a shot at Esther's Follies from midway back in the audience.
Panasonic GH5 + Olympus 40-150mm Pro. ISO 1600.
There is a joke that's always going around Austin, Texas. It goes something like this:
What do you call a musician who has just broken up with his girlfriend?
And there is a joke we photographers tell when we get together for (discounted) beer at the end of a long and impoverished week of working as freelancers. It goes like this:
How is photographer different than an extra large pizza with all the toppings?
--- You could actually feed a family of four with the Pizza....
As you may have noticed in a recent post I called the kind of business we do, "freelance photography." What I and my colleagues think this means is that we are not connected, in a business sense, to any company or association as employees and are not indentured servants. That we are non-exclusive. That we'll work for anyone who meets our criteria and who can write the right check. A regular commenter made the point that labels can have a certain amount of negative power, especially in the minds of the clients who hire us. He suggested that "freelancer" conjures up an image of the starving artist who lives in a crappy apartment and drives a 15 year old Corolla. He also suggest that a freelancer fears his clients and is willing to roll over and show his belly the minute a clients starts to negotiate.
I'm pretty sure his observation was meant as mostly a tongue-in-cheek response with a bit of truth larded into the meat of it.
But it got me thinking about the way photographers and most of the general public see people working in our gigantic "tent" profession. Perceptions run the gamut from the idea that every photograph is, at heart, a wedding photography who might also do some other, more specialized photo work when they are not grappling with and bowing down to bridezillas. Others imagine most photographers being creepy guys with dark glasses who have promoted themselves from driving ice cream trucks through neighborhoods to shooting "glamour" and other forms of hard and soft core porn.
Then there are "moms with cameras" and "soccer moms", all of whom shoot exclusively with Canon 5Dx cameras and the ever present 70-200mm zoom with the lens shade stuck on backwards. And we can't forget the pot bellied, blue collar male tech workers who shoot kids sports. And wears baggy, shiny athletic shorts.
But the common thread that unites the public imagination about each of these stereotypes is that they don't make real money, are moonlighting from a "real" job, or spend their daytime hours making up loose ends with a shift or two at Starbucks. Or, if you are from the Boston area, as a "barista" at Dunkin Donuts.
I did not know that our industry was in such dire straits when I joined its ranks more than 30 years ago. And since I'm sure the economics of our industry have declined even more since the time I arrived I am predicting that the majority of freelancers will no longer be living in crappy apartments but have moved, by necessity, to their cars.
This tidbit allows me to take my focus off cameras for a while and concentrate on another part of the gear equation. To wit, if you are going to make the choice to live in your car in order to save on rent (and how else will any of us ever be able to afford a Leica SL and lenses?) then what car should we choose?
Most will probably have to stick with the car they are already making payments on but I believe in dreaming big so I'll pretend that I don't have a car payment or a car and I'd rather have both than to shell out the $4,000 per month that the average two bedroom, one bath apartment rents for in downtown Austin. And I can't imagine the cost to live in the pricey parts of Austin.
On first blush I'd probably want to go with something like a Chevrolet Suburban because of the interior space. But there's the issue of fuel economy to think about. Still, a white one (to reflect the Texas sun during the day) with blacked out windows (for privacy during the evening and overnight) certainly has its appeal. But a quick check at Car Max clearly puts even used ones far outside the budget constraints of most of our peers.
My next best choice would have to be a smaller SUV. Something like a Toyota Rav 4 or a Honda CRV but, again, a quick check shows that, dammit!, these models hold their value really well and probably the most $$$ most of us freelancers can scrape together would only cover a maroon Pontiac Aztec. That would work for older, more established photographers because you fold down the back seats and stretch out a bit to sleep after a day on your feet chasing brides and bagging donuts.
But our commenter is probably right in that most entry level shooters will have to make due with the 15 year old Toyota Corolla they got in school. Except for the ones who went to state schools ---- they'll probably have to settle for 15 year old Hyundais. But, in due time they'll be able to tell their kids about the golden age of sleeping in cars because, with the relentless downward spiral in the freelancing industry it's only a matter of time when the average photo industry worker will be sleeping in a DIY lean-to in the park and riding their Walmart bicycle to the next job...
At some point I was in the same economic boat as the rest of the freelancers. Sleeping in my AMC Gremlin and begging for film money on the main drag. But then, one day, after reading an inspirational business blog, I became a Photographer/Consultant/Studio Owner. It was as easy as reprinting my business cards (or writing in my new title with a Sharpie) and now I've got it made in the shade.
I've got two cars but I rarely have to sleep in them. I have a real office and it has air conditioning!!! We live in a house in the middle of the posh Westlake Hills area with indoor plumbing and a dog; one that we've never had to look at as livestock. Once I took the word "freelancer" off my card we were off and running. Ma and I haven't had to sell plasma in years! And we even got to send the boy off to a four year college in a nicer state.
But I feel like I have the moxie to start over again if I have to. But this time around I wouldn't settle for anything less than a Chevy Impala with bench seats. Comfortable enough to sleep two and a dog.
With enough room in the trunk for cameras.
Tip to the wise: You can always store unused cameras at the pawn shop. Just remember to get them back before the next wedding.
There's a big spectrum in our industry. Re-define yourself and enjoy unlimited success...
They laughed when I sat down to play the piano. Until I started to play.
grain of salt?