Are “Pay To Play” Events Where Photographers Pay For Access To Creatives Good?

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“I’m new to New York so I’ve had a very positive experience with this because it allowed me to meet with a lot of photographers I hadn’t met before because I was primarily a West Coast art producer. I’ve been doing a lot of FotoWorks and was paid $100 for 3 hours. For every terrible photographer you meet, you meet someone you think you might be able to use for something. It could be someone you would never have come in contact with or ignored on email or promo and actually had a face-to-face with them. And I thought it was a good event. The more you can face-to-face with an art buyer or producer I think it’s a win/win. And it’s a good way for artists to connect and get feedback on their portfolio, especially those with no rep.” 

–Hilary Jackson, Saatchi & Saatchi

via Continuing the Conversation with NYC Art Producers. Part III: The Dessert « Heather Elder Represents Blog.

There Are 20 Comments On This Article.

  1. I have never been able to justify the expense of one of those events, but I suspect the $300.00-$500.00 cost of these events would be money just as well spent on a workshop to improve your photo or marketing skills. Doing the research and spending the money on direct marketing thorough carefully planned materials, would also be a better use of limited funds, in my opinion.
    But then again, I’m in a small market, so maybe it would be a good venue to get exposure to more fruitful venues. It would only pay off though if new clientelle and new income could be attributed directly to results gained from the event in some way.

  2. Several interesting concepts in that statement: art producer – an interesting term considering that artists (photographers) produce the art. Who pays – perhaps the people looking for photographers should be paying the photographers to attend.

    • Most photographers that attend these are not ready to tackle significant productions, or sway clients. The buyers attending are definitely not going to pay for it.

      The photographer will get feedback that hopefully they will find useful and act on. Sometimes they’re disappointed, but usually it’s either they chose reviewers poorly or their work just isn’t as good as they thought. On occasion, a reviewer will meet someone with the goods but without a rep that is right on the cusp and just needs a nudge.

  3. an actor, a photographer

    Admittedly, the mere mention of pay-to-play gets me riled. I’ve spent most of my life as an actor in Los Angeles, where paid “workshops” (aka auditions) are commonplace, and are now illegal (1). For years I paid thousands of dollars to attend these workshops with the understanding that it was the only way to get myself seen by the attending casting director.

    In an industry as saturated with young hopefuls as film acting, talent/casting scams have become the norm. Even “respectable” casting directors are pimping themselves and their powerless associates out, doing something they used to do on their own dime – FIND TALENT.

    Perhaps the proliferation of pay-to-play workshops for photographers is due to the rise in the number of photogs doing business now, or the digital age that is overwhelming art producers with promos, emails, and newsletters that have become a downright annoyance to them. I read an article here recently about ad agencies not even accepting printed promos anymore. (2) With that kind of regulation, paid workshops might possibly increase in number and go the way of the criminal casting workshop.

    (1) – http://www.backstage.com/news/casting-workshop-crackdown/
    (2) – http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2012/10/24/agencies-who-no-longer-accept-printed-promos/

    • Portfolio reviews are very different than a casting workshop. For one thing, though it may not seem it, there are far fewer desperate photographers than actors and there is no equivalent to something like a ‘stage parent’ thinking their cute kid would make a great actor. Casting workshops prey on this.

      But, as with all things, its important to make sure the reviewers are relevant to your work, interests and experience level. If the reviewers are editorial or advertising professionals, it’s a waste of their time and your money if your work isn’t up to that kind of level.

      • an actor, a photographer

        The casting workshops I was referring to aren’t the talent scams like the ones for kids. They are attended by the best in the casting business – like editors of the biggest and best mags – and paid for by professional actors who audition to participate – like a juried selection process. Very similar to a review, indeed.

        My point is that it’s very much like a paid interview. Why are the producers paid, when finding these peeps is part of their job? What about the folks who can’t afford to do it–what’s the alternative? If it were purely educational, then I wouldn’t take issue, but I don’t think everyone taking the cash is qualified to teach.

        In the article the above quote is from, one of the attendees said of reviewing, “It can be awkward when you don’t like the work.” To that I say Don’t take an honorarium if you can’t provide balanced, professional criticism to everyone you sit across from without feeling awkward.

        Ack, I’m riled!

