Gemma Fetcher’s presentation (Fletcher 2020) was full of energy and exciting in how it revealed photography as a tool for discovery and an interface with wider cultural issues. That makes photography much more worthwhile than simply a camera and a print. I also picked up from her these points:
- Focus intently on what you want to say and never forget to question the cultural assumptions that have influenced you and which may sit unexamined in your images.
- Nurture an everyday commitment to ‘just showing up’ and practise, practise, practise.
- Collaboration is vital. One needs to build relationships even without the expectation that anything might come from them. Art directors, for example, are constantly looking for new photographers to work with. That is part of their job. They should be keen to meet but you need to approach them in the right way. One can treat the first meeting as a ‘chemistry check’. You are trying to build an ongoing, intimate relationship and that can take time. A one-off approach to work can be self-defeating and is, arguably, exploitative. It is certainly not collaborative.
Fletcher referenced an article on Viviane Sassen in connection with photography’s powers of discovery and means of engaging with wider social and cultural issues. In Sassen’s own words:
‘It’s so important to allow yourself the freedom to be truly creative. Experimentation is central to my practice. … I feel like I’m always solving little puzzles or making combinations … It’s all just trial and error. I’m always looking for that little bit of magic. …You need to photograph every day, make stuff every day and not be precious about it’ (Fletcher 2018).
This is really important to hear.
Amy Simmons on ‘Commercial Considerations’ (Simmons 2020) was a tight and helpful presentation. Even though I have no wish to become a commercial photographer in advertising, the ideas and methods discussed are applicable to improving one’s practice in almost any field. For example, I had not realized how complex and painstaking the commercial commissioning process is, and how all of it depends on collaboration and teamwork. Unless one is prepared to work as part of a team, there is no way forward.
Simmons helpfully provided a list of key points to remember when putting one’s work out there and I hope I remember them.
- Find out who your main potential clients are and who is the correct contact at each one.
- Send professional emails with full links and embedded images to save the recipient work and time.
- Send printed content to potential contacts, perhaps postcards with one’s details on the back. Others will see them and big agencies often keep a database of postcards and other printed material to consult later.
- Arrange portfolio views if possible. Nothing beats meeting in person but you need to prepare for it and research the client’s activities, so that you can demonstrate some commitment. Do not be afraid to ask for critique.
- Attend events and private views in your chosen industry. It is a good way of starting to network and of discovering who the key industry people are. Some big advertising agencies have private galleries, so find out if it might be possible you show your work there.
- Take part in industry charity exhibitions. It is a good way to become involved and to become better known.
- Conduct business professionally and respond promptly to emails and phone calls.
- Be yourself (despite the pressure) and let your passions shine through. Do not try to fake it since that never works.
This is a very useful list. A second helpful list in Simmons’ presentation was of the key points to remember when assembling and presenting a portfolio of work. This is so helpful in almost any context.
I enjoyed this very much. An online course can be difficult without personal contact and I welcome contact. Just getting to know one’s peers a little better is a pleasure in itself. I felt there was a good exchange of ideas in a relaxed atmosphere. It was pointed out to me that my research project could be of a city at night anywhere and so might my project be enriched if I did not feel I had to tie it so closely to Oxford? I admit I had not though of that and it is an idea well worth further consideration. So, overall, a win and I hope everyone felt so.
FLETCHER, Gemma. 2020. ‘Guest Lecture with Gemma Fletcher’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/3df3c9f0d8bf002ba92667d57e8da87398cc8490-1603910860195/capture/ [accessed 4 Nov 2020].
FLETCHER, Gemma. 2018. ‘Viviane Sassen on Creativity and Experimentation’. British Journal of Photography [online]. Available at: https://www.1854.photography/2018/07/viviane-sassen-on-creativity-and-experimentation/ [accessed 4 Nov 2020].
SIMMONS, Amy. 2020. ‘Week 7: Presentation – Commercial Commissions with Amy Simmons’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-7-presentation-commercial-commissions-with-amy-simmons?module_item_id=43404 [accessed 4 Nov 2020].