Whatever we do for a living, be it photography, some other artistic pursuit, or work behind a desk, most of us want to believe what we are doing is important and valuable.
To us photographers, our images are important. Mostly because they carry a certain sentimental value. They bring back memories of places we’ve been and serve as constant reminders of friends we have made. To us they are priceless, but sometimes we struggle to see how what we are doing is truly beneficial in some way to the wider community. To find satisfaction in what we are doing beyond creating the image itself and finding a way to give back rather than simply being the self indulgent artist.
Your image gains its value when it helps to serve a purpose. When it helps to illustrate a story or make a point. If your image of an impoverished child is attached to a news story of poverty in a particular region and helps to make people take notice and feel empathy for the plight of these people and want to help, then your image is valuable. If your image helps to attract tourists to a particular part of the world, which in turn boosts an economy, then your image is valuable.
In this way, photography has almost limitless potential for doing good. Albeit indirectly. Maybe the news article would have created interest without the image, but would it have created as much? Would it have tugged at readers to the point where they feel the need to act? Chances are no, it would not have. We react to an image much faster than we react to words. It may take the reader a few paragraphs firstly to figure out what the article is about, then to become involved and want to act, however it may take them merely seconds to react to an image, to feel something for the child in the image, to use the example above. This may encourage them to read the article more thoroughly rather than skimming it because they already have a vested interest. They want to know what happened to the child, or children like them. And herein, for my money, lies the value of photography.
Why is this important? Because if we believe that what we are doing has value, it is natural that we strive to do it better. Hence we strive for better images. Better images give us satisfaction and are more likely to inspire a reaction in a viewer and call them to action, therefore serving the purpose of the image. See how the circle works?
Skyscrapers and cities are built one brick at a time
I used to have a boss who was very fond of the saying “G.I.D”, meaning “Get it Done”. It was his catchy way of asserting how important it is not to procrastinate or avoid tasks because they aren’t as interesting or you’re not sure how to work around a certain problem. This was an important lesson for me and has become even more so now, though I have to admit as much as I try, I am sometimes guilty of not living up to the principal. Still, that’s not going to stop me from hypocritically preaching the message to you guys.
If you’re anything like me you will have a long “to do” list, which despite best efforts only seems to get longer. Ideas are the easy part. Bringing them to fruition is the hard bit. You can generate great idea after great idea, but they aren’t worth anything until you actually do something about it.
I find sometimes you just need to take time out from all the daily tasks of running a business and choose one of the tasks on my list and not waver until its complete. Then take another and do the same. Wash, rinse, repeat. I often take a whole day to just go through the list and tick things off. This is beneficial in a few ways. 1. Stuff gets done. 2. It keeps me disciplined. 3. It gives me a sense of achievement and helps to build momentum and self confidence instead of feeling like I’m drowning under the weight of too many tasks for one person to handle.
If you’re like me and are paralysed by too many tasks then try this: start one. Which one? Doesn’t matter. Just so long as you take that first step. Pick a task randomly. Choose the one at the top of the list, devise a complication mathematical algorithm to tell you which one you should do (maybe not, that’s procrastinating), but just start one. That’s the hardest step, but the most important one in the process of achieving.
Photoshelter recently published a discussion with Stella Kramer about how photo editors view photographer portfolios, what they look for and things to avoid. Stella is a Pulitzer Prize winner who has worked with many well known publications including the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine, so it’s fair to say she knows what she’s talking about.
I found this video very informative and insightful. Stella is very frank and honest in her appraisals of several websites which is refreshing and having just recently relaunched this website, it gave me some confidence that I am on the right path with some of the things we’ve put in place as well as some ideas for a few things we could be doing better.
The video is quite lengthy at just over an hour, but is well worthwhile if you are planning a portfolio or website update or need some insight into the mind of a photo editor. Click below to view it a Vimeo.
PS. Photoshelter is a great resource for things like this and they regularly produce videos, ebooks and the like on topics relating to a photography business. The Photshelter blog is also worth checking out.
Mitchell Kanashkevich is a Sydney based travel and documentary photographer who’s primary focus is ancient cultures and the human condition in unique challenging situations (his own words). Put simply, Mitchell’s images are stunning. These are beautifully told stories with a rare empathy for and connection to his subjects.
Mitchell has spent a lot of time in India, and particularly regional India and I in particular enjoyed his series gallery of images from India and Nepal.
This is the first in an ongoing series where I will shamelessly promote my own work under the pretense of sharing stories about how they came to be. Seriously though, the reason I got into travel photography is because first and foremost I love the experience of travelling and the stories behind images are just as important to me as the images themselves. So at the risk of being a show off I thought I’d share some of these from time to time.
This man makes is living selling glasses of orange juice at Djemma el Fna in Marrakech. From memory I think he sells them for about 5 Dirham a glass, which works out to be roughly $.60AUD (which is about the same USD these days, or £0.37). He stands at his cart from sun up to sun down or longer.
He stands out in my mind as he was only too happy to chat with my wife and I while business was slow and pose for a few photos. This took me by surprise as it set him apart from many others at Djemma el Fna, who see a traveller with a camera as a business opportunity and not only expect payment for their image, but will follow you around asking if you want to take their photo for a negotiable fee. And to a certain extent I can understand that, when people are simply trying to earn a living. But that’s a discussion for another day.
We did buy a glass of OJ from him (which we desperately needed in the hot Moroccan sun), and he did give us a second one on the house (I think he was quite taken by my charming wife). But his generosity and good humour stood out at a place where it is easy to feel hassled and frustrated by people trying to earn a living from you at every turn.