You wake up in the morning in your designer house with a fabulous ocean view knowing it is going to be another successful day in your photographic career. You need to believe in yourself – they say! Then you head to your glitzy kitchen and prepare a healthy breakfast with organic eggs and your must-have cup of organic coffee with a perfectly measured dose of the latest natural, organic sweetener. You eat your breakfast slowly for better digestion, checking your emails on your brand-new iPhone X. Then you go to your office full of head-spinningly expensive, mega-sized prints on the walls. This is also where your just-acquired 5K, all-in, 64gb RAM iMac shares space with a brand new medium format camera and a line-up of shiny new lenses, some of them still unpacked.
You start your machine and smile. Your new book just reached the best sellers’ list on Amazon but you are not surprised. All your workshops just filled up – you are not surprised. As you glance at your social media feed, you jot down a few thank yous in response to a flood of praise and WOWs. It is time to write a few words of encouragement for the photographic world, you think. As usual you start “What a fantastic day I have…” but you are interrupted by the telephone. It is a new client asking about private consulting. You check your schedule and fit the lucky chap in between your photographic trips to Paris and Venice.
Now it’s time to update your anxiously waiting followers about your day. You start with your clichéd but always effective motto “What a lucky person I am” and “I booked a new client” followed by “Had the best day ever photographing…” finishing off your session with the repetitive but always appreciated “Yes, you can do it too if you really believe in yourself.” After all, you need to inspire your followers.
What a fabulous life is that of a working photographer!
…if only it were true.
Although I have been a photographer most of my life, photography has become my main source of income only recently. My previous professional life was based on marketing and providing services to people who already have money. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that I disliked my previous work. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot. But there was no question that the business world often involves projecting the right image. You need to sell your product and yourself but there has always been the other me which found this space crammed and sterile.
The other me wanted the freedom to feel, observe, see, arrange, create, write, share…and while doing so to be unconventional, imaginative but most importantly honest. Yes, of course this new me would involve selling (what a dirty word in the photographic industry) what I create to support my family. However, it would be different. I would take this freedom to create and present it to the world on the premise that the world would appreciate and support me in what I do. In time, I knew that this skill would be my seeing and my writing.
I admit, I was aware of the consequences of my decision. From the start, I knew that it was going to be extremely difficult. I accepted the fact that I might be choosing a life of a constant struggle. After my experience in business and marketing and multiple contacts in the photographic industry I knew that the image of “the fabulous life of a working photographer” is fiction. What struck me the most is how many so-called “creatives” keep projecting this image every day on social media in such an amateurish and maladroit way. No, I am not writing this to talk anybody down or criticize. I am not crazed, not just yet.
The reason I am writing about this is because of my respect for the many young, talented photographers I have had the privilege of meeting in the last few years. I am amazed by the work they produce and I want to tell them the truth.
Yes, it is hard, very hard! No, you won’t be able to book all your work right away. No, you won’t be able to sell all your photographs. Yes, this is going to be a life of frustration, stress and disappointment with some occasional snippets of joy and freedom – in that order! Most likely, you won’t be able to afford the latest and most expensive gear.
I know many who read this blog are from parts of the world where even the least expensive camera costs a fortune. I know many of you would like to be professional photographers but you need to take care of your siblings and get your sister/brother through school. Some of you take care of your ailing parents, or simply work to support your family. I understand you because I lived in a poor country where people had to make difficult choices and often “yes, you can do this” appears to be the fantasy of a rich kid who just received a huge endowment from his parents.
For those of you who have already chosen the path of a creative, don’t fall into the fantasy of “The fabulous life of a working photographer” so often pushed on social media. Trust me, I know some of those who try to look as though they “made it.” Most artists rarely reach the “made it” stage and that’s okay. In fact, many who are great visual artists never get there. Why? Because they define success differently.
Of course, there are some “successful” people (interestingly, they are much quieter about it). I admire them and look up to them and you should too. You are smart enough to recognize them by their amazing work and conduct.
What’s your point, Olaf?
Your choice to embrace life as a full-fledged photographer must involve being yourself, writing what you want to write about, seeing what you see and photographing what you want, not what is popular or trendy. It requires honesty. It is the same with your art. Don’t let the social media machine distort your vision. Sometimes you are not that fake, fabulous, I-will-inspire-everybody character. Sometimes, you may be weak, confused and discouraged. That’s fine. Take this less-marketable you and pour it into your art and your seeing. Most importantly, don’t swallow those daily sweet bites of “The fabulous life of a working photographer” trolled on social media. If you do that you will quickly choke yourself as a creative and an entrepreneur.
Yes, I am sometimes part of the problem trying to show what’s the best in me. It is normal and human but maybe we all do too much of it, distorting the world for young people and… ourselves.
So maybe next time we pick up a pen, share a piece of our daily life or present our photographic work, let’s insert some real successes but also some real struggles of being creative and being a photographer. After all, we are all in it together.
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