I am thinking about the power of experimenting with one's own vision, with no regard for clients.


I know that people who don't photograph for a living, as a rule, photograph exactly what they are interested in and in a fashion they want to explore. When you start photographing for clients the scope of aesthetic flexibility shrinks quite a bit. Many times the potential to explore a subject or a portrait session is limited by the preconceptions of the person with the checkbook. The old saw is that they are coming to us for our vision or our sensibilities, and that is part of the equation, but for the most part the clients show up because we have a track record and they are reasonably assured that they'll get what they need nearly every time with get up to bat. Might not be an artistic "home run" every time but it's generally at least a single.

That means experimenting with new styles (or old, favorite styles) is something that professional photographers need to do for themselves. Clients tend to want the deep shadows filled in. They want compositions that reflect popular culture and design stereotypes and they especially want everyone in nearly ever image to be deliriously happy. But they can be sold something closer to the styles that we want to shoot in if we remember the cardinal rule of being a client: They don't know what's possible until they see an exact example. (A riff on the common phrase: "I'll know it when I see it."

This puts the ball firmly in our side of the court. If we want clients to hire us to shoot something cool or personal or even just a bit nuanced we have to show them what we can do and what we have done. The only way for them to warm up with new ideas and styles is to let them get cozy with work that works.

I think about this a lot because many corporate portraits conform to pervasive styles. Why, well it's driven by client's desires to run with the herd, to be part of the tribe, to not go too far outside of what's commonly accepted by their peer groups in order to ensconce themselves safely as members of the group so they can enjoy the economic bounty of acceptance. 

Personally I like it when a portrait does more. I like playing with all kinds of light and lots of different poses and expressions. Especially honest expressions. 

About a month or so ago Fadya called me and asked if I was in the mood to play around in the studio and make some new images. I was thrilled. It was a time in which I was using new lights and pushing them to see what I could do with them. I was using a new camera as well. We had fun, shot a lot of images and got caught up on social news and what not. I was very happy with our collaboration and displayed some of the images here on the blog. 

Now I find myself discussing the chance of using the images in an ad that would run in national media. It's really wonderful when doing the work you love creates a direct connection to new opportunity. Keeps me wanting to shoot my own work during my downtime from client work. And that's a good thing.


crsantin said...

Kirk, I recently stumbled upon this reading by the late Dennis Hopper, a photographer himself. I find it offers an incredible insight and observation on what it means to be an artist. You've written about these ideas on VSL as well. Perhaps we should be discussing these ideas a little more and worry much less about the gear, as sexy and seductive as that might be.

Hopefully the link works when I paste it here.


dave2 said...

I think that in this age of ever improving equipment one of the key roles for photographic professionals is to provide training to help others make full use of their equipment.

A key factor in being a player in this market is to have a well defined body of work so that potential students have a basis for choosing to pick you as someone to emulate and learn from.

As you have had posts about doing workshops firmly establishing this kind of brand could be very helpful in moving in this direction.

Ken said...

Hi Kirk. Curious if you use a program like FotoQuote for determining pricing for licensing of your images for these purposes. I imagine licensing usage for a national media campaign would dwarf your original "time and talents" rates.