Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Freelancing, creativity and recession

© Greg Funnell 2008
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about careers and future, and from what I’ve been reading recently in blogs and articles I know a lot of other people have too. Maybe it is the current financial climate that is making people stop for a second and re-evaluate their life, where they're going with it and what things they matter. Financial chaos does that to you, it makes you sit back and look at what you really value in life, what things you need and what things you can learn to live without. I’m not saying I’ve been hit badly yet by this recession but it has caused me to do a lot of thinking. The piece that follows is really just a bunch of jumbled thoughts on the industry, on being freelance, on the concept of creativity and a bit of business practice thrown into the mix. It draws on a number of sources, namely Andrew Hetherington, Chris Floyd, Rob Haggart and Doug Menuez, but to start with it's...

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of ‘Eat ,Pray, Love’. In the 20 min TED talk she did recently (see link at the end of the post) Gilbert poured out her personal concern on the pressure of creativity on the individual. Something that she feels very close to given that she feels that she may never replicate the success of the above mentioned book. How does one deal with such a concept that your best work may already be behind you. She touches on the concern that we as a society place to much pressure on the creative individual, something we can date back to the renaissance when societies started to see genius as part of the self rather than from an outside source or spirit. She believes such a burden is too heavy to expect people to carry, pointing at the large numbers of creative minds that ended their lives prematurely during the 20th Century, either by their own hand or by the pressures they put on themselves. She quotes Norman Mailer as having claimed that every one of his books killed him a little bit more. The highs and lows of the creative mind reveal the addiction of creativity, the high of feeling like you’ve made sense of something and communicated it in a meaningful way and the lows of failing in that task (a far more likely and frequent outcome), what a photographer I recently interviewed imaginatively called "the filth hole".

A piece by the photographer Doug Menuez that I saw posted by Chase Jarvis also touches on the frustrations of the creative process. Doug however believes he has solutions, a business plan no less, to not only survive the current economic woes, but also to keep afloat your creative enthusiasm. He warns against the routes that many take, especially when freelancing, of misjudging the balance between doing the work you want to do, and the work you feel you need to do to survive. This he argues is likely only to lead to a financial and creative plateau; "After a few years they hate their work and life in general. They are getting divorced or leaving the business or pursuing whatever diversion eases the pain". When I read this last bit I couldn’t help remembering an article I read on What The Jackanory, with Andrew Hetherington in conversation with the British based editorial photographer Chris Floyd. In some ways Chris seems to have done the opposite, going from living in NYC and doing the work he loved, environmental portraiture, to moving back to London and doing perhaps less exciting but more financially viable celebrity based work. It doesn’t seem as though this is down to any decisions on Chris’s part but rather the state of the UK editorial market – Hetherington uses a Don McCullin quote to sum up his views on the sociological issue at it’s heart; (In Britain) "lifestyles rather than life were coming into fashion". In a struggling economic market freelancers have to fight their own corner, and it can feel like a damn lonely one. Floyd goes against what Menuez preaches in some ways, claiming that a lot of the great work produced comes from commissions and gigs, and that trying to exist in your own self-defined vacuum is a dangerous game. Floyd would rather be seen as an artisan than an artist. Even so it is clear that Floyd suffers from the same creative anguish discussed by Gilbert, along with all the trappings that go with it. In an earlier post on APE he admitted in the comments section that; “sometimes weeks go by where the best bit of the day is where you get to go to sleep intoxicated and numb with self loathing”. He goes on to say;

I am smart enough to know that the weather can change like that. You see, the thing about what we do that our friends with safe, secure nine-to-fives will never quite grasp is that, although to them our lives look sweet and easy going, we get no sick pay, no holiday pay, no guaranteed income or pay check and most importantly, no one to talk to or share problems with in the office or the pub after work. Those fears are always there. In the evenings, before bed, at weekends, on holiday, on Christmas Day… We do this alone… The buzz from this job can be incredible, but can you take the solitude and doubt? We lay it all out there and have to survive on each and every roll of the dice”.

