Greatest Job on Earth (my editor would kill me for writing a headline this bad)

Why, in thee hell, does everyone want to become a photographer?

Maybe it’s because if you make it into the elite group of heavy hitters you will become rich, make your own hours and endlessly satisfy your need to shoot pictures.

Land a huge pharmaceutical job? Guess what, you’re going to get paid a $350,000 creative fee.

Tired of working? Block out your calendar for a month long vacation.

Want to be creative? Cherry pick the editorial jobs with cool subjects and assert complete creative control.

Don’t believe me? I have evidence to back every single one of those statements.

It’s certainly getting harder for people to make it in this industry and there’s some nasty shit that goes down sometimes but guess what? I meet with people every week who are having the time of their lives (I know, I know, goddam jerks).

What are you waiting for?

Me?

I prefer wallowing in the trenches.

There Are 41 Comments On This Article.

  1. Yeah, you’re right!! Look at me. I’m in London – reading your blog and thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch before my afternoon nap. This Friday I’m shooting the genius that is actor Steve Buscemi. Last week I shot the head auctioneer of Sotheby’s New York, the Chairman of NBC Universal and an Oscar winning film producer. Next week I have a 2 day shoot with a double A list female movie star. The week after that I’m in New York for 8 days where I will see old friends, do a couple of shoots and enjoy the power of my mighty British pounds by buying loads of cheap, Chinese made items at knock down Dollar prices. I come home for 3 days and then zoom off to Jamaica where I will be spending 5 days with the fastest man in the world. And all this because when I was at school I didn’t have to do Physics if I opted to learn about photographic chemistry and printing in the school darkroom. I never believe it will last because I’m a pessimist by nature and think that all things are doomed to end in flames and failure. However, I really, really love what I do and I protect it by never ever taking it for granted or displaying any kind of prima donna behaviour whatsoever. Nigel Parry and I once agreed that “getting the call” delivers the biggest buzz in the whole process. No matter what the job is, or who it is that’s called, I am always grateful and flattered that it is me that they’ve chosen to call and that without it I would be doing something I hate for £23,000 a year with 4 weeks holiday time. You’re right about that month long calendar block out though. August, it’s all about August.

  2. While Chris’ experience and those like it are, by far in the minority, I think what it comes down to for me is that ol’ “back stage pass” to the world thing that so few other professions offer. Every day is different, you meet a seemingly endless array of interesting people, and you get to see and go to interesting places. Want a good story? Ask a photographer.

  3. I am currently an intern and have yet to graduate from SIUC to go out to try to find that “best job in the world.” But I can say that I have the best internship in the world. I love this job. Meeting endless interesting people is one of many things I love about it. May 2009 is the date it is looking for graduation. Going to be an intern at my last of 3 places, then go back to school. When May 2009 comes along, I hope I can say at some point after that that I have the best job in the world.

  4. yup yup yup.
    i sit around most days with nothing to do but work on my photos. then i shoot one or two days a week and I am set for the rest of the month. I am not trying to live lavishly, just live, and it is a lot of fun. it can get really depressing though, wondering how you take it to the next level…

  5. Kalmár Nagy András

    You meet interesting people and get to shoot them. :D

    I would die in a 9-2-5. Once during a late evening (almost past midnight) in the office, on of the other photographers asked me why we are still there editing images and photographing… We couldn’t find a sane reason, other than that we are special. In the head. Bitten by this stupid bug that is photography. You can’t do this if your soul isn’t in it, because that’s when it chews you up and spits you out.

  6. Yeah, SO special. Your life hanging on the whim of a photo editor or the approval of a budget, 8 trillion other photogs scraping for the same assignment at rates which were set 15 years ago, no benefits, no paid vacation, designers who crop your pictures seemingly randomly, weeks without work as you start to believe the noise in your head telling you that your work sucks, everyone else’s work looks so great online, you’re not Cool and Hip cause you’re not in this year’s 30 under 30 or 17 under 17… SO FABULOUS!

  7. Hey Chris–Wonderfully self serving post. Now if all you need, is to buy is some talent and originality and you’ll be good to go. Cheerio…!

  8. Now now Anon — chris has a fairly rockin website. not nice to call names from behind your cloaked identity! sure the post is a bit full of it, but he’s got some pretty cool tearsheets, eh-what?

  9. now now charlie, that’s the beauty of this blog. Nobody has to be who they say they are or take responsibility for their comments. BTW, I did that on purpose to highlight the potential pitfalls of anonymity.
    Chris is perfectly capable photographer and I am glad to see he is doing so well, that’s what life is about. Congrats. I mean that. Chris, sorry to use you as a guinea pig.
    BTW, charlie, what’s your last name?

