Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Skint and successful

"There are easier ways to make money than shooting long-term personal projects (waitressing for example)". 


So said Anastasia Taylor Lind in the blog posts on success (here and here). Other people said similar things, that financial reward was the last thing on their minds. I suspect this is partly because there is so little financial reward in photography of the documentary/long-term project kind, the kind where a five figure income is quite an achievement. There is a huge amount of smoke and mirrors in photography, and how much people earn and the relationship between earnings and success, and the necessity to be perceived as successful and the image of financial security as an element of self-marketing are all central to very many photographers' lives. 


I assume that every photographer scrapes a living at best - that waitressing (and for North American readers,  Anastasia was talking UK, small tips waitressing here) or shelf-stacking or anything that pays minimum wage is going to be a better bet than photography.

I assume that most people involved in photography, even quite well-known  names, have trouble buying cameras, computers or film - and I assume the less well-known find it difficult to buy film, printer ink and paper. I certainly do.


So it was heartening to hear so many people judging success in terms of communication, connection, of creativity and creating something fresh and making people see the world in a different way. Some of the people who said this do make money from photography, but still indulged in projects that interested them and stimulated them - and this part of their work, the non-money earning part, took over their lives.


So it is with this in mind that I interviewed a few people (Tony Fouhse, We are the Youth, Steve Davis and Gemma-Turnbull) who are doing  collaborative projects, more for the love than the money (there is no money). And I'll put these interviews up next week. 


In the meantime, all this talk of money reminds me of Maxine Peake who wrote of the snobbery in drama colleges in the UK. The idea is that most British actors are now upper-middle class and there is no opportunity for working class actors. A similar thing has happened in journalism, publishing, broadcasting, film and, ooh, everything really. There is a view that because the creative industries are dominated by one type of person with one accent, one community and, ultimately, one mentality, there is a unity of perspective and belief that  is reflected in the plays, media, the television, the books. art and the films that we read, hear and see. You can hear this accent on Radio Four plays, you can read the mentality in the Guardian, you can see the community on BBC television. It doesn't make for a broad sweep of passion and imagination.


The reason these people, and only these people, can thrive is because the institutions they seek to join are so low-paying that only those with independent means can survive - who else can afford to work as an intern in a high-cost city such as London, who else can live on the four-figure (or three figure income) that photography provides so many of its wannabe artists/journalists/documentarians.

Does the same apply to photography? I don't know really. Sometimes I think it does, but then I read what people think of success and, though I know they are underplaying the financial aspects, I also do not doubt their sincerity for one second. And that gives me a little bit of hope.

17 comments:

Stan B. said...

It's one of the 800 lb gorillas in photography that never, ever gets mentioned. If you're skint, to even mention it brands you with the mark of a loser... ie- not successful. This is one of the very few venues where the topic has dared rear its ugly head. Everywhere else they may talk about grants won, awards bequested, latest equipment bought, purchased, used and reviewed. But nowhere, nowhere, nowhere about how much all this shit costs!

colin pantall said...

Everything is too expensive and digitalisation makes things much more expensive.

Most people can't afford the gear and most people are skint. And if they're not skint now, they will be - unless they have a trust fund.

The great thing is, a lot of these people are somehow managing to put together great work that won't get commercial reward. Perhaps we should recognize this more than we do.

At the same time, it would be good if the new crowdsourcing fund-raisers recognized this and perhaps favoured economically disadvantaged photographers in faraway places or with specific local and linguistic commitments - and perhaps spent money on funding these local stories with local knowledge, rather than paying expensive airfares. But I don't think that will be the case.

Stan B. said...

Absolutely- and how about organizations that would loan out used equipment gratis for the length of an approved project?

colin pantall said...

That's the sort of thing Photovoice type collaborative give-out-the-cameras projects do.

I think far more important is to emphasise that, unless you are making massive exhibition prints or posters where fine detail is of the essence, you don't need expensive equipment, huge resolutions or overpriced imaging software, printers and computers.

Stan B. said...

Unfortunately, we still live in an atmosphere where the holy realm of fine art will not take anyone seriously with minuscule 16x20 prints.

colin pantall said...

Make small prints, make a book, make a blog, make a poster, make something different.

You use 35mm film, scan it and print it big. Do what you want, fuck it up, William Klein made the most dynamic photobook on a xerox machine.

Loosen up and change the rules just a little bit. That's what it's all about isn't it.

Stan B. said...

Amen! We've gone through this "we can make 'em just as big as paintings" insecurity phase long enough. Photography's strength has always been its diversity, not just of style, but of format and presentation as well. All the very methods that you mention, that are being done by so many right now should come to be seen not as alternatives, but as viable mainstream options. We need more people to speak out, engage and challenge what in many ways has become an economic stranglehold of how this art form is conceived, presented and appreciated.

Deborah Parkin Photography said...

I remember about 15 years ago telling my nan that I wanted to be a photographer, she told me not to be ridiculous as I couldn't even afford to feed myself (which was true). So I put it on the back burner and went into teaching. Years later, as a mother and in a better economic situation I started photography again. But saying that it is done with the luxury of love and passion and not for money.
I did a year at university studying photography. I really felt the young students there .. it was film based. I remember their faces when told to buy FB paper or 4x5 negs .. some really struggled. The lecturers seemed really out of touch with their plight too. They are graduating this year, lots of time, money and passion and most not even bothering with a career in photography.
I have no idea about the class issue but I do feel there is an element of truth here. I am probably testament to it .. I have the luxury to photograph now using large format cameras, film, wet plate but as someone who comes from a single parent family, from a council estate in Stevenage .. it wasn't (originally) for the likes of me.

colin pantall said...

