As a freelance, full or part-time (or even aspiring) you live on hope (sometimes with chips), trying not to get too deflated when things don’t pan out but not so excited that you believe the moon is yours. It can be a case of endless days of preparing work and sending off submissions with seemingly nothing to show because you are dependent upon others to get back to you…many of whom are just too busy (or more likely too ignorant of any manners) to bother.
It is a balance that can oscillate wildly as events of the past few days have reminded me where a major project in abeyance for a long time (years) seems to be surfacing again. The potential ramifications are great and the other parties are the very best there is and masters of their technology. More than that I am scared to whisper…an atheist who believes in the Fates: who said one had to be consistent.
We now live in a world where few (if any) jobs for life exist and that creates problems in a society where so much depends on the monthly income. Social and financial structures have not adapted to patterns of work – bankers (rhyming slang if you like) carry on unaffected (except for larger bonuses) and, for many, the gutter is much nearer than one might like to think. Few have the resources to sustain major financial setbacks…been there a decade ago, still have the “T” shirt.
Optimism is essential, but of the measured but not delusional kind for we all need to sustain a capacity to reinvent ourselves and respond to change. Not everyone has this capacity and I know good, intelligent folk terrified by anything a micron out of the predictable: just as well I love it and thrive on it since that is the life we lead.
There is a saying “may you live in interesting times’ sometimes attributed to Confucius but more likely it was uttered by Robert Kennedy claiming a Confucianism (I know a few more but they are not repeatable…)
As Niall points out, given the projected loss in jobs as the economy goes down the plug, many will look for other things and photography – nature photography in particular - will be one of them. Yes, in the UK there is another set of clowns in charge whom we are told will have ‘difficult decisions’ to make. I would contend that the pain of firing someone is far less than that of being fired.
I confess that I thought little of the last lot and their perfidy but I have a strong, innate prejudice against (and detestation of ) ex-Oxford people who were once members of the Bullingdon club… as were Cameron, Osborne and Boris J (at least he is very bright and we went to the same college) . Is it that a chip or a lorry load of logs on my once working class shoulders you might ask ? No, I remember how dinner-jacketed hoorays broke up Oxford restaurants and vomited over furniture in the common room of my college and over a friend of mine quietly sitting and reading. Sub-human detritus, somewhere below amoeba on the scale of things (apologies to offended protista). The only satisfying memory was of aiding the passage of the offender through a door…which we did not bother to open. Happy days, but I have it on good authority from a close friend in very high places that G. Osborne is still the same obnoxious tit he ever was.
To aspiring freelances, something I would heartily suggest in troubled times is that to make your dreams that more likely to come true you have to have other things you can do as well as photography – it is so unpredictable and markets and rates change. I love photography but not so much that I would want to do weddings. I made an exception with daughter Hannah and next year with son Rhod and partner Fran I shall again…they’ll have great photos of the bouquet. Thus, I have always produced a great deal of ‘bread and butter’ travel images and hotel interiors but Italian rates are very poor…so one’s ingenuity is tested. Out of necessity I have always made things and came to Italy prepared to do that for our project…I got better and people started asking for copies of antique-type stuff renovations that did not look factory fresh (the Italian way and so on). When I work with my hands, I write in my head and at the end of a day at least there is something tangible! Local carpenters make things out of veneered boards on machines… so, there is a bit of a niche for me with real wood. It is a lost skill.
It is funny how things turn out – I have thought so many times how at school I would never have imagined that woodwork and Latin would have been so useful. The latter made it much easier to come to grips with Italian than I found learning Greek when living in Cyprus. In my small Welsh Grammar school you took ‘technical subjects for three years after which the academics dropped them and those more inclined towards a ‘practical’ life carried on..supposedly. Thanks to a mistake in timetabling we had several free periods on one afternoon when I was in the 4th year and the woodwork teacher, an old friend of my Dad’s asked a few of us to come and help shift some planks. As it happened the four of us had loved woodwork and he asked if we wanted to use that time to come down to the woodwork room and learn a few more advanced things such as all sorts of dovetails and so on…I ended up here, two of the others became surgeons! It’s that skill with a chisel.
