I’m a full-time photographer, I take photos for a living. It’s my main source of income. Its how I pay the rent, keep the lights on and put food on the table. The problem when you work for money, specifically when you get paid for your photography, is that you are no longer in full control.
I bet a lot of you will counter-argue that you get to choose your clients, and you get to express your creativity. How and what you shoot and what you let out into the world is filtered through you. I get that, your not wrong. But when you exchange your services for some kind of transaction there is an expectation, and agreement, and understanding or contract. Agreeing to provide your services instantly limits you. Now limitations are great, they help creativity, they force you to think outside the box. But getting paid for your services also pigeonholes you into a specific expectation. You no longer have freedom.
I myself get paid to take photographs, but I never associate myself with the service I provide to my employers. My main income from photography is photographing products and advertisement campaigns. I capture images for website catalogues and product mailers, the ones you get in your mailbox. That’s the photography I get paid for. I never show the world that portfolio, I like what I do, I’m grateful that I have this wonderful job. But artistically and creatively I’m at the mercy of the art directors and managers. I get paid to capture and produce their vision. That’s what I’m employed to do. Chasing money is chasing conformity. That paycheck your holding represents your hard work, time and their expectation or vision.
This is why I produce my personal work, this is why I write about photography and creativity. It’s my creative expression, it’s my outlet, my voice. The only reason it’s unfiltered and uncensored is because I don’t take paychecks from anyone. When it comes to my personal work, I don’t have to satisfy companies and worry about damaging their integrity or public image. I am 100% on my own self-controlled platform. And the price I have to pay for this freedom is nothing. There is no price tag attached. The problem when you work for money if you let someone else in, you have to take input, and share their vision.
Now for some of you, you might be saying that collaboration is wonderful. It’s why I love photography, working with other people. And again this is true. Photography is about people, it’s about sharing, it’s about telling stories and putting yourself and others out into the world. But is that story 100% yours, is that collaboration truly 50/50. Are the photos your taking exactly what you wanted to capture, produce, express and share?
I used to work on personal projects with teams and I loved it. I got to do what I wanted. I came up with mood boards, I art directed and produced work I was happy with. Well that was what I told myself at the time. Later I realised, that I was just trying to please others, get likes, network and become known by my peers. Where in reality I was tired. Tired of working for free or something I didn’t have 100% of my heart and soul in. But this took time to realise. Just because you’re not working for money doesn’t mean your working for free. Collaboration is just that, a collaboration, it’s not 100% yours.
Now I might sound pessimistic, negative and a selfish ass, and you’re right again. Art is about self-expression. It’s about diving deep into one’s subconscious, expressing your true raw self and being vulnerable for the world to see. It’s scary if you dare to expose your soul and put yourself out there when you have no one else to blame but yourself. The question you have to ask yourself is, are you willing to pay that price. Are you willing to pay with your own blood, sweat and tears to have total control over your own creative endeavours in photography? If your answer is yes then your one step closer, closer to controlling your own creative freedom.
About the Author
Alexander Ben Korako Watson, best known as A.B Watson is a photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. You can find out more about him on his website, follow his work on Instagram and Facebook or reach out to him through Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.