Seamus Murphy

- - Photographers

One of my all time favorite photographers has no agent, no website, doesn’t send out promo mailers, no logo, isn’t in any of the sourcebooks, not listed in the free workbook phonebook, has never called to see if I’ve got anything for him and if I hadn’t scoured the web and made a few phone calls years ago I would have no clue how to contact him (you have to email me if you want his info).

Sometimes I get tired of talking about marketing and business because the reality is I really just like looking at pictures and I get a real buzz out of sending photographers off to take pictures and wish I didn’t have to deal with any of the other shit and I know photographers just want to take pictures so I thought I’d take this opportunity to say that if you want to be like Seamus Murphy and work hard to develop your craft then go do it.

A reader points out: …”Yours is probably the most helpful blog I have ever come across, however your insights make the whole industry sound so strategic. Your blog makes it sound as if us photographers all have to be walking on egg shells so as not to step on any toes. Hey! We’re the ones producing the actual pictures!”

Yeah, I hear ya buddy. There’s something I really enjoy about photographers who could give a flying rats ass about marketing themselves to me.

If you want to just go out take great pictures, I will find YOU. That’s my job. That’s why photo editors exist. If it were easy the editor could do it.

seamus7.jpg

seamus4.jpg

seamus3.jpg

seamus6.jpg

There Are 36 Comments On This Article.

  1. Seamus was featured in the British Journal of Photography a couple of years ago, I think. His work always has that “I’m taking these pics for what they truly are, and not want I can get from them!” That’s my view, anyway.

  2. I really do like Seamus’s pictures and work, but I wonder… when did you discover him? and how?
    On my side I discovered his existence when he won a WPP award… and that’s for sure better than a website or promocard.

  3. Fucking Eh Rob! Finally, Finally, finally – it is about the content! Not about the production values, how good your site looks on some dorks blackberry, how many fricking awards you won or didn’t win or how much loot you spend on some over thought background or !

    Finally, thank goodness for common sense. I love your posts, don’t always agree, but your viewpoint and observations are often right-on accurate and always usefull.

    I have a specific way of looking at things. It is who I am. It is not the flavor of the month but hopefully the strength and integrity will last longer than what is stylish at the moment.

    I really appreciate photographs like Seamus’s because they are honest. His images do stand the test of time.

  4. AJ Maclean

    Thank you for this post. I’m just a young photographer learning the ropes still but I have no desire in worrying about promoting myself, I’d rather focus on making photos. While I certainly won’t use this as an excuse I certainly appreciate that photographers who aren’t banging on your door every day are still recognized and sought out.

  5. i read your blog religiously and i, too, am a new photographer and love this post. i just recently read something similar elsewhere–how sometimes you don’t even know when a photo editor finds you. they might have found you years before they actually contact you. so, right on…just keep on doing your thing and if you are dedicated, work hard and it was meant to be…it will happen. that’s what i believe.

  6. I remember Kathy Ryan of the NY Times Magazine saying that she believes that the great, serious work out there is getting published. If you do wonderful work you will get noticed. She doesn’t think that there really is much work of value that is going unnoticed.

  7. I don’t know, if only he had used a couple of portable Profoto packs and some beauty dishes and plenty of high pass filter these photos might actually be good…snicker, snicker.

    Great work. I wish that this kind of work that Seamus does doesn’t always have to be in the desperate places and people category but could be assigned across the board. For example, Platon makes very compelling portraits but I always find his stronger pics is when he pulls out the Leica and captures an unguarded moment on the couch or balcony.

    Too much artifice going on and it’s not just the photographer’s to blame. It’s the type of work that editors are willing to take a chance on and assign and use. Not everything has to be an overlit, overdressed production, just like not everything has to be gloomy, grainy 35 b&w (which is what I’m best at but it’s not for everything). Balance things out and neither style will be a total burnout.

  8. scott Rex Ely

    Wow. Man talk about food for thought. Perception thoughts about a perception delivery system, inside a perception forum, my head is going to explode…..

  9. APE says:

    “If you want to just go out take great pictures, I will find YOU. That’s my job. That’s why photo editors exist. If it were easy the editor could do it.”

    I think it is a wives tale that all you need in this business to succeed is talent and smart /creative photo editors will come knocking on your door. It takes luck, hard work and a ton of marketing. Lastly talent.

    Here is a list of obscure shooters the APE has found . Not exactly diamonds in the rough.

