PHO704 Week 1: On Turning Professional

I have learned a lot from this week’s coursework. These are the points I have picked up:

1. It is very important to be authentic, which means one has to know oneself and establish a style or form of practice. It is not possible to make someone else’s photographs. Commissioning editors look out for authenticity and an original voice among a sea of all too similar ideas.

‘What I am looking for will carry with it the sense that the work is powered by the authentic concerns of the photographer, that it is in some way heartfelt and has an integrity to its approach and treatment of its subject. For me, the presence of that authentic voice is what lifts a body of work above the everyday’ (Read 2016: 218).

2. Thorough and ongoing research is vital. It is not possible to tell a story without research, and not is it possible to understand and let alone fulfil a client brief without research. Storytelling matters. All brands have a story. Most good conversations are about a story. Not everything is a story, but it is important to understand narrative and its dynamics. A good photographer today needs a working knowledge of journalistic practice.

‘The photographer needs to understand and implement the fundamental requirements of traditional storytelling based upon facts, but they need to go further than the journalist because they also need to this an understanding of visual language and visual narratives. … My point is not to underplay the importance of journalism to the journalist, but to understand that the photographer needs to take the fundamentals of good journalism and apply them to photography to ensure the images created transcend their ethereal surface nature and provide context and narrative information’ (Scott 2020).

3. Collaboration is important and is becoming more so. The days of the stand-alone auteur are long gone. Collaboration matters because increasingly clients are looking for a full cross-media submission. They want good images, but they also want good video, graphic design, web skills and communication skills. Only a team-based approach can provide this. Besides, it often takes feedback from others to give one a sense of where one is going and whether one’s ideas stand up.

In addition, collaboration matters because it is a gateway to your audience having a fuller understanding of the work. It is no longer smart, if ever it was, to regard one’s audience as merely passive consumers. Audiences today want participation and empowerment. That means that ‘art’ today is increasingly defined as a collaboration between artist and audience. This requires a team-based approach because works are better understood when informed by the expertise of others. A coral reef makes for a pretty picture, but a picture of a coral reef accompanied by scientific data, environmental research and an understanding of wildlife and diversity make for a more interesting story about our world and climate change.

‘Importantly, working within the collaborative structure had the advantage of helping to constitute a group identity, which in turn led to the development of a mission statement in which a series of ethical and political objectives could be clearly defined. … The process of designing for visual information advocacy—a term that sums up how non governmental organisations employ imagery in order to garner public support—involves situating the photograph within a multimodal context. … The inclusion of additional modes has the function of anchoring meaning into the photograph by providing the audience with an awareness of the environmental or social problems relevant to a given location’ (Scott 2016: 232).

4. Multimedia is important, which means at least a working knowledge of stills, video, web and graphics. Clients are looking for flexibility and adaptability. As Lydia Pang says in her podcast On Commissioning, ‘ You’re a creative: what’s your output?’ – not where are your photographs, or video, or graphics (Pang 2020). The datastream is not compartmentalized.

5. One needs a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of the business. As Tom Seymour explains in his Falmouth video presentation, it’s all about the story, the angle, the edit, the source, the pitch, the press release (Seymour 2020). Each is a different stage, and each requires careful attention to get it right because otherwise one is not giving commissioning editors or potential clients the information they need on which to base a decision.

6. Have a plan and keep it tight. One needs to see oneself as a clearly defined brand and ensure that this flows through all one’s communications in a consistent way. That means self-knowledge: what one does, how one does it, who the audience are. Marketing is absolutely crucial. One has to learn how to market one’s brand. The nuts and bolts were set out in a recent video presentation by Charlie Giles of the Association of Photographers (Giles 2020).

Put like this, establishing oneself, marketing what one offers and delivering what the client wants sound an almost impossible Everest. In practice, however, I think it can be broken down into smaller and far less forbidding steps. An example would be Instagram. It is a platform that can be approached purely as a business tool. There are many tutorials and how-to documents out there now about the steps required to make Instagram work as a business tool rather than as a pleasure platform. This is a well-trodden path (see Timehin 2020).  Perhaps a similar approach – one subject at a time, broken down into steps – will make all the other elements easier to approach too.

Finally, there is no substitute for hard work and thinking on one’s feet. In creating and shooting a worldwide campaign for Panasonic cameras, Edmond Terakopian made nearly 15,000 images in all kinds of settings and several different countries in less than two months. He curated this down to less than 20 final images for the client. It must have been very demanding work – but he got the job (Terakopian 2020). I hope he was well rewarded!

References

GILES, Charlie. 2020. ‘The Fundamentals of Marketing Yourself as a Photographer’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PANG, Lydia. 2020. ‘On Commissioning’. The Messy Truth [online]. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/lydia-pang-on-commissioning/id1459128692?i=1000442904984 [accessed 21 Sep 2020)

READ, Shirley. 2016. ‘Essay: “Shirley Read: Finding and Knowing – Thinking about Ideas”’. In Shirley READ (ed.). Photographers and Research. Routledge, 218–22. Available at: https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/books/e/9781315730462 [accessed 21 Sep 2020].

SCOTT, Conohar. 2106. ‘Essay: “Conohar Scott: Collaborative Working”’. In Shirley READ (ed.). Photographers and Research. Routledge, 230–4. Available at: https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/books/e/9781315730462 [accessed 21 Sep 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2020. ‘Every Photographer Is a Journalist but Not Every Journalist Is a Photographer!’. United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2020/07/18/every-photographer-is-a-journalist-but-not-every-journalist-is-a-photographer/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

SEYMOUR, Tom. 2020. ‘Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/44e40a05380d0df14d38c59bed78489db86b1e49-1600865116374/capture/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TERAKOPIAN, Edmond. 2020. ‘Shooting an International Campaign’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].