Photo by Claudio Majorana
Photo by Magdalena Wywrot
Photo by Gary Van De Griek
Photo by Bill Burke
I’m on a roll today. I think it’s because I talk about this stuff all day all night with other photographers so it’s easy to regurgitate these conversations. If you quit your job and are trying to earn a living doing photography then there are some things to think about.
First off, now you are an entrepreneur. You are a business owner. You are an all-the-timer. Not part-timer or full-timer. You are trying to run a good business. Some people are lucky with talent and connections and Shark Tank. But most will have to grind it out and be smart.
Secondly, in most businesses you are offering either a service or a product. But in the case of a photographer, you are offering both. The service is your actions, the product is your eyes. This is where we run into crisis. The border between service and product is very undefined and if there is one, it is razor thin. It feels funny to sell your eyes.
The truth is Eugene Richards shot Starbucks ads. Mary Ellen Mark shot weddings. So on one hand, there is no way around commissions, but on the other hand these assignments could fund your projects and then you can sell those projects in the form of prints, zines, and books. But it is hard to sell that stuff. People don’t want to hang your weird stuff on their walls. Sometimes they will want it in a book on a shelf. It is random though and unpredictable.
Yes there are some lotto winners that get to do whatever they want and have all the money to do it and be comfy and all that. But I am talking to the 99% of you. I think the solution is to swarm the world with your mad visions. Overwhelm them and hopefully the right assignments come your way. The assignments that are easy and fun. You don’t have to shoot products in a studio or weddings if you play your cards right. Unless you want to.
Photo by Guido Gazzilli
Ok in the first part I talked about how no one cares but you can make them care once you start caring and taking it seriously. Not to be all serious about it because if you are not having fun and enjoying every bit of it, then maybe photography is not for you. I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Step 1 : What do you want?
This is going into the personal development department but really you have to define what success is for you. Do you want a book deal? Do you want to shoot a look book for Target? Do you want front page of New York Times? A1? I still always look at every photo credit in New York Times when I get the chance. At one point that is what I wanted. But things evolve too. That can happen.
Step 2 : How do you get it?
Strategy. Think about how to get from point A to point B. You don’t really have to invent anything here. The sooner you know what you want out of photography, then the sooner you will know how to get there because someone already did it before you. Sure everyone has their own path. But if you are paying attention, someone might have already blazed a trail for you and you just need to follow the tracks. Otherwise, get the machete and get to chopping.
Step 3. RELENTLESS DOMINATION
I was just gonna write “Relentlessness” but then I remembered Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is always saying “Relentless Domination” on his Insta. He is right though. Figure out what you want and don’t stop till you get it. My vote is to shoot 100 photos everyday until you start a fire. I think opportunities will arise from the ashes.
I have been fortunate to work with a lot of awesome photographers but what always impresses me the most is how much these pros actually shoot. You would hear stories of how Garry Winogrand passed away with over 3000 unprocessed rolls of film. Ted Pushinsky went shooting with him a few times and confirmed the legend to be true: Garry Winogrand would shoot 12 rolls of film by noon everyday. Ted said after shooting, he would drop his rolls into a big garbage bag that was already filled with tons of rolls.
When I had a darkroom in SF I would get random printing gigs. I had made contact sheets for Jim Goldberg before and one day he mentioned that he will be going to Bangladesh for a few weeks and will have some work for me when he gets back. Ok he came back with 800 4×5 negatives that I had to make contacts for. That was just the black and white. He said he also shot over 500 rolls of film, both 120 and 35. And digital.
Oh my. Imagine how much these guys shot when they were young? I’m saying you’re still young. And you could be doing more. Me too. Maybe this message is more for me than for you but maybe you will get motivated and start shooting more. We need it.
Photo by Jai Tanju
Maybe a few friends and family do, but in general no one cares about your photography. Which is why this: YOU CANNOT STOP. Do not stop until they see, feel, and understand your message. I think if you care then you can make them care. If you have not discovered your message aka purpose than you haven’t been shooting and experimenting enough. If you have been shooting a lot maybe it is time to switch it up, go outside more or travel somewhere else or try a different focal length, different format, different camera, etc.
