“The Dating Game?”
I was recently involved in an email discussion (mini consultation I guess…) with a photographer who was pretty incensed by my constant upbeat evaluation of this business of photography. His concerns were voiced well, and although he was civil (without which I would never have responded) I could tell that he was genuinely pissed off.
In short, he is a photographer in a smaller town in the upper midwest. NOT a fashion center, nor really a big center at all. Surrounded by smaller towns and burgs he was about three hours from a large city where agencies were doing regional and national work.
He told me that no matter what I said, there was no work up there, and that no one he knew was doing any work. And he talked to a lot of photographers and they weren’t getting any work either and how could I be so upbeat about a business that didn’t exist anymore?
(A quick 5 minutes on Google provided 37 graphic designers, and 24 advertising agencies in close proximity. In the big city nearby (Minneapolis) there are literally hundreds.)
I asked him if he wanted a dialog with me, or just wanted to vent? And if he did want to chat about it would he answer a few questions honestly about where he was in his work?
It took him three days to write back but he did indeed answer my questions.
In fact, he answered his own questions about why he wasn’t getting work and why he probably would never get work if he remained on the same path he was on. At the time he couldn’t see it, but it was right there in front of him.
I have discussed the importance of being relevant, being professional, being persistent and focused and energized many times before, but today I want to explain it in a sort of “Dating Game” kind of metaphor. C’mon – it will be fun. Or… not.
Are you the kind of person other people want to be around?
Are you interesting? Witty? Charming? Talented? Driven?
Are you trying new things, making new things, delivering new things?
Are you engaged and involved in MAKING stuff?
Or are you simply there. Sitting with other non-interesting, non-witty, non-charming, non-talented people who don’t make anything hoping that someone will walk over to you and say, “hey, I am tired of interesting, witty, talented people. It’s time for me to date someone who really doesn’t have anything to offer me”?
How often does that happen in real life?
People are fascinated by things that are fascinating… duh. So if you are simply one of the people sitting around projecting to the world that you are not engaged, not involved, not interested in anything other than navel gazing, complaining, being offended and harshly criticizing others, then you may not be a “good catch”.
This isn’t an introvert/extrovert kind of thing – it is a people being interested in other people kinda thing. To be involved, one must actually BE involved.
We can read book after book on traveling across country by motorcycle. We can watch videos about it. We can go online and follow a few intrepid souls that are crossing the globe on a motorcycle. We can put posters of motorcycle riders in the middle of nowhere all over our walls – heck, we can even have screen savers of McGregor and Boorman in Siberia on a pair of BMW’s. We can have all of that.
But we are not riding cross country on a motorcycle. We are only passively thinking about it. Not doing it.
Now, let’s take that out into the real world and see if anyone is interested:
“Hi, my name is Don and I do a lot of thinking about riding motorcycles cross country. I read a lot of books about it. Once, I even dreamt I was in Albuquerque and couldn’t find the road to Boston. I read all the forums, and know the names of a lot of motorcycles.”
“Hi, my name is David, and I am currently riding a Triumph Bonneville from LA to Miami. I am camping out and taking photographs of the people I am meeting on the way. This is my motorcycle, and I am a third of the way there. I leave first thing in the morning.”
If you are someone interested in riding a motorcycle across country, which of the above are you most interested in talking with?
“Hi, my name is Don and I dream about being a photographer. I know my website is not very good, but I don’t have time to work on it because I spend an inordinate amount of time in my G+ group where we discuss how much this business sucks and how everyone thinks they are a photographer and how iPhones ruined everything. I have no marketing and I have never even looked for anyone to show my pictures to because no one is hiring anyway. I know all about the sharpness of “L” glass and what the ‘best’ cameras are. I even know the weight difference between a D800 and a Sony RXII7.”
How attractive is that to perspective buyers. To them, you are uninteresting and not engaged and actually invisible. You haven’t done anything, but you think your effort should be rewarded the same as those who have actually DONE the hard work, the heavy lifting, and met failure, defeat, bad portfolio reviews, shitty clients and good.
And that just isn’t the way it is done. Whether in looking for a date or finding a client, just thinking about stuff won’t be enough.
Thinking about being interesting is not the same as being interesting.
Thinking about creating photographs is not the same as creating photographs.
Thinking about showing your book, making cold calls, contacting editors is not the same thing as actually DOING it.
I gave my email friend a few pointers – some tough love – and guaranteed him that if he got engaged, and stopped thinking about doing it and actually got out there to do it, there would be some magic happening. The magic of ‘making’ and ‘doing’ instead of the lethargy of ‘hoping’ and ‘wishing’.
I haven’t heard back from him, and I am not sure I will. The comfort zone of doing nothing provides great cover. Easier to explain failure when you surrender before the fight. And the fight is hard, and no one ever wind and yada yada. It is a damned hard mindset to break.
For those of you thinking that ‘doing’ is as easy as ‘thinking about doing’ be prepared for a great awakening. Doing is hard. Real hard. You will make something and instantly there is someone, somewhere, ready to pounce on it and tell you how terrible it is, how lame it is, and how you should stop doing whatever you are doing because it embarrasses them and makes them realize that they are NOT doing anything.
When my first book for Amherst came out, I received a couple of nice emails from people all over the country. However, the fifth email I opened that morning was a scathing attack on my photography, me as a person, and I think they also hated my dog. That is life, folks. It just is.
I was kinda hurt by it, but after a while I simply told myself that no, you can’t please everyone and hell – I HAD WRITTEN A DAMN BOOK!
I had become engaged instead of wishing I could be.
After I wrote this article I made a declaration that I was going to ride to Alaska on a motorcycle instead of wishing and dreaming that I could do such a thing.
One week to the day later I am the proud owner of a cruiser with bags and gear. I have a little less than a year to get ready for this trip of a lifetime (I will turn 67 on the road). You can follow the pre-planning and trip itself – August 2016 – at the trip website: Phoenix to Fairbanks.
And you can join me if you like.