A brief exchange during a passing conversation a few days ago got me thinking. Someone said something about how lucky I was to make a living as an artist. I immediately corrected them; while immensely thankful for my career, a job where I get to wake up every day and make images, I felt obligated to point out that most of the time I am not, in fact, an artist at all.
At best, assignment photographers are craftsmen, not artists, solving other people’s problems and putting other people’s ideas into effect in the most timely and cost-effective way possible; to think otherwise is delusional.
By and large, as a professional of whatever description, clients hire you based on experience and expertise, grace under pressure, problem-solving skills, and your finely-tuned ability to transcend the limitations of the assignment and distill the essence of an idea into its most purely realized form.
Okay so that’s what they tell you in college, but honestly it’s mostly just blather. Assignment photography is a hot-dog factory where the end results are images rather than sausages. If people saw what went into some of this stuff there’s no way they’d want anything to do with it. The sad reality is that there are all kinds of reasons you’re brought in on projects, some of them more edifying than others. Sometimes you’re exactly the right person for the job, other times you’re just a camera monkey. My favourite is the “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if” call, where everyone gets all excited about an idea that turns out to be completely impractical. Well, this is the story of one of those ideas that actually managed to see the light of day.
Mailers are a popular way to self-promote as a photographer, but too often the promos go directly from the mailbox to the trash can. When his studio partners suggested printed mailers a few months ago, Derek Shapton instinctively responded, “Forget it. Not doing one. Waste of money. Too bad I can’t just print some shots on Kleenex, that way they’d at least be useful on their way to the garbage…” It suddenly dawned on him that he could do just that:
The shots were conceived of and taken specifically for the tissue boxes — it was a hilarious and messy day of photos — and I consciously tried to do things a bit differently. I wanted the images to tie in conceptually with the promotion itself, which is something sadly lacking with most promo efforts, and I wanted to indulge in some careful studio lighting, something I’m not necessarily known for — you can see the full set of shots here. And last but not least, I loved the idea of an actual product, with some actual utility, that will hopefully linger for a while on people’s desks before being thrown out. Because let’s face it, that’s ultimately what’s going to happen.
Want to encourage your prospective clients to hold onto your promos? Just make them useful!
(via Planet Shapton)
Image credit: Photograph by Derek Shapton and used with permission