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Monday, June 18, 2007

Sometimes A Lens Is Just A Lens

Being a professional photographer is full of emotional ups and downs. Managing the rough times leaves you in a position to reach ever higher levels of success and creativity

Never Let Them See You Bleed

When you're in a lull and bummed out, keep yourself pulled together in public. This industry only has sympathy for the physically dying. If you're just having a spot of bad luck, you'll be avoided like a leper. Get your ass out of bed and into the daylight. Take a shower; dress like you would on a great day. Everyone knows when the industry is slow, but if you're seen as having it together, at least in appearance, people will be attracted to that. Above all, don't wear your heart on your sleeve. If you want to talk about how depressed you are, drive your significant other, family and friends crazy in private. Believe me, you'll have a lot of free time to “chat.”

Getting The Call

Inevitably, as soon as you put your first name on an application for a job at a café, your cell phone will ring with a gig on the other end. These are the good times. Working. That little pang of anxiety (large if you're in over your head) that you get when you're about to start shooting—I live for that. It's a feeling you never outgrow.

Then there's the indescribable feeling you get when a job goes smoothly and it's in the can (for those born after 1983, “in the can” is the same as “on the hard drive”; it's a historical term). It also pumps up your confidence. After the job is over, take a day off and blow a couple of bucks on dinner. But don't wait for that feeling to drift away. Now is the time to go look for more work, shoot some stuff for your book and interact with the advertising community. Successfully completing a job and having a couple of bucks in the bank looks better on you than a Patek Philippe watch. Your creative juices are flying and you're ready to take on anything.

Just make sure you don't get too carried away. All this confidence can and will make you cocky. (Editor's Note: And if anyone would know about that, it's Lesko.) This can be good and bad. I've experienced both situations—once at the same time. After coming off a string of jobs, I had a meeting with an art buyer at a hot West Coast ad agency; this was during the dot-com madness and money was everywhere. She was notoriously patronizing to anyone less than a superstar photographer. True to her reputation, she was condescending to your humble author. Feeling my oats, I told her just what she could do with her attitude and that she should employ a clothes stylist because she clearly had a lot of money and no taste.

Yep, never got one call from that agency, but the word got around that I stood up for myself, which ended up being reputation-enhancing. I have no advice for situations like this. Sometimes, you can move forward by causing a ruckus, a lot of times you move backward. All I can say is that your ego is a powerful thing, so keep an eye on how you wield it. On the other hand, taking a political risk can have its advantages. The key is in understanding yourself.

Who Am I?

Know a lot and forget everything. Technical knowledge is the key to a technical art form, but focus on it too much and you'll lock yourself out. Ego is a huge part of the creative arts. You have to be a little arrogant to put your work—which is essentially an extension of yourself—on display to be judged. As much as your ego serves to motivate you, it can just as equally destroy you.

The irony is that the more successful you become, the more you have to watch your ego. Success is harder on the psyche, not easier. The best way to maintain some semblance of balance is to listen to the people who are closest to you. They're your ultimate mirrors. Dismiss them and you dismiss the most valuable resource to your career. Take the criticism, seek out the nuggets of good advice and, above all, shoot, shoot, shoot!

In researching this article, Louis Lesko was fortunate to have conversations with some of the keenest minds in analysis and therapy. Thanks to Dr. Thomas Ervin, James Roberts (heard on National Public Radio and author of Deliberate Love) and Miss Brooks Fergusen, whose dissertation “Art, Commerce and Values” was an incredible resource.




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