Photography can sometimes feel like a very lonely profession, and yet, with technology, we can regularly meet with our friends and colleagues for coffee in a virtual sense. In an American sitcom, this would be ‘the water cooler moment’. Bouncing ideas, sharing experiences andour work is a vital part of any business, and photography is no different. Most days I iChat with friends both here and abroad and we discuss all manor of topics, with each person adding their own take. These virtual meetings gave me the idea for this feature, and I have invited three friends and valued associates to share their insight on the photographer and the profession of photography.
My agent Mark George has over 30 years of experience from representing such legends as Richard Avedon, Terence Donovan and Don McCullin (with whom he has worked for 28 years). Mark will discuss folio creation and editing. Andy Watt has more than 20 years’ experience in brand marketing with the likes of Aston Martin and Bentley. Andy will discuss the process of reviewing brand strategy and the photographer as a brand. Doug Menuez, the man who, more than any other, inspired me to reach for a camera, has a 30-year career including Time, Newsweek, Life, Fortune, The New York Times. Portraits include movie stars, religious leaders and presidents. Doug will share his three ‘epiphanies of photography’. Book, folio, portfolio – whatever it’s called, it is still seen as an essential tool for most, if not all, serious photographers. And then it’s what to fill it with, what shall I focus on? Do I specialise? And how am I going to create awareness of my work and myself?
Award-winning documentary photographer Doug Menuez has photographed everyone from Mother Teresa to Bill Clinton and Robert Redford to Bill Gates. Throughout the nineties, he pursued a project documenting the rise of Silicon Valley. He has shot advertising campaigns for companies such as Coca-Cola, Nokia, Nikon and Microsoft, and has been recognised with awards from the Association of Photographers, Cannes Festival, Graphis and the Art Directors Club of New York, among others. His work has also featured in nine of the best-selling Day in the Life of... books as well as in four other monographs. He lives in New York and is working on a new book – Fearless Genius: When American Innovation Changed the World.
I had drifted away from my true voice and was taking on more and more work I hated, and pretty soon I was cooked to the point where all the external success was meaningless. I realised that, to survive the creative, economic, and emotional chaos of a life in photography, I had to design my career for longevity.
I’d been thinking a lot about what matters most when building a life in photography when Clive Booth called to ask me to share some of what I’ve learned over the past 30 years. I know some would question whether I’ve learned anything at all, but for what it’s worth, here’s my perspective on some of the issues all photographers must consider. A few years ago, I took a serious break to reflect on my goals and choices. Although I was blessed with outward success and a richly varied career, I was deeply unhappy. I had allowed myself to move on the momentum of my success, working endlessly. I had drifted away from my true voice and was taking on more and more work I hated, and pretty soon I was cooked to the point where all the external success was meaningless. I realised that, to survive the creative, economic, and emotional chaos of a life in photography, I had to design my career for longevity. That’s when I began looking in earnest for a better way to live, and out of the blue, I had my three epiphanies. I happened to be in Paris that day, so I can’t discount entirely the geographical cure.
EPIPHANY 1: LEARN TO SAY NO: Once I figured out that my goal was longevity, it came to me that I had to say no to anything that didn’t fit the plan, especially the things that I really didn’t want to do and that made me ill to even think about doing. Saying no goes against the grain of the business of photography, but it’s the core principle of being happy, as I discovered. Another way to think of it is to view the decision as if this were the last day of your life – how would you want to spend that time?
EPIPHANY 2: LET GO OF FEAR: I had to admit that I operated out of fear of financial and creative failure. This meant I never enjoyed any of my success. So I had to learn to embrace that fear, to lean into it, and let it go. I had to be willing to fail. It helps to know that no great success comes without some level of failure. And the beautiful thing about fear is how clarifying it can be: you find yourself standing at the edge of the abyss, and instead of backing away, you say: “Fuck it” and jump way, way out off the edge into the unknown.