    Leibwotitz
    Sam Jones
    Hetherington
    Christopher Griffith
    Steve McCurry
    Michael Lewis
    Nadav Kander
    Ockenfels
    Jeff Riedel
    Nachtwey
    Colin Pantall
    Brigitte Lacombe
    Peggy Sirota
    Anton Corbijon
    Spencer Heyforn
    Jake Chesumn
    Terry Richardson
    Alessandra Petlin
    Chris Buck
    Jurt MArkus
    Anton Kratochvil

  10. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’d have to say a few of those guys you just listed don’t do any marketing at all. Anyway, that’s not my list of photographers just the ones I thought people would be interested in hearing about. I don’t know a single photo editor who doesn’t spend a good portion of each month trying to find new talent that hasn’t been discovered by everyone else.

  11. I’m a 21-year-old photog trying to break into “the biz,” and hating the biz part of it. It seems like there aren’t any true artists around anymore, that make photos just to make photos and would be doing the same thing if they weren’t getting paid. Everything is so exact, even “developing your own style” has become a calculated business strategy. A lot of the published stuff today is so shiny and pristine and perfect, it’s all fluff and it has no soul. This post and Seamus Murphy was very inspiring–thanks for posting it.

  12. Edvige Belva

    Dear APE, this is a real fairy tale. I hope to meet one like you once in my professional life. Not because I think to be an unknown talent but because photo editors I know are busy people – often in rush to close the issue and getting anything there. They hardly look pictures not taken by their favourites or recommended by the director cousin. They have not time, no patience and no money. And when I knock to their door I feel like a door to door mop seller

  13. Dave Villemure

    Boy Rob….. I thought you were talking about me…. I have done it my way also…..

  14. How funny. How funny that everyone is inspired and agrees with this. I would know that it’s funny. I sat in his office and had APE tell me that my pics were great and that I would be hired by him to take his pics. No joke here. Truthfully, I’m not sure how I ended up there to begin with. I didn’t inquire, I’ve never had a website, my contact isn’t listed in any photo resources, and I’ve never sent out a single promotion in my life. And I’ve also never been hired by him. Figured it out yet Rob? (Makes sense, it wasn’t the work I was passionate about anyway.)

    Yet I’ve had a thousand photos published in national magazines. And what do I have to show for it? A busted checking account and a bruised resolve from a thankless job. So now I have a career outside the photo industry because it is too brutal for people like me, who abhor self-promotion and are too sensitive to fake handshakes. Toughen up? Well, what makes you a photographer? Everything I read these days talks about sensitivity and emotion in photography, just not on the business end there guy. Cause unless you are lucky enough to be Murphy, it’s a frigid industry and you better learn to use your camera and elbows at the same time. Which I just couldn’t manage well at all.

    But it’s okay because now I’m free and happy, and not bitter. I work, I come home, and I take pictures. Whatever kind I want. Without worrying if I’ll get paid for the one I just took, or if there’s room for text and how it will look on a page. Or if my personal work looks too much like the commercial crap I’ve been forced to shoot all day. Which is back to why I ventured into photography in the first place. For me, and the feeling of taking an unadulterated picture the way I would take it if no one else cared. And so far, at least in the photo biz, no one has. Which, against everything I’ve been taught, is okay! Maybe someday it will be vogue to be undiscovered. Not likely though. But I do agree that if a persons work is truly compelling, people will notice – but only if it’s there to be seen. Rob’s up to the challenge if it isn’t. So here’s to the billion up and coming photographers waiting to be “discovered.”

    Cheers, and happy hunting Rob!

  15. “There’s something I really enjoy about photographers who could give a flying rats ass about marketing themselves to me.”

    True, and inspiring, and I also don’t want to sound bitter but… in my (somewhat limited, it’s true) experience, these also tend to be the ones who are independently wealthy. I know several big time photographers who make a lot of money (not in the editorial side of things, clearly), partly because right out of college they could afford to not work, buy the best equipment, travel, photograph their wealthy friends, work their contacts, and spend, in some cases, years just shooting and not worrying about everything else.

    It sounds like an easy thing, of course, but I’m sure when you are never forced to have a day job, you don’t learn a lot of important things that us regular shmoes have to find out on our own… Still, I’ve seen this a lot and it does seem a little disappointing that you can kinda buy your way into the “fame and fortune” of a successful photo career in some ways.

    However… “Sometimes I get tired of talking about marketing and business because the reality is I really just like looking at pictures and I get a real buzz out of sending photographers off to take pictures and wish I didn’t have to deal with any of the other shit and I know photographers just want to take pictures” – I love this! And though I do love aspects of the business side of things, I am also a nerd, and sometimes miss having a day job, which made me SO excited when I would have time to shoot.

