PHO704 Week 3: Art and Commerce

Art and Commerce is a tricky subject for me, because I have no ambition to become a professional photographer (someone who earns a living from their craft). However, I would like to become someone who photographs more professionally. That is not quite the same thing but it is one of my goals in taking this degree.

I take Felicity McCabe’s point, that there is vastly more to professional photography than simply making a photograph even though that remains at the core: ‘turning up on the morning and actually shooting is like 10% of what you do, maybe 5-10%’ (McCabe 2020). The other 90 per cent, I think, involves five main things:

  • Running a business competently
  • Fully understanding and completing client briefs
  • Good organisation, planning and thinking on one’s feet
  • Marketing oneself with clarity to attract and retain clients
  • Keeping one’s creative skills juicy and well honed

This week’s coursework has been mainly about the last one, creativity through personal projects, and also about how to express one’s creativity and vision through the lenses of the first four items. That means how to stay true to one’s personal style and values while still delivering what the client requires.

I like Felicity McCabe’s stress of the interconnectedness of life, and therefore that nothing need be wasted because ideas or skills acquired in one area can be put to good use in another.

‘Also I think everything that comes from your own mind… If you think all of your projects are like strands, but if it comes from the same brain, it’s basically every single thing that I do is all one big project … it feels like it’s from the same brain … you should stick to your guns, follow your hunches and do what makes you feel happy. … if you are a landscape photographer you might be traipsing through some ex-Soviet area, wondering what you are doing there, but in two years’ time that might get you the job that you are going to love doing, because the ideal is to get commissions doing the things that you like doing, otherwise what’s the point?’ (McCabe 2020).

The photographers I most admire are those who manage to combine all of these elements while still retaining their distinctive style. Among those I would reference are Naheli Muholi and in particular her magnificent portraits such as Ntozakhe II, Parktown (Muholi 2016)  (see Fig. 1), images which derive directly from her work with South Africa’s persecuted gay and transgender communities. I would also reference Nadav Kander whose portraits – for example Tricky II (Kander 2019) in Fig. 2 – recognizably evidence a similar style, colour palette and tonality to his long-format works such as Yangtze, The Long River (Kander 2010) and Dust (Kander 2014).

Fig. 1: Zaneli Muholi 2016. Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Nadav Kander 2019. Tricky 11.
Fig. 2: Nadav Kander 2019. Tricky 11.

There are many others. For example, Irving Penn (in particular), William Klein and Saul Leiter all photographed fashion, and successful film directors such as Ridley Scott are well-known for their advertising work at various times. Nick Knight is also known for his fashion work, but currently he is showing Roses from My Garden, an exhibition of flower photography inspired by the work of 16th and 17th century still life painters – and all made using only an iPhone (a double creative challenge, one artistic and the other technical) (Knight 2020).

I do not think I have yet reached a distinctive personal style, but I am working towards that, one of my aims on this course. And since I have almost no professional photography experience, I cannot say that I am a professional either. However, I am working towards that goal, too, at least in terms of going about my practice professionally.

As for personal projects, I can see that those are very important. Following the suggestions of Grant Scott in ‘The Power of the Personal Project’ (Scott 2015), I have embarked on a small personal project called Entropias in addition to my main research project. I will go into that in more detail in the following post.


KANDER, Nadav and Will SELF. 2014. Nadav Kander : Dust. Dust. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz.

KANDER, Nadav. 2010. Yangtze, The Long River. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

KNIGHT, Nick. 2020. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.

McCABE, Felicity. 2020. ‘Week 3: Lecture – Felicity McCabe: Sustainable Prospects PHO704’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: [accessed 7 Oct 2020].

Scott, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Scott, G. (ed.) Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109. Available at: [accessed 7 Oct 2020).


Figure 1. Naheli MUHOLI. 2016. Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Figure 2. Nadav KANDER. 2019. Tricky II, London.