I’m sure most photographers have entertained the dream of making their living through photography. It’s a fun dream and for some it comes true. From the handful of professionals I’ve chatted with it’s not an easy life. It’s a lot of hard work and hustle which is often accompanied a healthy dose of existential angst.
I admire dreamers and think you have to be one if you want to be an artist. But there’s a dangerous side effect to being a dreamer and that’s self-delusion. For the dreamer photographer with tendencies of self-delusion there maybe no more lethal a narcotic than internet popularity. You can watch this play out on social media platforms. As comments, reblogs, favs and followers add up a photographer gains more confidence in their work and can quickly slip into a bubble of self-delusion.
I often wonder about the true benefits of exposure on the internet. I remember talking to a friend who had a project that was picked up all over the place, including mainstream websites. I asked them if they received any calls or jobs because of the exposure. They said no. Then again, they didn’t exactly take a proactive approach either.
The internet is a pretty awesome and powerful tool for distributing photography and building connections, but I also think we sometimes overestimate the true value we’re creating. Look no further than the first internet bubble for a prime example. There are some that say we’re in another internet bubble right now, one that’s driven by over valuing social media.
For photographers, I think it’s important to step back and think about the value of the connections you’re making. Do you really have 500 followers? Or is it more like 50 true followers and 450 superficial digital acquaintances?
Photography is expensive
Forget earning a living, it’s difficult to pay for photography no matter what, especially if you ambitiously enter contests and portfolio reviews. This topic was recently covered by Aline Smithson on LENSCRATCH, which naturally rippled through photo land.
The photography-competition-portfolio-review-exposure-complex is a complicated behemoth to take on without sounding superficial. I think we’re at a point though where it’d be wise to have discussions about it to see if there aren’t creative alternatives for promoting and exposing photography.
Perhaps instead of setting aside money for competitions, photographers can re-distribute some of that money toward purchasing independent books and zines. It’d be great to see those niche verticals flourish and grow. It would a wise investment too because at some point I’m sure you’ll end up putting out a book and searching for an audience.
No matter though, I think you have to be prepared for the fact that it’s going to be incredibly difficult to make money with your fine art work. Even if you do land a solo show, how much money are you going to make off of that? And then what? You need to eat and pay rent next year. Making ones living by selling prints seems far fetched at best for most.
Screw Making Money Through Photography
Isn’t there something incredibly rewarding about producing a great image every now and then, out of one’s own, very personal engagement with this world? Why would one want see that as less important than whether the results of those truly precious moments (that, let’s face it, also come with a lot of hard work) are packaged appropriately for commerce? - Joerg Colberg
Those that have followed Hin Chua’s work for the last few years know that he’s flown around the world to make photographs for his project ‘After the Fall’. How has been able to do that? He’s held down a pretty good day job. He hasn’t had to turn to Kickstarter or do print sales. He’s able to self-fund his work. Removing the stress of paying for rent and food has allowed him to focus his energy on developing his photography.
Each of us have our own reasons for making photographs. I don’t begrudge anyone with ambition or dreams of earning a living through photography but I would hope that you understand the realities and challenges of whichever path you choose to take.
If you want your work to be vetted by the photography-competition-portfolio-review-exposure-complex then you’re going to have to play by their rules and pay their monetary dues. That’s just how it is right now.
We’re living through a very interesting time for creatives and artists. There are certainly immense challenges but also new opportunities that are emerging almost daily. Why should we limit ourselves to the old models or the way its always been done? That’s not very interesting. Maybe the most interesting photography in the next decade will come from those that choose a different path, the passionate, studious seekers who create their own occupations, in other words, the delusional dreamers.