With many still recovering from the effects of lockdowns and the pandemic, how best to face further uncertain times?
We’ve asked several industry experts within our community for their insights and tips to help you navigate the coming months and year ahead.
How do you think 2023 is looking for the industry (from your perspective)? Do you have any predictions?
I’m feeling optimistic, there are plenty of facts I could use to back that up (I make a point to look for them!), but I’m not going to risk any predictions. The truth is that none of us have any idea what’s coming. That’s the issue, with so much bad news and no foreseeable end to strikes, inflation, rising taxes, Brexit & pandemic fallout, etc. We’re at the mercy of massive forces over which we have no control. Not only this, we know that further global problems are brewing. Who knows what this year or the future will bring? Being honest about this situation, what we can control vs. what we can’t is the best place to start.
What advice would you give photographers looking to prepare themselves for leaner times?
We may not be preparing for leaner times. Perhaps leaner than 2012-2019, with all the problems mentioned above in the mix. But Brexit was already slowing the economy by the end of 2019 or early 2020, and leaner than 2020-2021? I’m not so sure. We’ve all just been through the most challenging time we may ever face with the global pandemic. We were blocked at every turn from growing our businesses. We’re so free by comparison now, free to make and share work, implement ideas, to feel positive we’re making ground. I’m not trying to make light of the severe challenges we’re all facing, but nothing is holding us back compared to 2020.
Can you recommend 3 things they should consider now to prepare for the year ahead?
While brilliant in so many other ways, Professional Photography isn’t the most stable or secure of careers at the best of times. Even the busiest photographers can succumb to problems of workflow. If you are too busy on back-to-back commercial projects, where’s the time for personal work, for defining your unique place in a crowded industry, to put your argument why commissioners should continue to look your way? Time is so valuable for this, it’s what puts graduating students at such an advantage. So often, their work finds a way into the conversation with the commissioning community because they have had the time to explore and invest in themselves, time to forge something new.
Suppose we’re discussing steps to safeguard a career as a photographer, managing workflow and well-being. In that case, we’d always encourage photographers to make space for staying connected to their work with personal projects. It’s an incredibly positive use of the time that you have between commercial jobs. It will pay dividends going forwards, and who knows, if at some point you’re on back-to-back commercial projects for months, if not years at a time, you’ll be happy you made the time to do it while you could.
Our other two key points to focus on: networking and finding a way to give back.
We’re talking about how to face uncertain times, and there’s no doubt there are challenges just now. But there are no barriers to networking, one of the most fundamental pillars of building a long and healthy career in photography. Not only are there more ways to easily connect with people locally and globally, but there’s an appetite for connecting in person as well, and crucially to connect with our shared enthusiasm for photography. There’s never been a better time.
While the post-pandemic freedoms have been with us for a good while now, we are still meeting commissioners who will tell us how much they have enjoyed catching up in person. We often hear, ‘this is the first time we’ve seen work in real life since the pandemic,’ perhaps because they have been flat-out on projects, working from home, etc., but it shows this is a great time to get out there and connect with people.
If you have the time, do it. If you don’t, then find a way to prioritise it. As with personal work, your future self might thank you for it.
We’d encourage photographers with representation to do the same. Not to rely solely on their agent to network for them, commissioners are often delighted to have more direct contact with photographers they may well have long admired.
It’s never too early to start building your network, and there’s never a time you are so established that you can afford to neglect that part of the job. Folio reviews, exhibitions, and industry events are all in full flow again, last year’s AOP awards a great example, so well attended and enjoyed, 2023’s should be better again.
Our third point would be to consider finding ways to give back. We’ve noticed over the years that photographers that are generous with their knowledge and contacts seem to lengthen rather than shorten their careers. It’s another way of finding strength and positivity in the industry to see yourself through bad times and perhaps help generate the good ones. There are so many ways you can do this. The AOP is a great resource; there’s so much work to be done to make professional photography a more equal and inclusive place. Between this and the now mainstream attention given to minimising environmental impact of commercial shoots, there’s lots to feel positive about and to get involved with.
Are there key pitfalls they should avoid?
If things are quieter than usual, don’t assume there’s something wrong with your offering just because the requests are not coming in thick and fast.
Often mistakes can be made when times are hectic, clients are not attended to, opportunities are missed, no time to invest in marketing and promotion. That’s why it’s essential to stop and assess things in busy times, and make sure you’re covering everything. It’s the same when it goes quiet, but in reverse, the quietness doesn’t necessarily mean what you do is no longer relevant. It could be that there’s less call for work like yours just now. A mistake can be to look to others, who may for some reason appear to be busier, and to try to steer your own work more that way. In our experience, this never works well. The industry already has the other person for that style of work. Your poor impression of their work will diminish your identity while failing to compete with them. It’s often transparent as well, which is not a good look. Better to hold faith in what you’ve been doing, focus on your work, and believe that better times are around the corner. Often, they are.
It’s another reason networks and community are so important. You’ll get a broader picture of how work is for everyone, and it will help you keep your nerve in difficult times.
How can AOP Members / Photographers contact you – what services do you provide?
Email is the best way. Our contact details are on our site. We like to say our door is always open, but the truth is that it takes work to see everyone, and our time is limited. We can guarantee that any work sent in will always get looked at by myself, John, Frances, Emma & Janina, whether we arrange a meeting after that or not. We’ve had examples of the right work arriving at just the right moment as well, work connecting to a commercial project we might be aware of where we don’t necessarily represent the right person for the job. Proof that you can’t know too many people and how it always pays to ensure people know what you’re working on.
It’s good timing that you ask this question as we’re re-vamping the Free Portfolio Review sessions we ran during the pandemic. Those started as something for BA & MA graduates who’d had their final shows disrupted by lockdowns, but they ended up being more open as the months ticked past. As well as a way of offering support at a tricky time, we thoroughly enjoyed doing them, met some exceptional talent we’ve kept in touch with, and did end up subsequently helping some of those photographers with side projects.
Details of where to apply for those sessions here on our website – we’ll be running these reviews as a blend of in-person and Zoom meetings, we won’t be able to meet every photographer who applies, but we give our word all work will be looked at and noted.
James Gerrard-Jones is Managing Director at Wyatt-Clarke & Jones, an artist management agency at the heart of the mainstream advertising establishment but specialising in introducing the work of non-advertising photographers (particularly documentary and fine-art photographers) to advertising clients. James has over 20 years’ experience working with commercial photography, both with his current agency and previously with photographic collections including National Geographic.
The AOP Photography Awards are known as the ‘Oscars’ of the photography world. They celebrate excellence in the creative photography and image-making industry.
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