No Static, Only Signal

A few years ago, I was approached by a popular regional magazine that wanted to do a photo spread featuring my work. I was excited as anyone would be. Then we started talking details, and my excite quickly faded.

I asked about pay. I was told the only pay I’d receive is exposure to their thousands and thousands of readers which would lead to lots of sales. That exposure line fools a lot of inexperienced people. I wasn’t inexperienced. Wide exposure rarely results in any sales worth getting excited about, and is certainly not worth more than a paycheck. How would you feel if you boss told you that this week you were being paid in exposure? I politely said No, and let some naive photographer take my place that month. 

I won’t work my ass off for free while people profit off my hard work. That’s insane. I wish more artist would grow a back bone and stand up against such exploitation. Magazines (and other publications) worth anything have a set budget for every issue. People making the layouts are getting paid. People writing the articles are getting paid. Photographers are, more often than not these days, NOT getting paid. It’ll continue as long as people continue to willingly work for free. I value myself and work too highly to do that ever again. 

I only work for free when it supports a cause important to me. Everyone else can pay. For far too many people, that’s a radical idea. That’s a damn shame. They may fool hundreds of photographers, but they won’t fool me. 

People often ask how to pursue photography as a career. Step one is to demand to be paid for your work. If you think it’s not worth pay, then no one else will, either.

On my website, I use to keep a running list of my accomplishments, awards, showings, etc. It’s what every REAL artist does, right? If so, I haven’t been a real artist for at least a couple of years. 

Ultimately, the reason I took it down was because I don’t want to attract the people that lists like that impress. If you’re only interested in what I’m doing because I have a lot of shiny medals, then I’d rather you just keep walking. That’s not what I’m about, and it’s not why I create art.

My photography has been featured in dozens of publications, from books to magazines to websites. I was Landscape Photography Magazine’s (an international publication) photographer of the week, have done interviews, had my photos featured in gallery shows from North Carolina to Maine (along side Andy Warhol in one instance). I’ve been successful, if this is how you want to define it, outside of photography, too. I’ve had fiction and non fiction published, illustrations, and more.

Know why it’s not a selling point? Because as good as that stuff feels, it’s not a selling point! Not for me.

The people in the position to publish or award this stuff have probably seen a lot. Just because of the volume work they’ve seen alone, their opinion as it pertains to the technical side is a little more valuable than the average person’s. But the value of their opinion ends there.

Art is subjective, so their opinion comes from a subjective place. Subjective things can’t be judged objectively, so one opinion of my work is no more valuable to me than another, especially if they’re “gatekeepers”. 

I want you to enjoy my art for what it is, not what it has earned. I won’t hide my work behind the praise of certain people who think they have a more valid opinion than others because I know it’s strong enough to stand on its own. Consume it raw. Listen, and let it speak to your soul. Tune out the static.