This week’s coursework focused on defining our ‘photographic DNA’ and developing a practical strategy to market our practice. We were introduced to various practitioners offering nuggets of wisdom on different aspects of practice, from how to put together a portfolio that will attract the right sort of attention, to how to market oneself and how best to make links with industry professionals.
The clichéd image of the photographer as tortured artist, a solitary figure with a singular vision, more concerned with f-stops and camera shake than conversation and handshakes, belies the fundamental importance of developing and valuing personal connections in the industry that can sustain, inspire and potentially also provide opportunities for work.
It seemed to me that all the practitioners this week were basically saying the same thing: be interesting, have something to say, be sensitive to others and the demands they might be under. Essentially, be nice!
Of course, underneath all that is the inescapable fact, that the work has to be good. Because no amount of networking can compensate for uninteresting or uninspired work.
I struggle to define myself as a photographer. This is partly, still, because I struggle to actually consider myself to be one. This contradiction increasingly obstructs my ability to progress as a practitioner and is something I need to address urgently. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is causing a big impediment!
The other thing that I was reminded of this week, is that ultimately we’re all just owners of an opinion. The course tutors and invited contributors give us various ‘dos and don’ts’, derived of course from a position of industry experience and awareness of professional expectations and requirements, but they are opinions nonetheless. The following quotes illustrate the contradictions in the advice about what the best way to approach things is at times:
“My last bit of advice is to always throw in something extra; something unexpected. Make sure they remember you. ‘You know, that guy who made the musical ping pong table…’ Be unforgettable and unmissable.”
Miranda Bolter, 2017
“Put together a short, emailable PDF crammed with fantastic ideas, demonstrating unique thinking and doing. Then, in real life, projects can be expanded, personal work shown, stories shared, and it all ends happily ever after.”
Michael Johnson, 2017
“Create printed marketing material. A postcard is still the most effective thing to leave with someone after a meeting. If it’s an image that really resonates, they will almost certainly put it on their wall and then you will always be there reminding them that you’d like to be commissioned. Stickers are great too, and surprisingly cheap to print. My laptop is covered in stickers by my artists. Tote bags, if you’re feeling flush, are also great.”
Helen Parker, 2017
So many opinions, so much advice, that it can be difficult to be clear about anything, particularly if you lack confidence in your own opinion about what’s right for you. But there’s no single way to reach any destination and maintaining a clear sense of individuality and ownership over one’s own practice is important also. Watching Francis Hodgson in discussion with Miles Aldridge at Photo London 2016 I was really surprised to hear Aldridge state that he avoids the work of other photographers, particularly those in his own field of fashion photography. Describing it as ‘visual junk’ he was keen to stress that he felt this was the best way to preserve the purity and clarity of his own vision. Looking at his work, it’s hard to criticise this decision…his images are certainly consistently and evidently ‘his’ – an expression of his vision. This vision is what ultimately defines one’s ‘DNA’ as an artist and so must be protected, nourished, developed and brought to its fullest expression, by whatever means the individual practitioner deems best.
Right now, as I’ve written in earlier entries, the biggest challenges to me defining my DNA and expressing my vision seem to be twofold:
1. Having a framework within which I can develop my practice (encompassing workflow, shooting, networking and marketing)
2. Making the mental shift from hobbyist to professional practitioner – accepting that this is the journey I am on (and actually, have been on for a while), owning it and deciding where I want to go next.
I’ll be writing more about how I'm approaching these two challenges in a little while.
· BOLTER, Miranda. 2017. ‘Advice on Portfolios: Always throw in something extra; something unexpected’. Lectureinprogress.com [online]. Available at: https://lectureinprogress.com/advice/miranda-bolter [accessed 20 October 2017].
· JOHNSON, Michael. 2017. ‘Advice on Portfolios: Never apologise for dodgy ideas: take them out or redo them’. Lectureinprogress.com [online]. Available at: https://lectureinprogress.com/advice/michael-johnson [accessed 20 October 2017].
· PARKER, Helen. 2017. ‘Advice on Portfolios: Don’t spend lots of money creating something with clever wizardry – the simpler the better’. Lectureinprogress.com [online]. Available at: https://lectureinprogress.com/advice/helen-parker [accessed 20 October 2017].
· HURRELL, Mark. 2017. ‘Advice on Portfolios: Treat it like a strict brief with clear objectives’. Lectureinprogress.com [online]. Available at: https://lectureinprogress.com/advice/portfolios-mark-hurrell [accessed 20 October 2017].
· PHOTO LONDON. (2016). Miles Aldridge and Francis Hodgson | Photo London Talks 2016. [Online Video]. 30 June 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhZvA4plK18. [Accessed: 18 October 2017].