My friend Stefan (who helped start Hamburger Eyes) is a painting contractor and I have been painting houses on and off with him for years. One time his Dad, also a painting contractor, was in town and he said to him, “Hey Dad, Ray has been painting with me, he’s getting good,” or something like that. Then Ratko goes,”Yeah right, see me in 20 years and we’ll see if your painting is good.” I think it’s the same with photography. Until you have gone over every type of problem with every type of paint in every type of weather on every type of surface 100 times, you really don’t know shit.
Most of these articles I am writing are the subjects of emails I get. There are a lot of young photographers wondering what is next for them and I’m like, “You haven’t even shot anything yet.” I think there is a Henri Cartier Bresson quote that goes, “Your first 10,000 photos are garbage.” The harsh truth is most photographers don’t live past age 30. I’m talking about your photography went from “passion” to “hobby” to “minor interest”. I get it, it’s not easy to make a living. But I’m saying you didn’t shoot enough to properly find out.
You work hard and good things start to happen. You hear it all the time. It sounds like a pipe dream but it’s true. Think of every successful photographer you know. They shot and still shoot 100 times more than anyone you know. I think you can get there sooner if you shoot 100 photos per day starting today. The idea is that you will see more, edit more, learn more, etc more.
I struggle with this too. Maybe this post is for self motivation. For the past 10 years I have been identifying myself as a “publisher” first, “photographer” second. But now I am realizing that is wrong, I am a photographer first. And the world needs my weird photos and your weird photos. And we all need to shoot 100 photos per day. Otherwise everything will look like an Iphone commercial. And we don’t want that world.
Continued in PART 2.
I was just thinking maybe it’s getting too serious around here. Maybe we need to bring back some music. And this morning come these vids from long time contributor Alex Martinez. When we got our photo studio darkroom facility in SF around 2008, Alex was the first one to “intern” or volunteer there. He worked 2 days a week, every week, for like 5 years or more. He helped shape Hamburger Eyes during those years. He brought on Oskie and he too worked there forever. Alex is an awesome idea man, awesome music man, awesome aesthetic man. The simple design of this site is direct influence from him. Check out him out.
Photo by Alex Herzog
What is a zine? I don’t know. I guess I could’ve researched it and it’s origins and history but I don’t think it matters very much. It’s like researching and defining what is a mixtape. The various definitions might be generally the same, but generational-ly and genre-ly the definitions could be very different.
When I started making zines it was spelled like this: ‘zine. So I always thought it was like a baby magazine. A do it yourself junior magazine. People also called them “fanzines” because fans were making them to honor their favorites bands. If they were all drawings, you would just call it a “comic”. Lots of writing then maybe “booklet” would work or “pamphlet”, “brochure”, etc.
The gap between commercial publishing and independent publishing used to be so huge. You would see a magazine with Nike and Coca Cola ads, or your would see a magazine with no ads, hand drawings, and scissor cut photos. Nowadays the lines are blurred.
As I said before, if I had to describe it to let’s say my Mom, I would just say it is self published decorated pieces of paper folded and stapled for the purpose of reproduction for mass consumption. That’s it. And then she’d be like, “Oh you mean a pamphlet.”
There’s that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Jason Alexander has a book release party and Larry gets there and starts talking shit because it’s a stapled. He goes on and on saying it’s just a booklet. Awesome episode.
At one point, we were paying lots of money to have Hamburger Eyes offset printed which is how most photo books are printed. People were saying we need to call them “books”. That didn’t feel right since it was an ongoing series, so we upgraded “zine” to “magazine” and maybe for 10 years it was a “magazine”. We also had ads, which helped to call it that. But since we downgraded the print quality and are currently exploring newsprint styles, and have no ads, we brought it back down to “zine”. Today it is 120 pages with a perfect bind and we still call it a zine. And it feels way better.
Photo by David Root
So I am having fun writing stuff about stuff and it seems proper to add more categories to the site. If you ever noticed, there are category links at the bottom of every post. I think I will start to add related post links to each article as well.
Anyways, I don’t like to have lots of navigation in the menu bar at the top of the site so I made the archives page also the navigation page. Have a look. This is a work in progress.
Is it trippy digging through the archives.