What is the role of a photographer’s personal work?
As a photographer, how do you negotiate the two halves of your creative self? Does there have to be a separation between the two? As a buyer, do separate bodies of work confuse things or make an individual more interesting? What if a photographer’s personal and commercial photography are drastically different?
Personally, I feel that doing work for yourself has the power to ground you in your career and keep you focused. It is always important to put yourself in the art director’s chair now and then. This month I’ve put this question out to some of my favorite people in the industry. As always, thank you so much to all the contributors! If you’d like to be contacted about being a part of the Q&A series in upcoming months, or have feedback, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
– Jacqueline Bovaird, Assignment Rep, Glasshouse Assignment
EVAN KAFKA, PHOTOGRAPHER
I am obsessed with photography. I can’t stop photographing. I photograph my family constantly. It keeps me interested, keeps me sharp. We just took a family trip to Finland and I shot 1500 pictures, mostly of friends and family. I have to record my life. I can’t stop myself. A friend mentioned that he feels like he is missing out on life when he does that. I don’t feel that way. For me it is part of enjoying life. It’s an impulse. It’s my hobby.
At the moment I especially like that I am doing my personal work mostly with the same camera that I do my professional work, the Canon 5D Mark II. This is great because I stay close to that camera at all times. There is no period of getting used to the camera.
My professional work is pretty formal and usually lit, a lot. My personal work is completely the opposite: available light, hand held and wide open. It helps me stay balanced.
I think personal work is most successful when it’s an extension of the photographer’s commercial work, an outlet used to take risks and to explore subjects or styles without any outside interference. I know of many photographers who have taken jobs in order to fund their edgier personal work, which in turn can lead to more interesting paid work. So in the end, it can become an investment, if executed well.
CINDY HICKS, ART BUYER, THE MARTIN AGENCY
Personal work I love, it shows me that the photographer loves his/her craft & does it for themselves not just for the money. Often I hire someone based on that work, since jobs are most often the vision of the agency/art director/client. I like to see how they experiment & stretch themselves creatively. It often shows another side, since really art is a rarity in advertising these days.
I have seen so much bad photography and the personal work can be horrifyingly bad, like back first year art school stuff, I try to stay away from those, we are lucky that the people we tend to hire are not at that level (with this economy it could change).
RYAN SCHUDE, PHOTOGRAPHER
The role of personal work is to fulfill a desire to create. A concept will strike you and inspire the need to see it actualized. Ideally, you are communicating something with that image in the process. The same should happen in commercial work, except you are working with someone else to communicate a combination of their concept and your personal aesthetics.
TONY FOUHSE, PHOTOGRAPHER
Personal work keeps me sane! In fact, if you look at my web site, more than half the galleries are the result of personal projects. That’s how sane I am.
With my personal work, I don’t really want to leave a mark on the world, I want the world to leave a mark on me. So I tend to go places where I’ll be kind of uncomfortable, an outsider. I have a theory that most middle class, first world folks suffer from being chronically comfortable. My personal projects are designed to subtract a certain amount of comfort from my life.
I find that I learn a whole lot more during the brief, intense interludes I spend working on personal projects than I do in a whole year of the dull routine of existence. Even though, as a commercial and editorial photographer, my routine is rarely dull, but you know what I mean.
And, in the end, that’s the role of personal projects. To live and to learn.
CAROLINE HIRSCH, PHOTO EDITOR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE
A lot of our favorite photographers came to photography as a way to document their passion for climbing, kayaking, or biking (even though they might be doing fashion or advertising work now), so personal work (or any work that shows a dynamic eye or perspective) is quite important to us in determining if a photographer is a good fit for us.
ANDRÉS CORTÉZ, ART BUYER, THE VOX COLLECTIVE
Super important! You can see the latitude of the photographer.