  10. It’s definitely not for the money :) No, its really just for the challenge of recording an image the way you wanto it to be interpreted, and not to be constrained by the limitations of the mechanics that you rely on. That, and you also get to meet some really hot chicks as well ;-)

  11. I thought we did this for the hot models and endless supply of coke, no? Never mind that was a movie I saw once. For me- It’s about the work, the doors it opens & the creativity. I keep waiting for the big check to arrive. Is it in the mail?

  12. Jesus, get photographers talking about themselves and get read for the bullshit to pour.

  13. Anon – I think you misunderstood. There was a big old dollop of knowingness and irony on my earlier post. I found a job that is in the “not a proper job” category and I can’t believe that I’ve managed to make a living from it for 15 years. If I do have any talent it’s a talent for that. If I can continue to keep it going then I’m laughing all the way to my grave and you can spit in it once I’m in there. I’m not rich but I’m not in debt either – my days are my own and my nights are for my wife. My dad and grandad worked all their lives doing things they hated. Most of us are mediocre, including me. In fact, there isn’t a day goes by where I don’t dwell on my own shortcomings and perceptions of mediocrity. This business will eat you alive if you allow your insecurities to get on top of you, and sometimes weeks go by where the best bit of the day is the bit where you get to go to sleep intoxicated and numb with self loathing. I agree with Olivier – I am a “perfectly capable photographer.” I wish I were more than that but, truth be told, there are many people out there who could do what I do. But I didn’t get into this just so I could end up with a collection of creatively impeccable photographs. I got into it so that I could meet all the people that are doing the things that shape the place – good and bad. My photographs are the product of an encounter, a conversation, a meeting – and that’s what I was getting at earlier. The buzz of the encounter and the desire to transmit what that buzz feels like to others out there so as to make them realise that there is nothing else we can do but to keep on keeping on. In my career I’ve taken every shitty nothing job going, had people not pay me, lose my negs, not pay me and not credit me but like a gambler who can’t give up, the buzz when it comes is as good as an orgasm. Not the same, but as good as. Sure, the post was self serving but you have to understand that I come from a country that is made up of people who try to make as little noise as possible, whilst getting into their graves. And that includes me most of the time. My post was a dig at that mentality as much as anything else. I did have a sensational salami and roast vegetable sandwich on ciabatta for lunch though. The food is really good here these days, despite what you lot think.

  14. I can’t imagine doing anything else!

    er,

    I’m not qualified to do anything else!

    I would love to apply for a “real” job with my resume and have the HR person say, so, um, what have you been doing for the last 15 years anyway….:)

  15. I liked the part about “go to sleep intoxicated and numb with self-loathing.”

    The intoxicated part isn’t a metaphor, right?

  16. Chris,

    Anon and I, in case that was not clear, are one and the same person. At least the first anon, the one who stuck it to you, not to flame you but to prove a point about how anonymity can create fear and confusion, not to mention rumor mongering and a few good things in between, I admit it.

    The other anonymous posts were not mine but I have to admit it this cacophony of first names and anon postings gets twisted and really fucking funny after a few of these.
    Keep replying anonymously to today’s post and we’ve got the makings of a really good conceptual piece. Good luck with your work Chris, I did not mean to sass you like this. Cheers.

  17. Olivier – Duh – now I get it. I wondered WTF you were going on about. I like it. That’s a good idea, using dual personalities to play out an argument.

  18. Chris–Indeed, but who’s to say I did not write every other posts including yours? May be you too are one of my fictional characters; even your site, a cleverly crafted artifact designed to complement this farce…..

  19. missoula montana

    Chris – your post at 5:03 really nailed it. Thanks for putting that out there.

  20. @Chris: Bravo. That’s an honest as all hell post. Readers will dig and I really appreciate it.

    @Oliver: Anonymity is provided so people can be honest with their comments and not fear being attacked. There will certainly be abusers but I prefer honest commentary above all else.

    Also, I can tell that you didn’t write his posts because the IP addresses don’t match.

  21. Olivier – Maybe Martin Parr has been doing the same thing on your blog too. And if I was a construct of yours would you allow me to say anything I like about feral Corsicans? Or like the Truman Show would certain things be non-existant or unquestioned or unquestionable in your universe?

  22. Chris- I welcome any and all comments on my blog, honest or not. As for anonymity, I am glad I picked you as a guinea pig for this little exercise. As luck would have it you responded thoughtfully and honestly. Another personality might very well have responded venomously.
    The problem I have with anonymity is that is is rife with potential abuse. As I already posted on my blog, this should be required reading for all considering posting anonymously.

