I may be doing the whole career thing incorrectly. At least according to the smart people on the web. The two opposite descriptions I hear (or distill from what I read) are that one is either rushing all the time, working 12 grueling hours a day, and still struggling to make as much money as a fast food worker or, that the very few people at the top are so talented and so sought after that their lives are a non-stop swirl of photographing super-models for the tiny handful of posh, fashion magazines, interspersed with jaunts to Nepal where they hang with the Dalai Lama and sport climb Everest with celebrities (with whom they are very, very close friends...). Please don't write and pedantically correct me; I know the Dalai Lama actually lives in exile in India. Richard Gere told me while we were on a "hang-gliding with the condors" getaway, up in the Andes.
To further break down the mythology as it seems to be understood by the non-working hobbyists, the top photographers rarely have to do much beyond point their cameras and click as they are served by an ever growing entourage of helpers, assistants, agents and personal chefs who deflect the rigors of the working life details so that our "hero savants" can channel up enough energy to "visualize" the reality we all want to see so badly.
On the flip side, the rest of us are holding up heavy cameras and long lenses (which we really can't afford; will never be able to afford...) for hours and hours a day, day after day, for weeks at a time and we're still so poor that we sleep in our cars. Orour friend's cars. Or any car we can break into after nightfall. We're so hungry we'll willingly photograph screaming babies, screaming brides, screaming school kids, screaming brides' moms and ugly products. Lots and lots of ugly products. And all pretty much for slave wages. While divesting ourselves of all rights to our work from now until Satan cracks open the earth's crust and comes for all of those who had the audacity to chose artsy careers...😔
We at the bottom 99% of the photographers' pyramid duped ourselves. At one point in our lives we were living large. Held prestigious help desk jobs as computer "experts" and could build our own hack-in-tosh with one hand while eating pizza and swilling Mountain Dew with the other. We were otherwise known as "enterprise level software engineers." Or we were in engaging and scintillating careers such as the actuarial sciences, accounting, production management, and, of course, outside sales. But we let our passion for our hobby of photography lure us down a rat hole where we became the Starbucks Barristas/McDonalds French Fry technicians of the liberal arts field also known as "professional photography." Or "pro-togs."
We exist in a barren landscape of sallow, scowling clients who are so venal they even charge us for parking in their parking lots when we come to do our petty and demeaning work for them. Our clients own the last locations on earth that still have pay toilets. And they pay bounty for every rat their employees can kill and skin. And those are just the brides!
After the first few years in this career we have, of course, lost any passion for the work and can hardly look at a camera or a tawdry, low ball purchase order again without the bile rising in our throats. And now, because all the good computer industry jobs have been snatched up permanently, and because wearing the khaki fishing vests and baggy cargo shorts (to ply our awkward craft) has forever socially branded us, we will never again be able to find enough, or the right kind, of work to ever re-enter (from the bottom) into the luxurious lifestyle of the middle class. Why did we ever collectively leave our parent's proverbial basements??? 💣
Um. No. Sorry. Not buying it.
A lot of us got into the business of photography because we wanted to control our own time, choose our own projects, select who we were going to work with (not "for") and because we love creating things that most mortals can only dream of after we've clicked our shutters and produced our art; which springs forth fully realized like Athena bursting from the forehead of Zeus.
But seriously, many of us have made (financially&emotionally) healthy careers working freelance for many of the best companies in the world and, in doing so are living solid, prosperous existences. We set rates that allow us to offer good value to customers with reasonable profits for ourselves. We create products like books, and online courses, that provide royalty streams beyond our initial engagement. We have clients who come back again and again, across decades to work with us because we provide services, advice and intellectual/creative content that helps them drive their marketing which, in turn, helps to make their big enterprises successful. It ain't the slavish pursuit of photography at the cost of everything else, it's just a fun job attached to a fascinating and addictive hobby.
In return for our good work and business sense we've been able to travel the world, buy our homes, send our kids to college and buy decent cars. Most of us have retirement savings; investments outside our primary businesses. Many of us control our schedules to the point that we can prioritize the things we like (swimming) instead of being slaves to a client's scheduling.
Have I burned out and become a bitter husk of a photographer who will only pick up his camera if there's a "paycheck" attached? If you think so you must be a new reader of the blog...
My favorite activity on the days I'm not working with clients, is to grab a cherished camera and lens and head out the door to see how I might be able to interpret the visual world on that day. Interlaced with good coffee and bouts of fast swimming.
This is not so much a response to M.J.'s writing but the general tenor of some of the comments appended to his blog entitled, "Would you really want to be a pro photographer?" Far beyond just doing one's 10,000 hours of practice you also have to be enthralled by some subject that you love to photograph. For me? People. Always people. I have a front row seat to the best production of "Real Life" I can imagine.
And I am not sleeping in my car....
A short gallery of images to remind myself of the "drudgery" of my chosen career.
If you are not having fun with professional photography then you must be doing it wrong.