Rid­ing the peaks and troughs

Wait­ing for the next com­mis­sion is the hard­est thing a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher can do

NPhoto - - Gear Zone - LOT­TIE DAVIES

I was try­ing to work out what pic­tures I ought to be tak­ing, rather than those I wanted to be tak­ing.

When I was told – by pho­tog­ra­phers older and wiser than me – that it would take ten years to make a liv­ing, I didn’t be­lieve them. And now I tell stu­dents and as­sis­tants the same thing, and they don’t be­lieve me ei­ther. We sit at our lap­tops try­ing to fig­ure out how to bring in the work, how to pay the bills, how to make enough time in the day to have a life as well as work, and how to get through the next year with­out hav­ing to call the tax man to apol­o­gise for hav­ing spent his money on in­sur­ance and fix­ing the car. It’s not what we thought it would be, is it?

We thought we’d be trav­el­ling the world, hang­ing out with the beau­ti­ful peo­ple, driv­ing fast cars and drink­ing cock­tails. Or maybe we thought we’d just be tak­ing pic­tures. Be­cause that’s what got us into it in the first place, right? Tak­ing pic­tures. With Pen­tax 35mms from our dads that had really an­noy­ing lens caps and light me­ters that were kind of hard to read. But that’s not what it’s like to be a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher in 2015. Our world changed, for bet­ter or for worse, in around 2007, and here we are, re­al­is­ing how much our work­ing lives have changed, and won­der­ing quite how it hap­pened.

The peaks and troughs are the same though; one day you’re shoot­ing some­thing really cool in a fab­u­lous, ex­otic lo­ca­tion, the cof­fee is really good, the weather is on your side, and ev­ery­thing’s great. Two days later you’ve sent in your high-res pic­tures, and there’s noth­ing in the diary. Oh my god, you will never work again! Your work is shit, the phone isn’t ring­ing, and your friend the pic­ture ed­i­tor isn’t re­turn­ing your emails any more. Is it press day or did he ac­tu­ally hate your last job even though he said he loved it? Then the phone rings and ev­ery­thing’s okay again. It’s ex­haust­ing!

I had a bit of a mo­ment a year or so ago when I re­alised that I was try­ing to work out what pic­tures I ought to be tak­ing, rather than those I wanted to be tak­ing. It sounds kind of ob­vi­ous now, but I was chas­ing my own tail try­ing to find out what peo­ple wanted, and shoot­ing that, and in­evitably fail­ing be­cause some­one who was much bet­ter than me at what­ever ‘that’ was, had al­ready done it. And of course, they had done bet­ter than me, be­cause it was what they wanted to be shoot­ing.

So I had to think about what it was I wanted to shoot, and I got stuck. I love my big set-up stuff, but I can’t just go and do that when­ever I feel like it. There’s a whole load of prepa­ra­tion and phone calls in­volved, not to men­tion the bud­gets. I just wanted to take some pic­tures.

I dug out my Mamiya 7s, which I hadn’t shot with in maybe five years. I loved shoot­ing with them, but no pic­ture ed­i­tor can af­ford rolls of 120 now, and dig­i­tal really is a bit more con­ve­nient a lot of the time. But those Mamiyas are lovely. They’re light and quiet, you don’t look like some crazed pa­parazzi with one round your neck.

So I went for a walk, with a roll of 400 and an 80mm lens, and just took pic­tures of things I saw. And it felt good! I wasn’t shoot­ing for any rea­son; I just thought ‘that’s in­ter­est­ing’ or ‘I like that shape’, or ‘there it is’. You know when you’re tak­ing pic­tures, and they’re okay, they’re do­ing what they’re sup­posed to, but none of them are really singing? And then, sud­denly, there it is – a pic­ture ap­pears in front of you, and if you catch it in time, it feels like Christ­mas for a split sec­ond. You’d been wait­ing, hop­ing for the day’s pho­to­graphic gift, and fi­nally it was here. Walk­ing around with that Mamiya 7, I had that feel­ing again, re­mem­ber­ing what it was like just tak­ing pic­tures that I wanted to take, re­gard­less of whether they would be any good, or whether they would make me any money. It was a nice feel­ing.

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