Friday, April 10, 2009

Response: Business or Craft?

I read a post this morning while going through my daily blog list.
I found, on David Ziser's blog, a phrase that bothers me. What follows is not a critique of Mr. Ziser and I am not trying to bash him in any way. Rather, I am attempting to reflect on and respond to his post in a meaningful way.

Under the argument titled Soap Box Friday: Great Religious Digital Argument #1 - PC vs. MAC. Let The Wars Begin, is the phrase "I'm a business man first and a photographer second."

That bothers me.
While I understand how he, and many other photographers, could come to rationalize this, I also think that if one's craft comes second, it cannot possibly be the best it can be. Mr. Ziser is a phenomenal photographer, but I cannot help but wonder what his images would look like if he was focusing less on what his clients and more on expressing his vision.

If I have learned anything from David DuChemin and his blog PixelatedImage, I have learned that vision comes first. It seems reasonable, then, that if I focus on my business first and my photography second, like many of us do, I doom my photography and ultimately my career.
Sure, having a great logo or website or business card is great, but I am not going to hire a photographer because his or her website is fantastic.

I'm going to hire a photographer who makes unique, creative images.
I'm going to hire a photographer who can express what he or she sees in a meaningful way to ME.
Most of all, I'm going to hire a photographer who can make my image different from every other image he or she sells.

Here, I force myself into a critique of Mr. Ziser as an example. Looking through his blog, I notice that all of his images have a shared "look" or "style." We as photographers know this to be absolutely necessary. Our vision or voice as a photographer is what separates us from everyone else.
However, I also notice that Mr. Ziser seems to have a checklist, either mental or physical, of the images he takes when shooting with a client. That is to say, many of his images look remarkably similar to one another. One of the most repeated images I see from him is shot from below the client, wide angle, with off-camera flash, inside a visually stunning cathedral. Much like this or this or this

I can only assume he does this both because he likes the way the image looks and (more importantly) because his clients like these images. But is it what he wants to shoot? When he meets with a client, does he think "What can I do to seperate the pictures I am about to take, from the work I have given my other clients?" I don't know. He might. As a businessman be probably does, but what does the photographer in his head say? Does he experiment and take chances? Does he think "My client won't want this image, so I won't shoot it," or does he think "This might be fun, who cares if the client wants it?"
David Ziser is a world-renowned photographer. I am a huge fan of his work and I read his blog daily. The problem is: this "business first, craft second" mindset applies to gazillions of people in all kinds of different professions. Do we as professionals need a priority check? We didn't get into our fields because we love money. We do it (or we should be doing it) because we love our craft.

I am a photographer first, a student second, and a business man third. With any luck, I will be able to keep these priorities fairly similar throughout my life and my career. I guarantee the subjects of my studies will change, but if I can keep these three things in order I will continue to produce varying and expressive pictures while learning and (hopefully!) making some money.