There is More to Photography than Photography

Image by Provencal Photographer Denis Brihat

Photography is a competitive business and newcomers trying to get into this field do what newcomers tend to do in any field, which is to charge less in order to ‘get their foot in the door.’ This is hardly news.

But I personally don’t think that is what is generally affecting revenues in photography.

With some glaring exceptions, many photographers take a unilateral approach to photography. They think of their photographs as ‘products’ to be sold. They fail to see the educational value of their images and therefore they miss many opportunities to make an impact with their photography.

If you are well-known personally in your community, photography acclaim will follow assuming that you are also an excellent photographer. But the moral is:

Sell yourself first.

Here is an example from my own field of psychology: hordes of newly graduated masters and Ph.D. psychologists every year rush to hang out their shingle for outpatient practice. They think that if they advertise that they are there, people will come.

Not true.

Nameless practitioners live pretty much in a nameless world. In a psychology practice they see nameless folks sent to them from nameless bureaucrats. Many of these nameless practices close within a year or two because of these factors. They haven’t done their homework, or made any effort to give something of themselves back to the community. They fail to sell themselves first.

Those who survive [in any field] do so because they make a mark. They stand out. They push the envelope. They become involved in their communities. They speak out on issues important to all of us, not just on issues pertinent to their particular field. In other words, they touch others’ lives.

They are not just nameless artisans selling nameles wares under the cloak of anonymity.

Photographers generally also good business skills and good writing skills. Software, no matter how good, is no substitute for these skills. Photography, in combination with other talents, raises the ante significantly. The more a person has to offer a prospective client the more valuable they are to the client in the long run.

Don’t be like some photographers who like to put ‘the cart before the horse’ by trying to sell photographs of subjects that they do not fully understand, with skills that are not yet sufficiently honed.

The fact is, a photographer’s most important tool is the library, not whether they have this or that lens in their Domke.

Artie Morris, for example, understands birds. He knows their habits and biology, and his images are remarkable as a result. Artie is not just a good photographer with a big lens to be emulated for that reason alone.

Look at all the web sites out there today that are done by photographers. Most of these sites are product-driven. They are cyber storefronts, which is not enough.

Moose Peterson, in my opinion, still stands out as one of the best models of how to use the web to sell photographs while also educating his cyber visitors. When you visit Moose’s site you come away with technical information as well as conservation information that he has freely given away. I admire him for this. Even if Moose only sells a fraction of images via his web site, he is still way ahead of the pack in terms of visibility and connectivity with others. Moose is selling himself!

Good things then follow.

There is an old axiom about not selling something before its time. If one hasn’t evolved into an impassioned artisan with high ideals and ethics and a real sense of place in the world, with real skills, then that person’s efforts to sell his or her work is premature.

An artist evolves slowly.

The quickness of a shutter-release button probably fools many into thinking that their artistry evolves equally as quickly, but it does’t. As we mature as individuals we also mature as artists and professionals. The aging process and living life fully informs us as well as our work. They go hand in hand.

If you are a pianest you will intuitively understand that having a technical grasp of the keyboard is just the beginning of the long road to fame. The artistry comes with knowing what’s in your soul and finding ways to adequately express those feelings via the keyboard. The keyboard, therefore, is merely a means to an end.

First the musician feels, and only then can their song be heard by others.

Someone to emulate

I once met a photographer in Provence – his name was Denis Brihat. I spent the afternoon with Denis and his wife, Solange, in their country home in Bonnieux. Such a wonderful experience that was! I went there expecting to meet a photographer and I encountered a Renaissance Man.

We talked of great artists, great books, we philosophized about urban versus country living, and we shared stories about ourselves with each other. Then I saw Denis’ work – all of which made great sense after getting to know him. His work, without knowing something of the man behind it, is unidimensional. But this multidimensional man brings a force to images that, as a result, literally jump out at you from the page.

At one point he was showing me an image of a dew drop on an iris that reflected the garden within itself and, as Denis’ hands added expression to his words about the interconnectedness of all things, of all of life, I suddenly recognized my own mentor, physicist David Bohm, between the lines.

We laughed, the connection at that moment was sudden and swift.

Denis sent me away with some samples of his work his work and I could hardly wait to get back to my office in the States to prepare some work of my own to share with him.

This man works in black and white and uses chemistry in the darkroom to add color to various aspects of his image. It is a tedious but privately thrilling process to watch his own work evolve, he says. Most of his work over forty years of his career has been of fruits and vegetables and flowers from his country garden in Bonnieux.

He only makes three large-scale gallery prints of a single image and, when they are sold, he goes back into the garden to make some more images. He has put his children through college and he lives a wonderful life in Provence because of the fruits of these labors.

That speaks volumes.

I know, I know, the pundits out there are quick to say that we live in a cut-throat world where we have to do things differently if we are, as photographers, to get ahead.

How many of these pundits, I wonder, have sold their work in galleries all over the world like Denis has?

There is clearly more to photography than photography and it has to do with how rich and complex we are as individuals. Everything else follows.

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