Once every couple weeks I receive an offer from someone wanting to hire me to photograph a big upcoming event or art/performance piece. I’m honored to have been asked, and in Berlin, these events always promise to be new, different and exciting. Unfortunately, the offers always end the same: Anni, here’s this amazing event at this amazing space with all these amazing performances – and it would be amazing if you could photograph this for us. But OH! We’re a nonprofit (ie: we’re-not-making-much-of-a-profit, not a nonprofit organization conducting business for the benefit of the general public without a profit motive, etc.), so would you mind photographing this for free? In exchange, we will give you a couple free tickets (which, since you’re working the event, you won’t be able to enjoy much personally.) I turned down the photo gig. The harsh reality is that I actually can’t afford to photograph it, when considering the hours spent between photographing and post-production. I would actually lose money in the end, and my bills have to get paid somehow. I’ve turned down gigs before, and it always makes me sad when I do.
I always return to this conversation:
I am not attacking my artist, performer and event organizer friends by any means, so please keep reading. This is the way the world works nowadays, and we’re all trying to get by as artists. I understand this, and happily continue to work with the artists whose work and ideas I support. And don’t get me wrong, I love love love photographing and collaborating on dance and performance pieces! I still do it often.
My big rant is that no person or organization will pay for quality photography any more! Every other person on the planet has a camera now and wants to be a photographer. I’ve discussed this with so many professional photographer friends and colleagues over the past few years. My bread and butter is working as a photo editor though, so it’s especially unsettling that between my former job at the Portland Tribune and my current job in advertising at Media Consulta, I’ve hardly ever in 7+ years had a budget to pay talented photographers what they deserve to be paid. And as a photo editor, I constantly have to ask photographers (just like myself) to give away their work for free, or to work for less. The professionals who turn me down, I want to high-five. And the amateurs who work for next to nothing, hungry for the experience, they consistently under-bid the professionals. Then the professionals end up quitting the field because they can no longer afford to be in the field.
We’ve all had this conversation before, right? It’s probably a tired subject by now. But is there even a solution, a new direction for us to head in – or is photography still just a dying profession?
Photo: Foreigner's Cemetery, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2012