© 2010 Jeff

Is a Career in Photography Doomed?

I recently came across a job posting on one of the many forums I frequent that caused me to raise one of my eyebrows. The listing asked for someone who was available the week of March 13, could photograph in at least 7mp, was experienced in model photography, and could handle being around beautiful, naked women. Sounds like a dream job, right??

Here’s the kicker, the last criteria for the job was this, “…would be willing to work for FREE.” This was not your run of the mill, no budget, local business gig. The client for this job was Playboy. There were not that many details being offered up, but there was a supposed opportunity of future work if the photographer nailed it. I realized that this was an amazing opportunity for someone, but I couldn’t get over the fact that a successful organization as large as Playboy was unwilling to pay for photography. Below is my reply to that job posting:

I’ve found myself looking back at the past few years recently, wondering where photography went wrong. At what point did it become acceptable to work for free? At what point did creativity become a cheap commodity? I honestly don’t understand how it is deemed kosher for individuals to not reimburse others for the services that they perfomed.

I can’t say that I don’t have anything to do with the shift in value. I on several occasions have been lured into working for free. Seduced by the allure of increased exposure, “future” gigs, and rare perks of the job (naked chicks and fast cars), I lost my values and prostituted my services. But every time I finish one of these jobs, I am always left feeling violated. Disappointed and let down, I wonder why I let myself fall for it again. Why is it, that when a job is deemed “fun,” that the gig is in of itself payment? Isn’t the whole purpose of pursuing a passion, so that you can get paid for doing what doesn’t feel like work. I don’t mean for this post to come across as if I am seeking pity, for myself or any other photographer, but it is strange how common free work has become. I understand that the economy is hurting right now and many businesses are suffering, but I don’t see that as an acceptable excuse.

I consider photography a trade, similar to an electrician, plumber, or mechanic. It takes several years of rigorous study and countless hours of practice to really excel at your job. Would anyone ever ask their mechanic, “I have a car that needs some engine work, how about you repair it for free this time, and the next time the engine blows up, I’ll pay you for it.” Why is this not acceptable, but it is deemed perfectly reasonable when that mechanic is substituted with a photographer? It actually makes less sense to me. In this case of Playboy, the photography is absolutely vital to the success of Playboy’s business. What is Playboy without the photography? The photographer who worked for scratch is directly responsible for lining Playboy’s pocket with green. In the case of product photography, the photographer is the one who communicates the benefits of said products to the customer. How successful would Absolut Vodka be without their award winning photography and ads? What if their ads were nothing but heavy copy?

Or how about this situation, “You fix my leaky pipes, and I’ll give you a little byline on a sign in my front yard.” Let me call my utility company and see if they’ll accept bi-lines as payment. Last time I checked bi-lines and “future” gigs don’t pay the bills. Luckily, I’m still young and don’t have responsibilities like a family or a mortgage, but I feel sorry for those who have chosen photography as a career, and now can’t compete. I would lovvvveee to pursue photography as a career, but I realize now that it’s not a viable source of income.

As I said, my rant is not directed toward [name omitted]. I have no reason to doubt [name omitted] here. He probably has more credibility than me and if he says, “there is a possibility for future work,” than there probably is, pending one’s performance. This sounds like an amazing opportunity and it is not my goal to discourage others from taking advantage of the awesome situation. This is more or less, nostalgic rhetoric on how things once were and how I wish things could still be. Further dialogue would be great, but I don’t expect any of my questions to be answered. Ugh, /rant.

What are your alls thoughts on this? I’m not local enough to apply for the gig, but even if I were, I probably wouldn’t have. Am I crazy? I like to think I’m just tired of my trade being devalued to the point of nothingness.

11 Responses to “Is a Career in Photography Doomed?”

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  7. megamoo says:

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  8. JonErik says:

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