Friday, June 15, 2007

Always starting again

I have just spent quite a bit of money on a portfolio brochure which I sent out to advertising and public relations agencies. As a follow up, I have been having presentations with some of the big advertising agencies. And in some ways, it has been a rude awakening, but not an unexpected one.

I think that the first agency that I went to was the most down heartening. I was told that although my images were good, it was not good enough for a top international agency. The comments that I received were,
1. There is no concept in my work. I interpret that to mean that none of the work I presented was part of a campaign, and there was no indication that I could take an art directors idea and turn it into visual reality.
2. The images were too raw and the image touch up was not good enough.
3. Portraiture was only a basic skill of the commercial photographer. The commercial photographer can technically handle a wide range of work, that is fashion, product, architecture and digital imaging.

I must admit, I felt like I was kicked in the guts and balls for several days. But at the same time, a lot of people who received the portfolio who were not in the top ad agencies were giving me positive feedback. I have these opposing drives in me. There is a part that is attracted to the sparkle of being a successful commercial photographer, shooting things like campaigns for international brands. But the other part of me is an art photographer. Where I prefer my images raw, with less commercial polish. And portraits is not a basic skill to me, it is the cornerstone of my photographic work. To really become a commercial photographer, I will have to master product photography and heavy digital manipulation. Things that I really have very little interest in.

The first lady I met in the top ad agency said that photographers overseas can speacialise, like in fashion or portraiture. Those in Singapore have to be more versatile. Top photographers are like Geoff Ang, Sebastian from Shooting Gallery and Kenneth Wong. My hero Ken Seet, is not that popular amongst the top agencies. And Russell Wong is a celebrity photographer who rose in 80s when there was not so much competition.

In my heart I have always known that I am more of an art photographer and am probably commercially unviable, but it still hurt to have it so emphatically confirmed. I was basically told not to waste my time and other people's time visiting the top agencies. But something in me told me to not give up. I mean I have come this far and I have such a small chance of doing work with a top agency, but it is better than having no chance.

I swallowed my pride and went to a few more top agencies. I immediately explained that I was not expecting to get the Levi's campaign, but I am humbly starting out. Other people asked me if I was willing to do pro bono work or shoot stock for their large clients. I said 'YES!' Anything to get my foot in. So, it was not a complete waste of time to eat humble pie and meet people. In fact the last lady I met at a top agency said that they get tons of portfolios all the time, and she will remember me because I made the effort to go down and see her face to face. And when I said that I just wanted to get in at ground level, she says that is how most people start.

Hell, I still do not know if 'commercial' photography is the route that I want to take in Singapore. But I sure learnt a lot by printing out my brochure and going from door to door to meet people in the big ass top ad agencies.

With seven years of experience and confidence in my photography skill, there is still a lot more to learn. It is like for a major branding exercise, photography is part of a much larger whole. The photographer must interface well the ad firm's creatives. The photography studio needs the resources to handle major logistics, styling, and digital touch up. It is like I am starting again.

This is a pretty big set back, but by no means fatal. I have been meeting other people than the top advertising agencies and I am formulating alternative career moves. I will write more on this in another posting.


Jeff L. said...

if it's an art, then why take her words to heart. but to market ur work as art and be rejected through self referral is another. it really depends on what u want. if u r contented with the so called lesser agency then make merry.

but if u choose to be stumped by some so called "xx" from a top agency and run into despair, it is not an art anymore. by going commercial u are in fact giving away a part of ur true self and embrace another's expectation.

if i were u, i dun need her expectation. if this doesn't work, so be it. it can feel real sore but u cant really expect everyone to see through ur eyes.

e biggest loser is when u cant even convince urself u r there. then no one will.

i m one sore loser. who aren't??

Jeff L. said...

probably u would like to see through their eyes. if i were an editor, the first qn i'll ask is

"does it deliver impact at first sight?"

then i'll look at their novelty and variety. performing consistently across all flavours is a first step towards winning a second glance.

generally i prefer male editors since there r generally less succeptible to mood swing. :)

Charles Sng said...

Hi, all I can say is no matter what, never give up on what you really want to do, for these are only obstacles served to distract you from your path. Many times the most difficult part is where we are the nearest to our hang in there! All the very best to you!

Heng said...

Hi Jeff and Charles, I have never been a follower. I guess that I am not going to begin now. :) Thanks for your support.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I reached your blog via your website.

I am also a photographer but unlike you, this is only my first year of shooting fulltime since i left school last Jul. Still trying to establish myself, and I know its gonn be a long and hard route. What you said in this entry left a deep impression in me, coz I think it takes alot of courage for a photographer to pour it out so openly.

Juz keep trying! When one door close, another might open. You never know! :)

Kevin Yang

Heng said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for dropping by. I put my best foot forward in my web site. I have no problems defending my work. In Pond Musings, I try to give an honest insight into the challenges of a full time photographer in Singapore. The artistic and career challenges. I want younger photographers to have a better insight on what is and is not possible. And what the sacrifices are. I wish you best of luck on your journey too.

s tsui said...

People (myself included) are often mean and wrong in judging other people's work. I think you have earned the right to be confident. Good luck!

Heng said...

Thanks Sharon. :)