An open letter to photographers everywhere…
I’ll just jump in with a remarkably honest statement : What’s going wrong with the photo industry today is a severe lack of knowledge. I’m not all doom and gloom here, in fact I really love the way this industry is evolving and the way talent just keeps seeming to rise to the top. That said, with the barrier to entry being essentially nothing photographers are frustrated because we aren’t feeling respected, however we aren’t putting the time in to earn the respect. A commercial day rate for a film photographer 20 years ago was frequently more than $15,000. These days even at the upper echelons of work many photographers are working for 20% of that. The trade out is that while so much of the work that we see as photographers seems like it is getting better and better, what we don’t see is the thousands of photographers who are hanging up their cameras and giving up trying to penetrate an industry this complex, saturated, and frankly - simple to enter. Gone are the days of film schools being a must. Nearly everything you’d need to know to compete as a photographer can be learned in a few weeks on youtube and you could conceivably have everything you’d need from an equipment perspective for well under $5,000. OK, I’ve made my point right? Not yet - hang in there. This will get good. If the barrier is so low, and the possibility of you actually making a difference is so low, why are some photographers really dynamically inspiring us? The answer is super simple, they’re still learning. They’re working. They’re actively engaging their creative minds and then learning how to back up those creative decisions with great business and here’s the key - you can’t learn that on youtube. You can’t understand the history of this industry, or the depth of it. You can’t plan how you’ll affect your community with your gifts. You can’t create a game plan for how you’re going to reach clients, and do work that feeds your soul, and your family. You can’t grow in an industry that has never been about loners until you stop being one. Community is key.
Don’t get me wrong, when Fujifilm called me and asked me to speak at this conference I just about choked with excitement. When I found out that I would be shooting these workshops with the new 100 megapixel GFX medium format camera - every little nerd cell in my body squeezed. When I started planning all of the things I wanted to share, and teach, and give from my experience having done this job for over a decade now I got excited. However, when I got to Chicago I realized something very clearly - what people want is just to connect. Sure we love to learn, we love to acquire new skills and hear people take about how they’ve solved for something we’re struggling with but what we want more is experience. We want to shake those people’s hands and connect with them. This is frankly one of the things that first attracted me to being involved with Fujifilm. Of course I love their gear, I believe in my cameras, I trust my equipment however it was the long phone conversations, the lunches, the high fives with real people at this company that really sold me. I can text my technician with a question and he writes me right back. I can spend an afternoon on the phone with somebody from the corporate offices just dreaming up new ways my little company can come along side Fujifilm and affect things in a positive way. And the results are nearly instant. If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut creatively, go meet people. Stop bad mouthing people you don’t know, stop living in insecurity, stop hiding behind excuses and find community. Go shoot with people. Share what you know and soak up an afternoon smiling and doing this job because it deserves your best. Learn to respect your own value and your clients will follow but more than anything - go buy a fujifilm camera. (I’M KIDDING… kinda)
More than anything, pursue this art with passion and purpose and you’ll see in a hurry a group of friends around you eager to support you. I’m sincerely excited to be able to say (soon) that I’ll be at another, much bigger conference along side these familiar faces hopefully shaking new hands, making new friends and while I teach and give I’ll be learning as well. Shaping a craft I love more than simply my job. Shell out the money, go to a conference, take a photographer to lunch, join facebook groups and say kind words (for goodness sakes) and then realize that when you learn and connect you’re partaking in the spirit of art that has existed long before any of us were around and will exist long after our feeble attempts at expressing the world around us turned to ash. Take that Friday.