The issues in this creative industry are a vicious, unending cycle feeding on itself. In today’s issue, I wanted to share some observations from my personal experience as a photographer and my time on the other side.
From the point of view of a photographer, a lot of it is about confidence and knowing (and accepting) yourself. By that, I mean truly knowing that you are good at what you do and that you do have the knowledge, skill and experience to deserve respect. Respectful treatment and respectful pay.
A prime example is the difference between what women charge and what men charge for work; I’ve come across this so many times now - through articles, social media and anecdotes - that reveal how we often tend to charge less, and sometimes a lot less.
It completely makes sense to me that this happens, and there’s a lot to unpack that I think goes way back to how women and girls are treated since birth, the often huge and hypocritical differences in how girls and boys are taught to act and be, that we then have to unlearn later on. At the time though, it was a bit of a realisation and made me see how hesitant, how safe and how placating I try to be when I send over my fees to a potential client - not just with the words I used or the fees I proposed, but also the way I thought about myself and my work.
On realising that, I tried to be more confident even if I had to fake it. To take up more space and be sure of myself. I had to work on it, but I know my worth and I know how good I am - I always did really, but self-doubt is a hell of a drug. What I learnt and had to practice was how to reflect that in not only what I charge, but how I talk about myself, my work and the language I use when I put myself out there.
And importantly, how not to put up with any shit. There’s not an easy route to this though, without having to wade through all the shit in the first place. You just have to remember to believe in yourself because there’s no one else to do that for you - especially as a freelancer.
On the other hand, from the point of view of those in positions of power in photography (if you offer an opportunity, however big or small, this is you), a little effort goes a long way.
Many creatives have increasingly, and rightly, been calling out things like competitions, grants, talks, and bigger events for lacking in representation and presenting often just the same singular voice, the same singular point of view.
When called out and questioned, what we so often hear are the same excuses over and over: “not enough of this underrepresented group entered this opportunity” or “I/we tried and people just didn’t respond”.
“We picked the best people for the opportunity”. The deadest excuse of them all.
All this blame aversion. Change isn’t an easy task, sure, but be genuine about it and own up to the difficulties and failures. It’s easy to spot if someone’s just doing it for show, and fully exposing when they get defensive.
If it really isn’t working, consider that perhaps the issue isn’t external, but internal. Look at what you’re offering without ego; maybe you’re not getting the responses because what’s on offer just isn’t good enough, whether it’s a job and the pay isn’t great (or non-existent) or it’s a talk and the line-up is all white, all men, all abled, all cis, all het - or all of the above.
If you’re giving up and making excuses, do you genuinely want change?
I will say that it’s true that often there just aren’t enough creatives from underrepresented groups submitting to opportunities (competitions, for example) something I saw time and time again when I was a campaigns producer. While part of the issue comes back to confidence on the photographer’s part where we just never put ourselves out there if we’re not 100% sure, and we’re rarely 100% sure, there is also a real issue with lack of effort on the part of the gatekeeper.
What real effort are you making to push the opportunity you’re offering past the usual suspects? These days it’s not difficult, what with the convenience of the internet and social media. There are also a great number of groups out there offering easily accessible databases, as well as organisations championing under-represented groups - Women Photograph, Native Agency, Diversify Photo, Authority Collective, The Center for Photographers of Colour and so many, many more. These resources haven’t been put together just for fun; use them.
There’s no excuse for going ahead without representing. We all have to push through barriers, some more so than others. Do the work. Try harder. Don’t come at us with excuses until you’ve literally tried everything; and who can say that they have? Keep up or get left behind.
“The images are all the more pertinent in their documentation of a changing city – one which is now changed forever.”
“The world gave me many things, but the only thing I ever kept was absolute solitude"
“Along the way, over six generations of photographers, including Adams, have been drawn to the parks, bearing witness to their changing landscapes, examining the implications of public land use, and capturing their grandeur.”
“Make sure you’re drinking enough water”
Hey! I’m a freelance portraiture, documentary and adventure photographer working in London. Community and culture are the cornerstones of my work, and I also run of the land & us, an online journal for photographers exploring our relationship with the natural world.
‘Notes on Freelancing’ is my attempt to make becoming a freelance creative a bit less scary.
If you like what you read and would like to donate a strong cup of tea, you can. This twitchy-eyed creative will thank you for the support and the caffeine.