    Something that is good to remember on days when I drag my feet at “having” to go to work and shoot something cool in the beautiful spring weather.

  16. At last, Seamus’ major talent is finally being recognized. A photographer’s photographer, he is an inspiration to us all so look at the work where you can find it, buy his book Afghanistan – A Darkness Visible and spread the word!

  17. X - aka Angry Monkey

    Damn straight! They call me the Angry Monkey for a reason.

    But I digress, Eric, I should clarify that post, as I feel you have been misled. Bitter at photography and photographers, no! Bitter at the industry and it’s lack of cohesion, yes! Because photographers are the ones who suffer for it.

    I could end it there but I feel like explaining:

    I’m still enamored with taking pictures and with all of the good work out there being done. Right now, there is almost too much good work, it’s draining to process it all; it often devalues and desensitizes us to how much effort it can take to make a single good image. And the people, the photographers, are great.

    Of course, any business is dog-eat-dog. I don’t have a problem with that and it’s not the issue. But look and the historic and catastrophic change the photo industry has suffered in the last decade and it can alter your perspective sourly. If you step back and look at it, it’s unbelievable! Consequently, there’s no lasting standards by which photographers can organize around. The buyers have been running amuck largely in complete control, in part because of the chaos created by all the mediums being in a constant shift. Magazines, the internet, digital everything, post-processing, stock, rates, the list could go on, have evolved drastically several times in the recent past and it’s revolutionized the industry so deeply in such a narrow time that it suffers destabilization on many fronts. But it won’t hit critical mass, because photographers don’t know what to do about it. I think this is a big thing Rob has taken issue with. Some marginal photographers have made a fortune off of it, other great ones have collapsed. I’ve had film giants in place since the seventies tell me in 2002 they would never shoot a single digital frame. Now it’s 70% of their work. The complicated thing is that the buyers didn’t even initiate this industry blossom, the technologists did, with little concern for how photographers would have to react other than to buy more equipment. The evolution continues at an unprecedented rate and doesn’t show sign of letting up soon.

    Why? One of the biggest factors for the future is the number of photographers entering the market today. How many kids in high school today have ever loaded film in a body? The medium of film used to sort of constrict who pursued professional photography, if nothing else but for the cost association. You had to be serious to do it. Now, any kid with a digital camera can practice and learn to their heart’s content, then put up a cheap website and BAM, they’re in the mix. It has and will create a flood of new talent, and competition will continue to increase while rates won’t keep pace. Because talented newcomers just trying to break in will always be there to undercut pros, and produce good enough results to perpetuate it. Most recently, it’s in the form of microstock. Tomorrow, it will be something else.

    Which comes full circle to the subject of this post, that more than ever, choosing to not brand and promote is not likely to get you anywhere. If it does work, it’s because that’s your brand itself and it’s VERY calculated! The vast majority of people who try this will blend into the crowd of wanna-bes. Just ask Rob. So certainly don’t be encouraged by this idea and think that will happen to you. Its’ an odds thing and it’s not in your favor, much like the lottery. And even if you get a break, it doesn’t necessarily mean career success. (And Rob, no hard feelings about not hiring me.) You gotta keep working it always, and I wore out when I felt my vision being compromised. It all comes down to what is important to you the individual. Personally, I’m feeling very rewarded by putting my ambition and creative energies into my personal work – my own personal evolution.

    So sorry; just trying to be real here. APE’s whole blog is based on being REAL about the photo industry, even if it means not making friends and saying nice things. And that is commendable, because it is harder than it sounds to carry out, especially in any industry that’s rungs are built out of ass kissing. Yet it is the only way to promote lasting change. Keep it up APE, and we might get somewhere sooner than later.

  18. Rob,

    The artist in me wants to believe that photo editors are going to find me without any effort on my part, but if I had waited for them to discover me and never did any marketing, I’d be desperate for money and taking every gig that comes my way. By marketing to specific buyers, I’ve tapped into a market that allows me to be true to my own artistic vision. Instead of taking pictures of somebody’s jewelry or wedding, I’m sharing my deep love of the EDM nightlife with a whole lot of people who may never have seen my work otherwise.

    Your message stirs my hopes and dreams, but in the same way that “you could be the lucky winner” stirs my hopes and dreams. The idea is attractive, but it doesn’t seem likely…

  19. Dear Rob,

    As a working photographer based in London, England I occasionally lecture on my own work in photography and also do visiting tutorials and workshops. Within these activities I attempt to touch on every aspect on the business of business and how to apply it to good photographic practice. I feel it’s my duty to do this, I can’t make someone become a great photographer, I can only guide them, albeit in a very limited way, but I can impress upon them the importance of long-term survival as a professional. ( as opposed to the amateur or hobbyist, seemingly dirty words in todays lexicon).

