Here’s to well-meant advice: please don’t give one. And if you do, fuck off.
A bit short of two years ago I decided it would be a good idea to enter the wonderful world of commercial photography. After many slips, stumbles, repeats, assignments and bouts of depressions I’ve distilled an important gem of knowledge for young, aspiring artists who are just starting and are being given well-meant advice by well-meaning people. It goes like this:
Put art aside for a year; learn martial arts instead so you can punch people in the face with confidence. You’ll need that skill in order to fight your biggest enemies: your friends.
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Your friends and family will offer two very important and very contradicting pieces of advice, ultimately leading to you hating yourself to the point of abandoning ship and selling all your cameras and getting a corporate job in Warsaw.
The first one is: I love your work so much.
And the second: your work will never sell.
And I can’t stress just how much is wrong with that advice.
* * *
Hearing it from strangers will damage your business. Selling yourself and your work takes lots of courage and boldness; building a business from the ground up means pretending you’re professional while in reality you’re just starting out. It means making a credible-looking website and scrambling to find photos for it. It means lots of legwork and asking around so you can get those important portfolio shots, usually for free. Starting a business means persistence in the face of no results – and so listening to statements about inviability of your endeavour will shut down all your efforts in no time.
But what’s worse, hearing it from people you care about will damage you.
I don’t get the phenomenon of conflicting messages from the ones you love; I just know they will tear you apart and wreck you. I know because I’ve been there. I’ve been told, multiple times and on multiple occasions, that my photographs spark deep feelings in people. I’ve been thanked for something I could never truly grasp; a kind of service I fulfill by taking pictures. And yet, somehow, the same people would tell me this kind of work is impossible to sell, that no one would ever want or pay for slightly blurry and crooked but intensely emotional snaps shot on black & white film. The same people who praised my work claimed it had no value.
It took me two years to learn not to listen to them.
(Guess what: you were wrong. There is a very real market for blurry, crooked, underexposed, overcontrasty, grainy, amateur-looking-but-professional memories of cherished moments. There’s a very real market for the joy that comes with them. A joy that, sadly, is very bittersweet to share with you.)