That's the spirit, Stan - not only does it not have to be expensive, it shouldn't be expensive.

Thanks Deborah - class does play a part, but sometimes it doesn't matter. Sally Mann might have been minted, but still her pictures are great - the wealth and independent means helped no doubt, but she pursued her goals relentlessly for the love of art.

Anyways, even large format can be cheap - not that cheap but a hell of a lot cheaper than even an average digital set up with software and hardware.

And as your lovely books show, it's the love, imagination and care that ultimately counts.

Deborah Parkin Photography said...

Thank you Colin .. and I agree. I think what I was trying to say (rather inarticulately) was that I feel very lucky now, being in a better financial situation has helped me and allowed me to do what I do, regardless of financial reward. Although saying that I think my priorities have changed too. Years ago I wouldn't haven't given up drinking, bands, travel etc to do my photography, now I do. All I think about is photography and that is the only thing I really spend money on & lead a pretty modest life.
I think Sally Mann has enough passion and determination whatever her financial situation. I also know that I probably didn't 15/20 years ago, but I do now. I have absolutely no idea about digital camera prices but again you are probably right, all my cameras are really old and cost the low end of the hundreds .. definitely not in the thousands. Maybe if you have enough determination and passion, love and belief in what you do you will get there .. wherever 'there' is.
I just hope that photography doesn't just belong to those that can afford it.

James said...

smoke and mirrors charlie sheen is rich and and all he dose is read lines someone wrote that he will forget as fast as us.Just like pictures. If you think about it everything you got paided to do for someone else had a short life.If you do it for your self they have more meaning.I once was a model and I was so happy when my 1st ad came out I think it was for jcpenny sunday paper I took a walk in a park that day and a paper was blowing on the ground it was me in the jcpenny advertisment That is when my smoke cleared thank God I was a young man and not old it would have sucked to go your whole life living in smoke and mirrors.If you can understand what I am saying good for you I am not sure but I am poor happy and love to take pics hope that helps

shanegodfrey said...

A lot of the reason why right out of school, and even while in school, I tried to learn the business end of photography and started a wedding/commercial photo business was just so I can buy cameras and computers to make the work I want to make. With grant funding going down every year and with more and more photographers/artists popping up all the time I figured self funding my own work was the only way to go. So far, I think I am still right in that decision. I don't see how, unless you are getting consistent grant funding, you could ever get anything accomplished in the art world.

But I am really excited about the amount of people who are starting web photo zeens and self publishing books. There are two things I can really get behind and support. The more that web based photo communities become the norm, the more we can help each other out in accomplishing our goals as a group. Or that's the future I'm hoping for.

Thomas (PD-JKT) said...

Photographers don't own media. Media pays the photographer. How about owning media? Like an electronic magazine, which might bring in money from advertisement and/or subscription? The problem with this is, the photographers have to invest first -not necessarily money, but their pictures. That's something they don't like - the first question is always, how much do I get? Wrong question and wrong point of view, too short-sighted.
Best,
Thomas

Kent Johnson said...

What the hell, I will add this.

As far as I can tell Fashion (& fashion photography (my bag))is run by the trust fund kiddies & lots are not kiddies any more!

That said if you can starve and you have balls you will find a way to make work. And I agree with Colin that digital has made the whole process of photography much much more expensive. But as we are not purchasing film for each shoot many many clients think its free and anything over burger-flipping-pay is like You (the photographer) stealing their first born.

And hey, they gotta mortgage to pay you know...

Pamela Reed said...

You know one of the most frustrating things about being a professional is all of the weekend shooters with full time, high paying jobs who can afford to buy the equipment I can only dream about.

On the other hand it has made me a better photographer because I find ways around getting the shot without the fancy equipment I can't afford.

Whether it was film years ago and my own ebay purchased darkroom or my iPhone. As we all know it ain't about the equipment. But it would be nice to pick up a new $2600 lens for some of my wedding shooting when the mood struck. Alas, I will work with what I have and continue to create great images while those who think spending oodles of bucks will make them pros and rich.

Joke is on them. In the end it is really all about the rewards of capturing that one great moment time and again by skill and creativity rather than fancy equipment.

I just have to find the right size cardboard box for my retirement condo! Hahaha!

Andy Ptak said...

I left England more years ago than most of your readers have been alive - because of the class system, which doesn't appear to have changed that much, by the way.

As a kid from the Liverpool docks I didn't stand a prayer. Even my Headmaster said that my ambitions were "a bit much for a boy from your station in life."

Getting started in a creative field is harder than most because so much is in the eye of the beholder. Add the old school tie into the mix and you're done.

The old days of Bailey, Duffy and Donovan shaking things up are long gone. Even they wouldn't make it today.

The only thing left is Rock and Roll, where you're expected to be a gobshite!

David Pu'u said...

A colleague off mine, Logan Mock-Bunting, an exceptionally talented photographer and journalist, pointed me to your blog. I think you nailed that big old elephant quite nicely as do your comment contributors.

This subject is one that I am forced to deal with on a regular basis in mentorships and via Art and Photography students who regularly say "I want to be like you." I then tell them what that really means. I finish off with a final word of advice: "Diversify your income streams"

In that is a paycheck.

Thanks for tackling the elephant.

David