There is one thing to get out of the way to begin with concerning this week’s coursework. I have always thought the distinction between art and commerce was false, when not simply ludicrous and pure snobbery. What matters is respect – for oneself, the client, the images and anyone else involved. The task is to deliver the best one can, according to the brief and in the way most appropriate to the nature of the brief. That way, one is aiming squarely at the intended audience no matter how it is classified.
While I have no ambition to become a professional photographer, it is clear that much is to be gained by studying the subject and considering what professionalism means. For me, this is rather like clearing out an attic. One must sort through a great deal of lumber, discard what is not wanted or appropriate, polish up what one wants to keep and can work with, and learn to focus on the key pieces from the pile that really matter.
There are many different kinds of professional photography. Scott Grant identifies ten different specialisations (Grant 2016 A: 60) and there are many minor ones in addition. Specialisation is common to many fields and it is easy to see why. Often it is the only way to follow a passion, acquire the knowledge required to master one’s field, build a personal network of the people who matter in that field, and in consequence become known as someone worth employing, whether the field is medicine, science, publishing or photography.
The suggestion is to ask myself where I fit in with that? Scott Grant has some useful suggestions and practical ideas to offer in The Essential Guide to Student Photography (Grant 2016 A). What I need to do is ask myself, ‘What Is My Photographic Voice?’, if I have one, and identify (or simply list) the things I like and care about, the things that influence me, the emotions I tend towards, even the colours and visual patterns I tend towards. A study of my archive will help with that. All this will include researching the work of other photographers, of course.
For now, my experience tends towards social documentary and event photography, with a side-line in wildlife or at least the natural world. I lack skills in portrait photography and were I turning professional then I would seek to acquire them. None of this means social documentary and portrait photography would be the only specialisation available to me but it might be somewhere to begin. However, a careful look at the risks and rewards of any specialisation is important. Here today but potentially gone tomorrow? See Hadland on the risky future of photojournalism (Hadland et al 2016).
There are two other sides to professionalism, however. The first are the qualities required to sustain oneself as a professional. Scott Grant has listed them as follows (Grant 2016 B):
- You need to be able to take rejection, rejection and more rejection of your work and still stay positive.
- You need to be consistent in your image making.
- You must have the ability and confidence to create narrative.
- You must be able to solve problems through visual language.
- You must always give the client what they ask for, what they didn’t (but works best) and what you know to be the strongest image (that may or not fulfil the brief).
- You must be able to talk about your work eloquently and with passion.
- You need to understand the position of the client/curator/enabler.
- You must be open-minded, culturally aware and interested in stuff!
- You must never believe the hype but always understand the hype.
- You must never give in or up.
In short, one must be resilient, adaptable and creative enough to find solutions to the problems clients may set. They are, after all, hiring you in the first place to solve a problem they have. However, it is important to add some other things to Grant’s list. Financial literacy is vital in running a business and, today, so is the ability to market oneself effectively, identify clients, understand branding and acquire a sure grasp of social media and other marketing channels. Collaboration, teamwork and diplomacy in one’s business dealings are vital too. It is a long list!
Another side of professionalism is simply understanding how an industry works. So the question then is, ‘How does the photography business actually work?’ As Scott Grant points out, ‘Photography as a business is incredibly rewarding creatively, but it does have guidelines, rules of engagement and expectations of the photographer’ (Scott 2016 A). This is all a process of learning.
Some of those guidelines and rules of engagement have been touched on in this week’s coursework, for example, the basics of how photo agencies like Getty Images work and the differences between flat rates and royalties. There are of course a great number of other things to learn and each specialization within photography will call for different ones. These could be familiarising oneself with the many different specialists involved in a fashion shoot, from props to make-up, and managing a team. Or it might be a solid understanding of release forms and their legal implications in documentary photography, or expertise in realistic and fully itemised budgets and costings.
It is clear that among these many skills, knowing how editors work and how to pitch ideas to them is crucial. Emma Bowkett (Bowkett 2017) has been very helpful in this regard, as has Tom Seymour (Seymour 2020) and Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz (Jedrosz 2020). In fact a slide shown by Jedrosz neatly sums up the different roles someone in her own field (documentary photography) must perform.
BOWKETT, Emma. 2017. ‘Creative Brief: Emma Bowkett’. The British Journal of Photography 164(7858), 84–5 [online]. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/docview/1920352153?pq-origsite=summon [accessed 14 Oct 2020].
HADLAND, Adrian, Paul LAMBERT and David CAMPBELL. n.d. ‘The Future of Professional Photojournalism’. Journalism Practice 10(7), 820–32.
JEDROSZ, Hanna-Katrina. 2020. ‘Guest Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/6f944108ad67c5daec7f4ba0b772ec39213193f5-1602697725024/capture/ [accessed 16 Oct 2020].
SCOTT, Grant. 2016 A. The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography. 1st edn. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.
SCOTT, Grant. 2016 B. ‘What Makes A Professional Photographer? 10 Observations’. The United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2016/09/03/what-makes-a-professional-photographer-10-observations/ [accessed 15 Oct 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].
Figure 1. Hanna-Katrina JEDOSZ. 2020. ‘Some of the skills required by a documentary photographer’. From: ‘Guest Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/6f944108ad67c5daec7f4ba0b772ec39213193f5-1602697725024/capture/ [accessed 16 Oct 2020].