"It reads better than it lives." -Ian Fleming

I think my friend, Alexis, looks like a glamorous spy from a movie.

There's a lovely line in one of my favorite Ian Fleming Novels, Diamonds Are Forever,  it's actually the last line of the book.  The character, James Bond, ruminating on the life of a spy, says, "It reads better than it lives..."

To a certain extent, that's the way I feel about photography.  I grew up reading about the swashbuckling adventures of Magnum photographers and Life Magazine photographers who were chartering planes to fly deep into the Congo or over the South Pole, drinking Rum punch in Paris right after the war with Ernest Hemmingway, and then dancing the night away at 21 in New York City.

The camera seemed to be a magic talisman of incredible power and the men and women who could wield them effectively were the surrogate eyes of the world.  The best of them were paid like princes (Avedon would amass a personal fortune of over $50 million !!!  Annie Leibovitz was able to loose nearly half of that without even trying.....) and even the most workman like of advertising photographers seemed to earn like plastic surgeons and orthodondists but with the added benefit of not having to play with blood or buy malpractice insurance.

Somewhere along the line, the wheels came of the profession and now even the top dogs struggle from time to time.  But I think we all persevere because we can't imagine having to do a real job.  Being leashed to a real schedule.  The world is changing.  It won't always be the way it was.  And not everyone is bringing wonderful new stuff to the table.   Another quote from the bond book,  "Tell them  in Chicago that their guys suffered from delusions of adequacy...."

There are still a handful of photographers making good livings shooting advertising.  Many fewer are making a living at all shooting photojournalism.  The ones that are hanging on are doing it by mixing in new visions and technologies.  Slide shows with captured sound.  Video clips, etc.  Maybe the wedding people are still ordering caviar and drinking martinis but my take is that it's rough all over.

I still think people look in from the outside with rose colored glasses on and think that photographers are living a dream.  They see the iceberg part of a photographer's life.  The scant time spent on the actual shoot.  They don't see the "Titanic sinking" business end of the iceberg which is all about waiting and negotiating and PhotoShopping and begging the clients to "please send the damn check so I can keep the lights on...." and then spending every free minute marketing and cold calling.

Maybe the opacity of the surface makes people too optimistic about the business.  Maybe a few more stories of talented shooters going down in flames and celebrated visual translators getting stiffed by multi-national corporations would open a few eyes.  Then they might understand that this has become a tough game.  I wouldn't give it up for a minute and yet, even with four good books out and twenty something years of experience, I still get nervous near the end of some months.  I still loose sleep wondering if the jobs and the checks will keep coming in.  In all I guess what I'm trying to say about photography is,  "It reads better than it lives...."  (apologies to I. Fleming)

The photo above, of Alexis, was shot this afternoon in the studio.  I used a Canon 5Dmk2 and an 85mm 1.8 lens.  I'll let you figure out the lighting yourselves......  Alex is one of the people I swim with almost every day at the pool.  One of the projects I've decided to do is to photograph everyone I swim with, one by one here at the studio. 

Note:  Get a good night's sleep.  Tomorrow is the anti-workshop.  Cruise around, break the rules and take all the photos your memory cards can handle.  I'll be playing "lifeguard" on the periphery.  Remember the Alamo.  8:30 AM



Dave Jenkins said...

I've been doing photography for money since 1969 and full time since 1978. So many times, I've wished I had done something else with my life. I can tell you as an absolute fact that my wife wishes I had. But when I try to imagine what else I might have done, I can't think of anything I would rather do. I only wish I had done it better, that I hadn't wasted so much time, that I had been more diligent in going after business, and especially, in going after the kind of jobs I really wanted to do rather than taking whatever came along in order to keep the doors open.

I like your blog because it tells the truth about our way of life. You go overboard on the "romance" side too often, maybe, but that's true to our life also. I don't know of any profession, except perhaps the performing arts, where the highs are so high. And the lows. . .I do know those lows. They can be very, very low.

I also don't know of any profession where it's more difficult to make a reasonable living -- again, with the exception of the performing arts. The difference is that when one makes it big in the performing arts, it can be really, really big. Even those who make it big in photography do so on a much smaller scale.

All in all, a life in photography truly does "read better than it lives."

Apropos of none of the above, did you get my e-mail, Kirk? I would be honored if you published a link to my Rangefinder article whenever you think it's appropriate.

Henrique Pereira said...

I am a new comer in comparison to you guys, but I certainly feel the flames. I would say that what keeps me going is an irrational passion for art and the remembrance of 7 years stuck behind an office desk. I am not in it only for the money - for sure, i would stay in the office. But I guess in life if you don't give everything, you walk away with nothing and I would feel like waisting my life if I would do it any other way.