Budgets and balances
One important factor in moving here was that our outgoings were reduced. I would say life here costs us about 60% of what we would spend in the UK. We eat cheaply but extremely well and shop for local produce as do our Italian friends. We renovated a ruin and that represents our assets though we will not gain from it since we have no intention of selling up and going. And we enjoy where we are so the tendency to spend money you do not have to create happiness via retail therapy is not there. It would not work for everyone and I left lucrative income source behind for example: numerous talks (including corporate stuff for team building…I kid you not its those thespian tendencies and the BS generator)
Never, ever feel it is ‘failure’ because you cannot do photography 100% of the time – there are many in the same boat: just some of us are honest about it and others want to perpetuate the image. It is survival and Italy has a desperately low wage economy, much lower than the UK. As has been remarked before everyone and his/her dog is offering courses and that market is saturated – one hopes quality will win but too many punters are swayed by confidence and the old BS (taurean faecal material)
Finding your photographic Niche
In retrospect, I am very glad that my interests have never been narrow and that there are lots of things that can be done, need to be done…on the other hand I am glad that when I started on the freelance path I could at least carve a ‘niche’ where I had some potentially marketable expertise. The macro photography, orchids and other plants has served me well and still does.
For those starting out on this path it is good to have an area you can make your own and use that to try and get noticed – many people are suspicious of generalists on the ‘Jacks of all Trades Master of None’ basis. A few manage this but not many and they tend not to be the most innovative for they are spread too widely and bring nothing ‘special’, though some compensate with misplaced confidence. I have long thought that, to a great extent, ability/intelligence can be disadvantageous in many instances because talented folk tend to be modest and judge themselves harshly whether in music, art, photography you name it. A modicum of ability plus coglione (cojones) the size of pumpkins (metaphorically on females) is the way to go…when you have no self-awareness of your limitations what is to stop you? Oh (Big) Brother Where Art Thou?
Take nothing for granted – make hay while the sun shines and do not believe that magazine contacts/ ‘sweet talking’ editors and others will always be thus. People move around and they may take you with them…which is great, but then they may not. New staff coming in like to set up their own contacts and for their new brooms you become mere dust particles on the floor.
Blogging – a new departure.
To my surprise and often delight, I get much more out of blogging than I thought possible. Remember that old piece of graffiti that ‘someone ‘once saw on the wall of a ‘new university’ toilet “before I came to XXX I couldn’t even spell engineer now I ARE one”?
Three years or so ago when my daughter, son and all were staying here in Italy, the question of ‘blogs’ came up… I knew that BLOG was a contraction of “web log” but they used them for work and felt such an outlet would suit the way their ‘old man’ works…gift of the gab, independent as hell and no team player!
Niall and I met up again at WildPhotos 2008 when I escaped from the dustpile and mixed with ‘normal’ folk. I stuttered a bit in English but what a therapy when we started mulling over ideas. From this came the suggestion that we join forces and, I must admit, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to cover subjects for which one is not pigeon-holed (macro, orchids, flowers in general…)
For anyone thinking of pursuing this course; all I can say is that maybe it will go somewhere and maybe it won’t. Its cost-efficacy is hard to measure – for me it has produced little directly but masses indirectly. To a great extent, a blog offers you the possibility to write about things that interest you in a way that is not subject to ‘corporate control’ with lines to toe. If you are honest, it takes time to construct things for others to read. You can always follow the example of a very few and plagiarise (as Tom Leherer sang “Plagiarise, let no-one elses’ work evade your eyes”) but you’ll have to stick your fingers in your ears to block out the mocking of all around who see what you do and are content to let you hang in your noose. One thing that appealed about this blog is that it is not a trumpet blowing exercise – no endless garbage about how wonderful we are – it is honest (with plenty of angst and other ordure!)
If you are the kind of person that is prepared to put your head on a chopping block and not seek others to blame then I can recommend it. This is not a common modus operandi in our no-blame, litigious, day and age. Publish and you WILL be damned – the biggest ‘enemies’ are those who would never have the guts to publish anything themselves but they will readily damn yours. Somehow, they see their role as being as destructive as possible with the ideas of others. On the one hand the democracy is wonderful on the other it brings some nutters from the woodwork…perhaps appropriately our home Podere Montecucco, here in Italy translates loosely as “Nutter’s Hill Farm”
To be fair, that has not happened for a while with this blog – since we flushed the illiterate, barbed comments of one ‘horrible little homunculus’ down the sewer where they belong: that just leaves us with the escort service, porn merchants and the sellers of drugs guaranteed to bring life back to the parts that other things cannot reach…
PIXIQ and the USA
Collaborating with Niall and Andy on this Blog is important to me and I hope that continues for a long time. The invitation came to join pixiq about six months before it launched – I knew the team behind it having written a book with Lark, the photographic/arts wing of the US publisher Stirling ( a part of book giant Barnes & Noble). They had also seen and liked this blog which helped…wheels within wheels.
