Monday, December 11, 2006

The Total Photographer - Putting it all together

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Some well meaning people have told me that I should get a proper job and do photography in the spare time. I am told that I should be 'practical' and think of my future. And even those who do not oppose my career in photography, would question what type of photography I do. I should not do all that worthless art photography but do something like shoot portraits for school children as it will make money. I think that if I wanted to be practical and have a relatively safe way of making a decent income, I would have stuck to engineering.

I am in photography because I like to take dramatic, artistic portraits. I did not pursue photography to shoot events or even weddings for that matter. In my pursuit of my own version of portrait photography, I have learnt skills that enable me to earn a living from shooting commercial portraits. And yes, I shoot wedding work to pay the bills. It is not a bad way of earning a living. But for a couple of years, wedding photography took over my life and made me unhappy. Not because the work was bad, I was fortunate to have nice clients, but I simply was unable to create the work I want to create. I worked like a dog and had no energy to do personal work. It felt like a part of me had died.

However, I have a fair amount of photographic equipment and 3 staff in my office. None of this is free. I have to pay salaries and pay for my equipment. To pursue my passion, I have to fund the studio. The margins in weddings is too low. I have proven that I could make a viable business in the wedding field, but it was a grind. I am now moving to commercial work which is more exacting but the returns are higher. In this way I hope to earn enough for the studio outgoings but leave me with time to do my personal work. In my heart of hearts, I hope that I will be able to spend half my time earning a living and the other half shooting portraits. The ultimate dream would be to shoot my quirky portraits and nudes and get people to pay me for it. But in conservative Singapore, somehow I don't think that will happen.

But the commercial work is coming to the studio and my head is above water, barely. But I am happy, because I think that I am beginning to shoot at the level I have always aspired to.

What I am trying to say in all this is that as a photographer/image maker, we have to find a way to create the environment that allows us to pursue our visions. There is no set method, and no success without a struggle. And the truth is that we will all struggle regardless of the career we choose, I think that I am fortunate enough to be able to struggle in a career that I am passionate about. And it is a balancing act between finding work that will finance the pursuit of vision and passion. If you have read my previous articles on The Total Photographer and realised the huge task of being a good photographer, then the reality is being in a position to practise is also part of the larger task of working and living.


Andy Oh said...

Personally, I think it is very courageous and admirable to pursue ones dream when we're living in a sceptical place like this.

Those who asked to shot more portraits for school children probably have no clue of what photography is about. So don't take those clueless words to heart.

Martin Parr would still be nobody today if he had shot school children, instead of the social classes in Britain.

And many of us should be more like you. After all we only live once.

Ex-student of studio photography

Heng said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks for your comment. In Singapore sometimes we want things to be safe and secure, but we sacrifice actual living. I don't see what I do as reckless, but more of a calculated risk! But maybe even I am too conservative. Maybe it is those who risk all and succeed that will climb greater heights.