It’s business and it’s personal

I look at a lot of photos every day that aren’t mine. I believe that it’s my job to be aware of what is going on in the world in general and the world of photography specifically. This gives me inspiration, ideas for stories and occasionally I learn something that I can apply to my own work or business to move me ahead. Let me tell you that if you are a fellow photographer and are doing interesting work in the fields of photo-j or editorial then there is a good chance that I watch your work either in it’s published form or, even more likely, through your blog or a forum such a APAD. I look at the images, read what you are saying about your work and yes I read your EXIF data, it’s just what I do.

One of the things that I find interesting is how often the work that some photographers show as their official portfolio is not the same as their so called “personal work”. In some cases the images that are on the blog or shown to their fellow photogs is radically different than what they show to the people who might hire them. They may get hired to do colorful and snappily lit photos of dudes in suits but they spend their weekends working on a long term, and essentially unpublishable, project on flea markets that is shot with a leaky Holga. Why the dichotomy?

I don’t get it.

A few times I have shown my work to potential clients and one of two questions have come up: 1) how much of this is published/commissioned work?, or 2) what are your personal projects?

My response to the first has always been that my folio comprises of images that I’ve made for a client. This is because I want to show what a client can honestly expect me to be able to do for them in the context of the limited time, access and such that a professional commission would provide. I don’t think that it’s honest to show an editor a bunch of photos that you did when you took your time, called in favors, shot and re-shot till you got it right under the most perfect conditions. That doesn’t tell the client what you bring back in a real world situation but what you can do when everything goes perfectly. Then if you get a commission and your subject is cranky, the location is boring and the lighting is dreadful the client will wonder why the resulting images aren’t as spectacular as the ones in your folio. Oops!

As for the second question I reply that to me every assignment is personal work. I throw myself into the assignment with all that I have given the constraints of the time, access and money allotted to the project. Why wouldn’t I? Also I believe that if I have and idea for a project that is good enough for me to pursue as a photographer then I should try and sell the idea to a publication/client and make the effort more than just an exercise. Thus many things that eventually show up in my folio or promotional work may have started as, “I’d like to make pictures of …” and ended up as “I’d like you to pay me to make pictures of …”

Therefor in my work what you see is what you will get. My self generated work has the same look and feel as what I get paid to do because I’m the same guy in both situations.

Here is a shot that I did for a German magazine to cover the rebuilding of Aurora Colorado in the aftermath of the movie theater shooting that killed 12. This took place at the apartment building across the street from where the gunman lived. There is nothing about this shot that is really any different from how I see things when I’m not being paid. Just because I’m a Gemini should I have a split visual personality?



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