Occasionally, I chance to note comments from some fellow photographers, to the effect that full-time photographers are, generally speaking (and always generally speaking), of superior quality to those who hold down part-time jobs. I have also noted instances in which this observation has been used by photographers to persuade potential clients of their suitability for commissioned work.
If I may, I should like to register my disapproval of this line of thought, on the simple grounds that full-time photographers whose work is genuinely worthy of attention are seldom so obtuse, or so unsure of their work as to promote themselves by comparing themselves to other photographers.
The argument goes, it seems, that everyday familiarity with one’s work increases one’s degree of knowledge and experience, producing a cumulative effect which (hopefully) maintains and improves the quality of the photographer’s output. It feels a little absurd to quarrel with this point – achieving such a position is an ambition of my own – but there is a generalisation inherent within it which, for the sake of clarity and for the careers of aspiring photographers, must be challenged.
As I have contemplated this article, one or two points have become apparent: there is absolutely no shame in taking on part-time work alongside photography. To the contrary, it can actually provide tremendous benefits. It is also worth adding that taking on the career full-time can have a number of detrimental effects.
Imagine for a moment that I – one such aspiring photographer – stopped my work as a barman, to focus on my photographic career. I could do it, and I am confident that I have the ability and a growing degree of knowledge with which to do it reasonably well. Why, then, have I not done so? Well, taking one’s career on full-time can, as many artists in many fields will attest, involve financial pressures, which in turn lead to taking on work for which one is either not sufficiently skilled, or not actually inclined towards. Neither of these are helpful situations to be in: art (and photography in particular) produced without expertise, enjoyment or enthusiasm often exhibits the lack of these attributes. Furthermore, if I were to shadow another, more established photographer (as I currently do with the excellent Mike Harrington), the time spent doing so would be far more of a risk than if I had a guaranteed income. On these grounds, I think my time at present is better spent learning without the financial pressure of having just one source of income. I recently received a heartening approbation of this attitude from Ian McKinnon-Evans, creative director of advertising agency The Point, who remarked that this way of moving forward was brave, and would be beneficial in the long-term – minimising the risk of an early negative reputation.
For the time being, then, I am quite prepared to combine my efforts in photography with the additional, part-time work that I do. (Work which, by the way, will allow me to invest in better and better equipment in the coming months.)
This issue raises another important point, however. I am convinced that my part-time work has actually been a firmly positive influence on my photographic output. My work has significantly developed qualities such as my assertiveness, my confidence in interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds, and my ability to contribute towards a convivial atmosphere. These skills are as transferable as anything I learned during my degree, and each of them has proved of the utmost importance to my photography.
In short, then, while I do agree that full-time photographers may well – generally speaking – have an edge in terms of experience, by no means does it necessarily follow that they are either more knowledgeable or more effective in their work. I have questioned people in the past for seriously forwarding this argument, and I would advise all photographers in my position to do the same. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.