't have a background in assignment work or making money. So when the first offer comes, and it will, the editor will apologize for the paltry sum she can offer and you'll tell her that it's alright, you're willing to take it because you like what they do there at that magazine you've probably never even heard of and you're just glad to be working with them. And as soon as you hang up the phone, you're going to plan dinner out that very night to celebrate the fact that someone out there in the world seems to like what you do and they're going to give you enough money for making a picture that you can afford to not only make that picture, but even buy a dinner to celebrate the job that, in terms of actual net income, will pretty much only go as far as covering your expenses and buying that dinner. But still, of course you will do it, spiraling down the whole time. How could you not? Who doesn't like being appreciated and eating dinner out?

But a couple years later, it gets a little more complicated when you've had enough of this kind of work to think that you know better. Now, you realize that every job isn't exactly fun. Sometimes they're a little grueling. Sometimes the subjects are difficult. Sometimes the reimbursement/payment on the celebratory dinner you put on your credit card comes 90 days late. So what do you do when you get an offer from another small magazine with big dreams and good intentions, and a budget to match? Well, in my case, you hem and haw and put it off a little and debate the above factors and question whether or not you should do the job at all. And then you do it. Of course you fucking do it... they want you to photograph Todd Haynes. Superstar, Safe, Far From Heaven... that Todd Haynes.

So, consider this both a confession and an apology to all of you out there trying to make a living while starstruck pansies like myself are willing to dwell off the bottom and use our cameras as passports to get us places where we wouldn't normally be invited. Like Todd Haynes' house. Sorry, really, but I couldn't help it.

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