Late April, and it finally feels like Spring. I’m a Spring child and I’ve known in my heart that it was Spring in spite of the continual snow and gray days. Finally, we have a day pledged to hit the 60′s. It’s here and I won’t let go.
Spring sets my internal clock to optimism. It’s a time to reassess where I am, and where I want to be. I’m filled with a certain romance and ready to declare a path, make things go. So I think naturally about photography, about legacy, about what it’s all about, really.
I was in the commercial photography business for over ten years. Mostly weddings, but a smattering of other assignments that made for an eclectic business. But weddings were the backbone of that existence, and I grew to love them after a lot of initial anxiety. In my best year, I had over 50 weddings, and more calls for consultations than I could respond to effectively.
It didn’t last. This was the tail end of the film era and the burgeoning of digital photography, and the market underwent a huge realignment. I think a lot of non-wedding photographers, lacking business in their own markets, became wedding photographers, and a lot of newbies started offering weddings for cheap on Craigslist. Those of us who priced ourselves in the mid-range, and frankly, offered similar packages, were lost in the crowd. I was terrible at networking and social media, and just didn’t know how to respond to this new environment. I got out. After so much stress about everything that wasn’t actually photography, it was actually a relief to put an end to it.
I now work in the digital print industry for a living, and make pictures for my own documentary/ fine art projects. I thought I would be content with this. Steady paycheck, benefits, the freedom to make pictures at will.
But for the past few months, I’ve wondered if that is what I really want? Or, should I say, all I really want?
Even as my business slowed down, my eye (talent? ability?) and love for shooting weddings continually evolved and I think I got quite good at it (at least in my humble opinion). Think about it: the wedding day is a perfect match for a documentary photographer. It’s not a stretch of skill to try and capture a story that plays out in a single day. A story that involves ambiance, emotions and intimacy. Photography that includes elements of landscape, portraiture and, especially (for me), story telling. Photography and story that is ultimately best displayed not as a single framed image on a wall, but contextually, in a book of its own.
I mentioned legacy. It’s not about fame. It’s what we leave behind that shows we’ve lived a useful life. I am a parent, and my children are, in a great sense, that legacy. But for me there’s the need to produce art that also has a useful life of its own. For a long time, I’ve believed art was something other than what I produced for pay as a wedding photographer. Now I’ve come to realize it’s perhaps what I am best qualified, or suited, to create.
A long time ago, I was a photographer for a small town daily newspaper. On those occasions when one of my images was nicely printed on the front page, it was more than a thrill. It was the sense that anyone taking a moment to appreciate that photo was standing in my shoes, looking through my eyes, at something I had momentarily witnessed and finessed into just that composition. They didn’t know they were doing that, but it was a secret pleasure of mine to imagine it that way.
If at least a few of the wedding albums I have created over the years are preserved into the future, properly kept as family heirlooms, then my vision lasts. One set of eyes at a time. Whether my name is known or not.
So, the question before me on this great spring day, is how do I start anew? How do I expand and focus on what I most liked about wedding photography (creating purposeful imagery) and tackle the issues I was worst at (marketing, bookkeeping)? And create a business model that thrives on honesty and personal integrity all the way through?
I’ve created a list of hopes and fears about re-entering the market. It was a really clarifying task to lay it out on the page, rather than feeling high about it one minute, low the next. My hopes included necessary business structures, like modernizing equipment, renewing insurance, seeing an accountant and exploring the concept of incorporating. I also have ideas about marketing and social media that I’d like to try. And it was especially gratifying to be able to counter every one of the fears on my list with a positive and natural solution.
It will be a long road, and I expect to take this blog along for the ride. Hopefully, I’ll post more often about things outside of my own head, too. I’d love to hear from anyone on a similar path. Drop me a line in the comments, whether you’re an experienced wedding shooter or just starting out. I’d love to hear your perspective and story.