    With your suggested and somewhat romantic business model, after 20 years in the business I would suggest that a large majority of the photographers following your advice;

    ["no agent, no website, doesn’t send out promo mailers, no logo, isn’t in any of the sourcebooks, not listed in the free workbook phonebook, has never called to see if I’ve got anything for him and if I hadn’t scoured the web and made a few phone calls years ago I would have no clue how to contact him"],

    would be out of business within a year. Unless they are photographers fortunate enough to have private incomes, wealthy parents/partners etc. There are other photographers of whom commitment is approaching the obsessive, where comfort, security, relationships, friends & family take a firm second place to ‘photography’. Yes, the ‘Great Humanitarian’ who cannot sustain a relationship with their wives, children, friends etc. and in my opinion lose their humanity by rejecting everything around them that doesn’t support their vision.

    However, for most of us we try to make a living from being creative in a complex, material world, shine a light on issues and stories that might otherwise go unrecorded.

    Your comments I feel are insensitive and disingenuous, it is simply not practical or healthy for photographers to sit waiting to be ‘discovered’, yet, nor is it possible to keep producing high quality work without a private income. Any freelance has to work very hard building as stable a business as possible and it’s the brave photographer that uses a portion of their income to pursue the kind of work they find important or makes them happy instead of a down-payment on a Porsche. Believe me when I say I dearly love to pursue exactly what interests me but the year I won two first prizes at the World Press Photo Awards, (’96 or ’97, can’t remember), I was virtually bankrupt and that’s not a story anyone really wants to hear. I’m sad to say had no choice but to spend the prize money on an outstanding VAT bill, not very romantic, is it!

    For some years I’ve been doggedly making photographs about pending sea level rise, I’ve sold various aspects of the work to several magazines worldwide, received a small (read very small), bursery to create a small exhibition and had three images from this piece shown as part of a larger exhibition on British photography at Tate Britain last summer. This ‘success’ doesn’t even begin to approach the real cost of doing a project like this and without the constant pressure of applying business technique to my photography, you appear to deride so much, I would be forced out of photography in anything other than an amateur roll.

    Your writing on Seamus Murphy sounds to me not unlike a pitch for a Hollywood screenplay. Pure Disney fantasy.

    Would you clarify your comment, [“There’s something I really enjoy about photographers who could give a flying rats ass about marketing themselves to me.”] It sounds flippant but I don’t really understand it!

    Seamus Murphy is undoubtedly a gifted and committed photographer and it’s great that you provide him with a platform and some income, but relying on your largess to feed my family…well, I’d rather not if it’s all the same to you. Never forget you have a job and a paycheck at the end of every month, it’s so easy to romanticise the ‘business of photography’.

    You should read ‘The Nirvana Blues’ by John Nichols.

    Yours sincerely,

    Jonathan Olley

  20. Ron Thomas

    I have been seaching all over for Seamus Murphy’s e-mail address. I was moved by his “A parched land – A starving people” photo series and would like to get permission to use these pictures in a small church service (~50 people) here in Scotland to try and get people interested in donating their time and money for the starving in Africa. Can you please help me contact him?

    thanks, Ron

  21. Ther photo on Newsweek cover August 11, 2008 is
    spectacular. I’m from the South and think I’ve seen it
    before. I’d love to know where the mansion and oaks
    are located.

    Thanks. Tom Foley

  22. Me too, were is the mansion and the oaks, absolutely beautiful!!! The picture on the cover of newsweek is gorgeous8/11/08!!!

  23. Meredith Harris

    Aloha from Hawaii!!

    I found a photo by Seamus Murphy on the front of Newsweek dated August 11, 2008. The photo is of an antebellum mansion somwhere in the south with an iron gate and beatiful trees on both sides of the driveway.

    I am trying to find out where exactly that photo was taken because my husband and I want to retire in a period colonial and the mansion in his photo was absolutely breath-taking.

    Please help!

    Regards,
    Meredith R. Harris
    Captain, United States Army

  24. Mihir S. Trivedi

    One of the best works I have seen, I think Seamus Murphy is an extraordinary photographer. And to read that he is quite reclusive and doesn’t market himself, makes me think of so many famous photographers who have all the hype on earth and do not stand a patch close to him. Infact, my need of wanting to write to him lead me to your website. I would highly appreciate if I could get his email / contact so as to persoanly write to him. It was an absolute pleasure reading your blog and would follow doing so henceforth.