EPIPHANY 3: BREAK FREE FROM CATEGORIES: I realised I’d let myself be defined to a large extent by the business, and those who classify us by style, type, market, or what have you. I resolved to move beyond categories, to recognise that my core was about simply being an artist who uses a camera. Now, if I wake up one day with an assignment to shoot a story on AIDS orphans in Uganda, or the next with a commission to shoot an ad campaign for a car company, and the next with a yearning to shoot my son playing his guitar, the category of journalism, commercial, or personal work is irrelevant.
GET PAID TO SHOOT WHAT YOU LOVE TO SHOOT: Think about what made you want to be a photographer in the first place. What makes you insanely happy to shoot? How much time are you spending shooting stuff that makes you sick to your stomach? Look at the great masters – pick any who inspired you in your early career or education. I doubt they thought consciously about having long careers. Instead, they instinctively made choices that guaranteed that to happen. They may have experimented with technique or style, but they were not out there early on with ‘safe’ portfolios designed to grab a trend.
ALL OR NOTHING: It’s easy to overlook this when bills are piling up, but if you choose to show work other than the purist version of your creative vision, you will face a complex problem: whatever jobs do come in will be based on that work. There are many photographers who do this exact thing and end up with a middling level of success, stuck on a financial and creative plateau, and eventually hating their work and life in general. Show the work you want to get. It’s a lasting truism. A SOLID BUSINESS STRUCTURE TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE You need a complete business plan. With a proper business plan, you have thoroughly defined your business, based on your true passion, and in addition, researched your market and competition and created five-year financial projections. You’ve written a marketing plan that shows how your ‘products’ and ‘services’ (sorry, you will have to use banker business lingo in your plan) will stand out because of your unique talents, as well as providing examples of other similar businesses that have succeeded in your chosen market. The exciting thing is that making a plan becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You start gaining momentum from day one because you are clear on your goals. That builds your self-confidence and inspires others to support you. DON’T WAIT You don’t have to wait for your midlife crisis to deal with these issues. You can examine your choices and start to rebalance how you live now. Imagine a lifetime of satisfying creative challenges and the financial structure to support that life. It can happen. DM
Andy Watt is a brand architect and luxury marketing commentator with a background in brand definition, automotive management and customer experience. In his 20-year career he has worked with some of the world’s most respected automotive manufacturers: Land Rover, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley. He has led brand redefinition, change management, customer advocacy and retail marketing programmes, as well as new business development and brand partnerships with some of the world’s most recognisable luxury brands.
You are probably reading this issue with a reasonably substantial collection of cameras, lenses, computers and accessories close at hand. Once a photographer chooses a camera system, they are probably among the most loyal consumers, only migrating as technology or technique dictates a significant change. As brand loyalists, most professional users can give an eloquent justification of their camera choice and have a clear grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of their chosen equipment and the values of the brand that makes it. But how often have you thought about your own business, creative strengths and weaknesses and considered what you stand for as a brand? As a self-directed commercial photographer, it is easy to consider the concepts of brand definition and brand management as the preserve of multi-national corporations with multimillion dollar promotional budgets. Understandable brand values are the cornerstone of building brand trust and they apply equally whether you are a corporation or an individual. They are the foundation upon which long-term client relationships and reputations are built. However, I frequently see businesses where a new logo or website are substitutes for fundamental brand understanding. I tell my clients: “If you don’t understand your brand, how can you expect your clients to?” I have worked extensively with luxury brands where consumer understanding of the nuances between one product and another are sufficient to justify substantial price differences. These small incremental differences in form and function make one brand a ‘must-have’ and another a ‘must try harder’ – not unlike the world of professional photography, in fact. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is, even if you began by simply picking up a camera and taking an assignment, it is always useful to take stock of your business and take time to think about your creative direction and business ambitions: in other words, to take control of your brand. Clive Booth was one of the first creative professionals to work with me using a new brand model encompassing both creative direction and business goals. This is a simple way to display core brand elements on a single page: a snapshot of your brand today and a tool for creative and promotional planning.
Our discussions focused on the growth of Clive’s photographic career and establishing a direction for his business. He needed to have a clear understanding of his brand and a plan that ensured he was getting the best value from his marketing activity. If you don’t understand your brand, how can you expect your clients to?