Like anyone who has written books in the UK my experiences had varied from excellent to dire and working with the people at Lark was refreshing. To be treated like a fellow pro in the UK is becoming a rarity where editorial staff are often inexperienced but extremely confident. At Lark they bring experience and are literate – you would think that was a ‘given’ in the book world but, sadly, it is not.
I have no idea whether it will prove cost effective but I feel that it cannot hurt to grasp the opportunity to reach a wider and different audience. I note from the list of contributors that some top US photographers feel the same and they are often ahead of the game. I have another book coming out with Lark and plan further projects and thus a presence might help… it takes time to stay up the list
For any of those seeking answers
There is no fixed equation for any freelance venture – no taking of a value for x inserting it into a function, turning of a handle and out comes the answer. At times, the preponderance of imponderables in this, as in so many other areas of life today, is unsettling ansd that has to be an understatement. Anyone who goes down the freelance route, whether full or part-time, will find that so much time is spent on doing things that may or may not come to fruition. When things get like that I have a few pals (fellow pros all) who know the score and we have a therapeutic ‘moan’ and get cracking again. It is a lonely furrow but sharing helps… a morally supportive partner is better and never a day goes by when I do not recognize that good fortune.
Looking back over seven years here in Italy we feel we could never have survived the slog as individuals. In fact, many couples do not survive. We both get jaded but there is an unwritten rule that when enthusiasm wanes and one feel down the other waits their turn… simultaneous gloom would be disasterous.
Previous American encounters
Over the years I have enjoyed my contact with the US through work with orchids and photography and that is one very positive aspect of Pixiq. The people at Lark are commercially astute and successful and they have taken a punt on a model that allows payment through a click count on entries, though I think that any remuneration is somewhere down the line.
If Americans like something they say so - if not they will, too. You know where you are and dealings are remarkably free of the carping and petty back-biting that often characterize matters in the UK. America came to my psychological rescue when I started going off and doing lecture tours for the American Orchid Society in the 1990’s. It was like going into a ‘phone box taking off the office suit and emerging with a cape…up, up and away.
Whilst in the USA I stayed with some Californian orchid growers who had a ‘cabin’ in their ground for guests: a feeder on the balcony outside kept me (and the hummingbirds) fascinated for hours. Shelves were stocked with years of back numbers of Outdoor Photographer…full of stunning images by Galen Rowell, John Shaw, George Lepp and Joe McDonald. Maybe it was the nature of the landscape with vast open spaces or the diversity of flora and fauna but their vision seemed so much less restricted than images I had become accustomed to in the UK.
I ran a workshop in those California hills: the ‘tiny’ house where it was held had 50 ft picture windows and greenhouses the size of those at Kew. After the workshop we fed on dishes people had brought and I got talking to a lady who asked me what I liked best about being in the US. For me it felt fascinating to be in a country where I knew the names of streets of LA (I was an encyclopedia of rock music of the 60’s and 70’s period…brain cells are still filled with useless information: good ones have died off).
In the 1960’s when friends were listening to the Beatles and Stones, so was I…but I adored the harmonies of the Beach Boys, Byrds and the more eclectic music of Frank Zappa… plus the whole West Coast growth of progressive rock. I made the first of many electric guitars, even designed and wound the pickups and my home-built wah wah peddle had a Meccano movement…nothing if not resourceful. The band I played with was equipped by me so we went on stage with a Black & Decker Workmate in case things fell apart! That is the truth.
It always struck me as odd that Americans sang about their towns whilst in Britain there was “Streets of London” or “Penny Lane ” and then who can forget (or even remember?) in 1968 Marty Wilde (Father of Kim) sang the immortal lines “taking a trip up to Abergavenny / Hoping the weather is fine / If you should see a red dog running free/ Well, you know he’s mine. Now, as far as I know, he was not “extracting the urine” – but let’s say its not “Route 66”, “By the time I get to Phoenix” or “Abilene…”
I mentioned that my great favourites had been the Beach Boys…and that I used to do the high bits of the harmonies (no artificial aids) and all the other parts as well. She then asked whether I would be around for a few days and could come over, see her orchid collection and meet up with her husband. My hostess grinned when I asked who the lady was… she said “her Dad is an entertainer and I think her husband is a musician.”
Before I went to their home I found out …her father was Dean Martin, her husband the late and ultra-talented Carl Wilson who, during the years of absence of brother Brian, kept the Beach Boys going. His is the spine-tingling voice on “God Only Knows…” Hell, I would love to be able to report that we sang a duet on “I get Around” or some other classic and that he asked me to join them… America certainly is a country where most things are possible: but some things remain that ”American dream”.