During this lull in my life where I struggle with both direction and simple things like, you know, getting out the door I have been taking on editing work for other photographers. I love this because it’s a way to keep my hand in the business while not having to deal with the outside world. The photos arrive to me and I quietly spend the days colour correcting, straightening, removing blemishes, adjusting contrast. It’s meditative work. It allows my mind to wander while my eyes do their job. I also discovered I feel better at the end of the day because I can flick through the images and see I have completed a task.
And I learned something about myself. I was a good photographer. I was good. I was an artist. But I was never a businesswoman. The business side of things confounded me. I didn’t know how to sell myself because every image I took I poured a little of myself into and I didn’t know how to say to people, “You’re paying me because I am worth this.” It went against my nature.
I never told people this but the day I gave up weddings was because a client came back to me and said she wasn’t happy. I had had a couple of portrait clients do that before and I would always offer a reshoot. We would do it again and piece together a gallery from both sessions. But it was never my fault before, it was always something like the baby was fussy that day and the mum really wanted smiling images. Or I suggested an outdoor shoot and mum wanted studio and then changed her mind after the session. And the beauty of portraits was we COULD redo. Weddings are kind of a one shot deal. This wedding – it was fine. During family formals – in the midday sun on a beach, no less – the bride was getting anxious for them to be over. She was frustrated because her aunt was insisting on different groupings that the bride and groom hadn’t put on the list and she turned to me and said, “Just shoot them, it doesn’t matter. I just want her to shut up. I don’t really care.” I mentioned moving to a different location where the sun was less offensive, I was patient. In the end the shots were taken, occasionally not every person was looking at the camera. A child might be looking at his mother for example. To me – these were not flaws. This was life. I shot some beautiful images of the bridal party. Halfway through reception they asked me to stay an extra two hours and said they would pay me extra. I was exhausted by this point, but agreed and said not to worry about additional payment.
I delivered the gallery and the bride picked her shots and seemed pleased. A couple of weeks later the mother of the bride sent me a message with an attached image of a random wedding shot by her relative and said, “This is how you take real wedding photos.” The image received was standard amateur work. It was not technically correct and it was very average. I spent a long time looking at that image wondering what she was talking about. And then I realised she was meaning it as a stab at me. “See this guy who is my relative – he is so much better than you. You’re a fraud.”
I wrote her a response outlining that I was an accredited photographer with a well respected association in Australia, the closest thing we had to a governing body. That my work had been assessed by them as of a professional standard. That I did a perfectly acceptable professional job on her daughters images. Okay, maybe at the end I may have thrown in, “I wonder if he has been similarly assessed?” Whatever. I was salty.
The bride told me after she received the images she was pretty disappointed that she thought during family formals I would yell out “one, two, three, smile!” So they would know I was taking the picture. Because apparently me standing in front of them with a camera shouting, “Eyes over here!” And clicking furiously wasn’t a good indication.
Oh man. I KNEW I did nothing wrong that day. I knew the photos were good. But it devastated me. I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself to deal with that. I shot about three weddings after that one, the tail end of my booked sessions. (You best believe I shouted ‘one, two, three, smile!’ just in case though). And then I just packed up that part of my work. Nope. No more.
It was the artist in me that threw in the towel. Because this wasn’t just a job. This was myself. When they said, “I don’t like this”, it felt like someone saying, “I don’t like you.” If I had been a better business woman I probably would have rolled with it, picked up, moved on. Kicked ass. But I didn’t because the artist doesn’t know how. The artist creates because they must. It’s a drive, a force, a muse. I don’t create to make money, I never did.
I was a bad businesswoman. But I was a damn good photographer. I know that now.