    And chris, should you be in bed by now, it’s the middle of the night in London.

    http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol2/issue1/anon.html

  23. Olivier – I know, I know. Bedtime indeed. But I gotta process those digital files y’know.

    I’ll tell you one of the ways things have changed is in the way that deadlines are treated nowadays. The amount of time between the original commission and the final deadline has stayed the same as it ever was but the point at which they give you their final choices has shifted on the timeline to the point where it’s almost touching the “we gotta send the pages down” point. Imagine that on the timeline 1 is the commission point and 10 is the final deadline point. It used to be you got commissioned at 1, handed the work in at 4, got a print order at 7 and handed it in at 9. Now you get commissioned at 1, hand the work in at 3, sit on your ass thinking about what to eat, get the print/scan/file order at 9.5 and it’s expected to be in at 9.8. The digital age has made things easier for the commissioner because he/she thinks that it’s all there at the push of a button and that is why I am still up at 3.05am working on digital files. The dunderheads have had the pictures for 3 weeks and they emailed over a selection of 12 images at 5.48pm this afternoon, telling me that they “will need them for first thing tomorrow morning.” Rush charges? No. All in fee.

    Wankers.

  24. Hey DQ? what? Man artist/painters got it worse! believe it or not but photographers do make money and invest it in other things….it’s like everything in life the creative stuff doesn’t pay but please don’t be so ignorant, I know catalogue photographer who make a packet and have house all over the place and live really well……ha ha you should hear how much an advertising photographer gets…it’s basic mathematic the good stuff pays the best…It’s like lawyers i find it hard to believe all lawyers make a packet…in all jobs..

  25. the best job in the world is being a photographer’s agent, reaping 25%, skimming off other people’s creativity.

    i am SO joking.

    honestly.

  26. Two agents sitting in a cafe, and a photographer walks past.

    The first agent says “There goes one of the bastards that takes 75% of my income”

  27. APhotographer

    Why not become an actor? Make $20 million per film, get an extra $3.5 million for the occasional commercial when bills come due, move around shoots on a whim and never be questioned for it.

    Or a software tycoon? Make $2 billion when your company goes public and laugh at all the “millionaires” who have to rent out their private jets to keep up with their maintenance fees.

    The top of most industries are usually more fun than the middle and more fun than the bottom. The $350K fees for pharma campaigns are few and far between. They’re out there, but so are the $20 million actors and the billionaire software tycoons. So, you’re saying that it’s a great job being one of the top twenty or thirty photographers in the world. I agree. Goes for most jobs – except maybe competitive eating.

  28. “aphotographer” – have to disagree! i’ve known a few competitive eaters – champs, in fact – and they seem to be having a pretty good time, too. although, you’re right on a technicality. almost none of them get paid. i guess they do it for the thrill of nausea and the joy of mixing 11 pounds of oysters with two dozen krispy kreme donuts. . .uh. . . ouch.

    really, of course, it’s a combination of what everyone (real and anonymous and otherwise) has said. having only really done this, and not much else, i can’t necessarily say it’s the best job in the world, but i can pretty confidently say it’s not the worst. not even close. sure, your life is hanging on the whim of a photo editor, or a phone that may or may not ring, but still. . . some of the things we get to do are just amazing. the only thing you can say for sure about being a photographer is that you’ll get to be in situations that 99% of the people you know will never get to experience. the best part is just being able to get little snippets of the lives of so many different kinds of people. if you don’t love/have respect for the breadth of human experience, this sure isn’t for you.

    then again, nobody’s ever offered me $350 for a pharma campaign. maybe if they did i’d change my mind and say THAT was the best part of the job. . . hmm. . . gotta work on that.

  29. I find commerical photography work boring as batshit. The traveling is fun, meeting the celebrity is fun, getting paid a lot of money is great, but the actual photography…. pain in the ass. When did all that “other stuff” get lumped in with photography? I find it all very superficial.

  30. “and sometimes weeks go by where the best bit of the day is the bit where you get to go to sleep intoxicated and numb with self loathing.”

    — I don’t think I could’ve said it better myself. Spot on.
    p.s – I love this blog

  31. Ben Cooksey

    I’m sitting here and in front of me is Chris’s profile in Professional Photographer. I think his laid back approach to his profession is totally admirable. All the time i’m debating whether i’m taking things seriously enough. His profile has made things that little bit clearer, and pennies make pounds.