        • “Why are the producers paid, when finding these peeps is part of their job?”

          Exactly!

  4. There’s nothing wrong with paying for workshops as long as people understand that they are buying a virtual reality entertainment. Paying for a portfolio review is a way to role-play and fantasize what it would be like to be a professional photographer and meet with a potential client. The problems only arise when people confuse role-playing with the real thing.

    • Lol. Maybe some are. Some actually have real buyers and editors looking for Someone they dont know. But yes, you the photographer must pay because otherwise it would be full of students and amateurs.

  5. Photographers pay for their work to be put in front of creatives: marketing promos, portfolios and websites. So what is the problem with paying for one-on-one meetings? It’s just part of the promotional expense.

  6. Sounds like some of you would rather just sit back and be discovered like in the old Hollywood days. Art buyers and Photo Editors are not going to find you if you don’t get your work out there – so the review process facilitates getting face time with people who are not looking for you. You can sit home and know you’re the next Irving Penn or you can actually try to work as a photographer.

    • My experience is that the photography market is driven by social factors, so the people that have the best chance of succeeding find a way to make themselves part of a scene. Anybody that is paying for an opportunity for insider type of info is already announcing he’s (or she’s) an outsider and not capable of intuitively understanding the market. Creatives need people know things without being told, they need the kind of folks that just intuitively understand the right things to do from the wrong.

      I have no doubt that the creatives that are recruited for these events have the best intentions and any money that they might make is probably trivial. Most are probably taking part because they really enjoy the business and want to help others. But sometimes, helping others actually hurts them. It can enable them to skip steps of the normal process of getting around by the “school of hard knocks.” It also provides an unfortunate avenue for false hope.

      • Mike has it spot on. A bunch of (salaried, and very well-paid) Art Buyers gathering together to take money from unrepped Photographers in a scenario like this is rather pathetic.
        Art Buyers need to read more magazine credits and stop treating Editorial as ‘not portfolio-worthy’ if they actually want to find super-capable rising stars.
        Unrepped photographers that take time to research Art Buyers, target them and arrange appointments are usually beyond the point where they need a portfolio review from an Art Buyer. They need a job from them.
        So, instead of charging naive youngsters a few hundred bucks for their patronising round-table sessions, how about they actually just do what they’re paid to do (find new talent) and stop using the same five photographers from whichever agency takes them out to lunch most often?

        • Wishing for the impossible won’t make it happen.

          There’s reasons you’re not getting work, and it’s not because you’re an editorial photographer and the buyer just doesn’t read the credits in whatever small publication you’ve shot for.

          That’s just silly. But this is the internet, and it’s full of silly ideas.

  7. The NYFotoWorks pays reviewers $100 for 3 hours – in which time they see 9 photographers – so the reviewers there make $11 per review. In effect the person you’re sitting across from is taking $11 to look at your stuff. This is embarrassing. The PDN review is different – they said no reviewers are compensated other than being invited to their party and getting access to the seminars and trade show. They feel the photographer should know the reviewer they’re seeing is there to see work not to make $11.

    • absolutely- 11 bucks? to cover the cost of a a cup of star….? lol

      there could be time better spent googling, making some calls or even meeting their portfolio of photogs to discuss trends.

  8. These events feel a bit like creative cattle calls.

    How many portfolios does a reviewer see? How much can he behold?

    I think I rather do my homework and research people I want to work with and then try to get in contact with them and get a meeting.

    It’s probably easier to just book such an event and then have reviewers come to the table like sitting on a conveyor belt.

    But I’d be missing the personal element in this.

  9. I got a phone call from FotoWorks in 2010 when I believe they launched one of their first review asking me to sign up and telling me how great my work is and I should attend this review. I had no idea where they got my phone # and I also just graduated BFA in Photography from SVA where I had enough opportunity to meet with professionals. And the other thing was: why should I pay for a portfolio review after I spend thousands of dollars on photography degree in NYC??? At that time to me most of those portfolio reviews looked like another way for the people who organize them to making profit similar to all the photo contests that certain magazines do to maintain profit as well. And after that, even if you follow up, rarely you will get feed back from them, no matter how good you are. And a month after the review they may not even work for the magazine or the organization anymore they did at the time you met with them. But yes, such events create illusions and hope in competitive field as the photography is…