Creative and business ambitions will ideally overlap, hopefully most of the time, but be clear about how you will balance creative passion and commercial necessity. If you feel compelled to only shoot monochrome film, your client base will be small unless your photographic and marketing talent are large. Clive was able to bring an unmistakable style and a designer’s eye to projects, but to market his approach and to find the right projects, it was important to clearly define not only his artistic talents but also his brand attributes. You need to take time out to review your brand. Not in between portfolio edits or while waiting for some 16 x 12s to print, but clear headspace. So that was where Clive and I began.
We found statements that helped to clearly define his brand, using simple words and phrases that he believed: “others view me as...”, “as a brand I am...” and “I want to be recognised as...”. Once we had the beginnings of some brand statements, we grouped them together under two main headings: creative and business. Some elements overlapped and one of these formed the core of the brand position. If you know Clive’s work, then his core brand statement: ‘Capturing the beauty of the ephemeral’ is clear and understandable. By grouping business and creative phrases, we began to develop a matrix of brand values. These give a clear understanding of who you are, what you do and how you do it. This shouldn’t be about immediate change or imposing artistic constraints to achieve your business goals. For Clive it was certainly about being honest about his business and ambitions and helping his clients to trust in his ability to deliver on disparate project briefs. Ultimately, any brand review is about understanding you own strengths, what drives you, and being able to develop long-term plans for your creative fulfilment and commercial success. Get a coffee, grab some Post-its, take some time, and have a go. AW
In 1978 Mark George set up as a photographers’ agent and has remained in the business ever since. Working from his mews office in London, he represents some of the UK’s most respected photographers, including Don McCullin (with whom he has worked for 28 years), and the two great, late photographers Terence Donovan and Richard Avedon.
A portfolio is the single most important tool in gaining a commission and the only way you will be considered for a job. In short, what you have shot in the past will determine what you will be asked to shoot in the future. Right now we are in a transitional period, where the ability for a client to view your work in a printed format is still more important than seeing it on a computer screen. There will come a time when the printed folio will be a tool of the past. But not yet. People still prefer to stand in front of a picture and see it ‘for real’ than view it on a terminal. However, we are also living in a time where decisions are made too late, where the pace of life is fast and where the ability to view images instantly is being used as a solution to counter the problems such working methods create. It is therefore critical that you not only produce a folio that is printed, but that you also have the same work in digital form to present electronically. The hardest part of making a folio is deciding what should be included. The most important aspect of picture selection and the one criteria for which the client is searching, is that of the individuality and uniqueness of the body of work. With the level of competition in the photographic world, unless you have something unique to bring to a project, you will be regarded as just another photographer on the list. So consider the photography you have produced and make a selection that reflects a single style and leaves the viewer in no doubt that only one person could have produced all the images. Show work that you like, not what you think they will like. It is the quality of the photography, not the quantity, that matters.
It is now possible to prepare and produce all folio pieces in house and at an affordable cost. But do not fool yourself that it is an easy task. Your folio is a workhorse and is not to be considered too precious.
Your editing process should be like making a good pasta sauce: reduce it again and again until you have the purest essence. Remember: one weak image weakens the rest. Lay all your work out so you can see every image, then remove pictures that don’t fit and are obviously weaker than the rest. The folio will largely be viewed without your presence, so make sure images are selected because of their photographic strength and not because of some – perhaps interesting – anecdotal story. Decide which images of your final selection are your strongest and at the same time best represent your style. Show these first and last, so that whichever end of the folio the viewer starts, they have the chance of seeing them. Don’t bury your best work in the centre of the book. It’s like the first lines of a great novel: the reader should be drawn in to discover more. Your book is probably being seen between at least five others. Time is of the essence for the client. They will shut your book and move on if their attention is not grabbed early on. It is now possible to prepare and produce all folio pieces in house and at an affordable cost. But do not fool yourself that it is an easy task. Your folio is a workhorse and is not to be considered too precious. The benefit of the present folio production is that images can be replaced as easily as finding the file, loading the paper and pushing a button. I implore you to show only work that was taken from your heart, this will help the client understand your photographic ‘character’. Honesty is all. MG