This has been an interesting week because I had not realized that there are so many different career paths within the overall field of photography.
This is very freeing in a way because it means that one doesn’t have to feel shoehorned into a particular box. Instead we are free to find something that truly satisfies our talents. In a way I have already done this with an earlier career. Upon graduating, I could have been a writer or a journalist but instead I settled on book publishing. It seemed a good blend of art and commerce with a great deal of variety and the chance to meet lots of interesting people. And so it proved.
In terms of photography, however, one element links all paths: visual culture and visual language. It is this one must pay close attention to. We live in a visual culture and proficiency in its language applies to many different industries today, whether fashion, architecture or industrial design. The same is true for what photographers today are also expected to bring to the table: adaptability, creative thinking, collaborative experience, and business and presentation skills.
As Scott Grant has explained in The United Nations of Photography:
‘I believe that the study of photography should not be solely focused on the practice of being a photographer or working within the creative arts. Instead it should be seen as a gateway subject to career paths outside of the expected and established. Just as the humanities are to Law.
In a time when flexibility, problem solving, creativity and visual communication are becoming increasingly valuable employment requirements I suggest that photography may well be one of the most important subjects to study in the 21st Century’ (Grant 2020).
The suggestions given in the coursework this week are an extremely useful cheat sheet. I know this from my own experience, having helped to found one publishing company and helped to grow another one from its modest beginnings. It is hard work and you have to be completely adaptable and willing to turn your hand to whatever is required. It is also vital to become financially literate because otherwise you won’t know whether a job is actually worth doing. Running a business is not about doing something just because ‘It sounded like a good idea’. The fastest way for things to end in tears is to lose control of the finances and watch your ‘cash burn’ spiral until nothing is left of the start-up funding – or your savings.
What it means to be a ‘professional’ photographer is much-debated question, but perhaps Scott Grant sums it up:
‘All professionals need to have the ability to create consistently strong images … as well as the ability to create a narrative within a series. … This is what sets them apart from a general member of the public with a camera’ (Pfab 2020).
However, this is only a part of the story. Photographic and narrative skills go hand in hand with business skills, experience and the wider range of other skills a professional photographer must master such as presentation and marketing. None of this can be acquired overnight. Becoming professional – in anything – is as process and it can take a long time. One must learn how things work in practice and how business is typically conducted. There is the right way to deliver what a client requires, for example, as Tom Seymour recently showed in his Falmouth presentation Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published (Seymour 2020). Failing to give a client the information they need on which to base a decision is what amateurs do. In my experience, the only real way to acquire this knowledge is by learning from those who are already professionals. Nothing beats experience and training at work.
As a professional press photographer has pointed out, the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional can and will complete the client’s exact brief, whereas an amateur usually will not be able to because they lack the skills, equipment and experience (Terakopian 2020).
What has often been repeated by different voices both this week and last week is the importance of personal vision: ‘It is absolutely vital to find your own voice and signature visual language’ (Pfab 2020). Emma Bowkett emphasized this in her Falmouth presentation this week FT Weekend Magazine (Bowkett 2020), as did both Lydia Pang in her recent podcast On Commissioning (Pang 2020) and recent graduates on It’s Nice That (It’s Nice That 2017).
Personal vision comes down to offering a point of view on the world that no one else could have photographed, which in turn means authenticity and integrity. This is the only way to attract attention and stand out among the tide of images that floods across the desk of editors every day. Faking it – adopting someone else’s style – does not work. One’s work must be original. Both Bowkett and Pang are successful commissioning editors, and they should know.
How far am I along this path? Perhaps a little further than I was when I began this degree course. One of my goals in this course is to get as far along the path of finding an authentic voice as I can.
BOWKETT, Emma. 2020. ‘FT Weekend Magazine’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/b5139beb38edd9a5a5b4d655de1c8ea7c2e5e6f9-1601488194811/capture/ [accessed 30 Sep 2020].
IT’S NICE THAT. 2017. ‘How to Go Freelance: Need-to-Know Advice from Creatives Who Made It’. It’s Nice That [online]. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/features/the-graduates-2017-advice-how-to-go-freelance-170517 [accessed 30 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 29 Sep 2020].
PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘What Is the DNA of the Twenty First Century Professional Photographer?’. Falmouth University [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-2-presentation-dna-of-a-21st-century-photographer?module_item_id=43366 [accessed 30 Sep 2020].
SCOTT, Grant. 2020. ‘Is It Moral to Teach Photography?’ United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2020/07/07/is-it-moral-to-teach-photography/ [accessed 30 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].