If you really believe in what you are doing, you will get there. If you don’t like no for an answer this is the wrong industry to be in. You have to be thick skinned- believe in what your doing and be persistent, because it does pay off. Adrian Evans @ Panos.
This certainly does apply to many creative industries. Especially when competition is so great as it is now. Every generation tells you how hard it is to find work and that there is even greater competition out there. I’ve been on the scene for nearly 25 years and so I’ve heard this said frequently. But in all honesty it does appear to be even harder now. Ironically now when we have such a greater opportunity to market ourselves and be seen with so many digital platforms. But it’s not as straightforward as that and I certainly don’t have the solutions. Times change and the approach to marketing and the psychology of clients and advertising shifts. Without doubt rejection is very tough to deal with and nobody can honestly say they have not had had their share of dealing with the anxiety and frustration of being rejected. One can apply reasonable judgment and understand that you simply don’t have the right look and style. It is a subjective medium and the subtleties of any commission can mean the client is looking for that exact fit. I used to say that you can show an advertising agency your portfolio of the most incredible images of red sports cars on mountain tops looking glorious. But if your sports car is red and they are looking to shoot a blue sports car they cannot get their head round that and will instead search for a photographer who has amazing pictures of blue sports cars on mountain tops in their book. Sounds extreme but I’m not so sure it’s that outlandish. One would imagine that visually literate people can see the talent and creativity in a photographers book but sometimes I feel they want to see exactly what they want shot and unless they see that image already captured, its a no go.
Then there is the oddity of showing one thing and then getting commissioned to shoot something completely different. I recall years ago showing my portfolio of portraits from Vogue, Marie Claire, In Style magazine and many more to an agency. Included were fashion images of models in Cape Town and New York. Beautiful models on beaches and skipping through sun lit streets. The agency loved it all and a week later I was commissioned. The job they asked me to undertake was shooting panoramic views from the rooftop of a building site in Swiss Cottage, London. It was a Barrett Home development and they wanted city vistas. I remember standing on top of this building site wearing a hard hat, steel capped boots and a hi-vis jacket with my assistant and she looked at me and said something like: ‘So you shoot fashion and portraits for fashion magazines right?’ I just said, ‘Yup that’s right’.
In Bangkok I showed much the same work to Elle Magazine and ended up shooting interiors and still life for Elle Decoration. I had hoped my stunning images of swimwear models on Cape Town beaches would mean I was a sure thing to be snapping yet more beautiful swimwear models on Thai beaches. Well not quite, the work they commissioned me to shoot was photographing luxury Thai homes. In fact it did lead to shooting portraits of architects and interior designers for Elle Decoration so maybe they were just trying me out on the interiors.
Then there is the oddity of perhaps having too much experience for a client. I recall one of the first ever portrait commissions I received was for Country Living magazine in the early nineties. I was asked to shoot a portrait of the writer Colin Dexter in Oxford. I was just weeks out of art college and incredibly didn’t even have a portfolio, no web site or anything much to show in fact. They trusted me to travel to Oxford and take a portrait of this esteemed author despite my youth and inexperience. Now jump 20-23 years ahead and I have a wealth of experience and countless great portraits of subjects from famous magazines across the globe. I have a healthy online presence and much experience to draw upon. Yet despite all of this the magazines rarely commission me to shoot very similar portraits. I bet if I went to the very same magazine now they would not use me.
So being thick skinned is certainly part of the skills one has to have in this industry. Another line of work where one needs to be persistent, strong willed and determined is the catering industry. I have always loved being around chefs and waiters as I shoot in hotels, clubs and restaurants so frequently. I myself whilst at college did my fair share of working as a waiter, a barman and for a brief moment even making breakfasts in one pub hotel. I have seen chefs at work and photographed talented individuals under pressure. Anyone who knows their photo history will be aware of Bob Carlos Clarke’s incredible book ‘White Heat’. Stunning black and white portraits of the celebrated chef Marco Pierre White at work in his heyday. This was all before I assisted Bob and when we were not shooting I used to ask him about the book and what an experience it must have been. Perhaps there is mutual respect as both photographers and chefs can be very intense individuals who respect their craft and the need for perfection. I was recently asked to spend a morning in the kitchen of Wiltons on Jermyn St. photographing the head chef Daniel Kent and his brigade. I was commissioned to take portraits of the brigade outside the restaurant and snap the chefs at work on a typical weekday lunch service. Their new uniforms are made from recycled materials and are part of a global effort to maintain a healthy world. I was so excited at this commission and was not disappointed. It was not so intense and I was never going to replicate Bob’s incredible photographs but it was a privileged to be around all these talented people. There was great comradery and humour in the kitchen and the early morning bacon sandwiches and hot tea they supplied went down well.
I observed the chefs in that restaurant and I got the feeling we all shared a thick skinned and persistent attitude to their craft. And just as Adrian Evans of Panos declared, you need to believe in what you are doing and eventually it will pay off.