Couple this with Gilbert’s thought that her greatest success may well be behind her and, as she says, it’s the kind of thought that can lead a person to start drinking gin at 9 o’clock in the morning. However Floyd’s words are in some way a huge comfort to myself and I’m sure would be to a lot of young photographers. Although it shows that this uncertainty never really goes away even if you do become as successful as someone like Chris, it also shows us that we’re not alone.

These are stressful times for freelancers, with the economy the way it is and the continued dumbing down of the population towards photography as a profession and a skill, hastened by the advancement of digital technology. I’m sure there are plenty of photographers with anecdotes to back this up. Take for example a job I was on the other day photographing a minor UK celebrity for a university publication. Midway through the event he questioned my being there (not in a vindictive way but out of curiosity) because the previous week the journalist interviewing him for a web article for another institution had only needed to snap his picture on an i-phone. The game is changing in many ways but there will still be a place for photographers. Something that probably best highlights this is another of Chris Floyd's excellent anecdotes that he imparted to Hetherington on WTJ;

'It’s like that line, “How can you justify your fees? It only took you twenty minutes to do it!” Yes, it did, but it took me twenty years to learn how to do it in twenty minutes.

Anyway if you’d like to read more I suggest you check out the Chris Floyd/Andrew Hetherington conversations here and here

The Elizabeth Gilbert video can be viewed here

Doug Menuez’s article can be seen here

And if you like to see what I've said above to some extent but in a far more poetic and visually interesting way then watch this video.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Well I got back from Berlin last week and have been flat out sorting little bits here and there. Didn't shoot a whole lot whilst out there, so I thought I'd put up a little montage I'd made instead. The passport photos are from a wicked old photobooth on Kastanien allee in Prenzlauer Berg.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Adam Patterson: Another Lost Child

Photos © Adam Patterson
Well I had a quick chance to head along to the private view of this years photojournalism MA which was held at the Printspace over in Shoreditch. It was last week or so now and it was before I went to Berlin so I can't remember much, but this guys work really stuck in my mind. I checked out his website and was blown away - some really great stories up there. One thing that really stood out for me above the rest of the images on display is that you could tell that this guy had spent time with his subject, he'd probably shot something on his doorstop for this reason. Either way he resisted the temptation to go off for a few weeks somewhere exotic and made a go on a local story; knife crime in south London. Living in south London myself, a stone's throw away from where a lot of this was shot, I found it fascinating. I also loved the way he got the subjects to caption their own pictures and included maps and other info in the project instead of just purely photos. Anyway enough yabbering, check him out for yourself, his name is Adam Patterson and I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more from him. The story that was on display was called Another lost child

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Toy: Canon 35mm f/1.4

Picked up a new toy second hand - the canon 35mm f/1.4 these are some recent shots I've got with it. Loverrrlly lens.

World Press Photo 2009

copyright Kevin Frayer/AP
Well it's that time again, and the new winners of the World Press Photo have been announced. As ever it's a pretty eclectic collection, I'm sure many people will have opinions on on what deserved it and what didn't. The image above, which won third prize in the singles category, caught my attention. A friend of mine at AP sent it through to me at the time, as it had been taken about a week after we had left Israel and the West Bank. In fact we'd been having coffee with the shooter, Kevin Frayer, a staffer for AP at their Jerusalem office only a week before.
Another set of notable images that caught y eye were this set by Vincent Laforet at the Beijing Olympics, deservedly winning 1st prize stories in the sports category. Once again Vincent has shot things from a unique angle, literally.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Combat Oupost - John D's Guardian video report

Good to see that John D, who I've mentioned before on this blog, is still producing work out in Afghanistan. This piece is entirely video and thus is further evidence for stills news photographers transferring into the field of video. The report is 11mins long and well worth a watch.

UPDATE: Could I be arrested for taking this picture?

This is the BBC's take on the demonstration on Monday - sadly I wasn't able to make it myself as I was in Berlin but it looks likes it was a good turnout. See more over at Marc Vallee's blog

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aother recent tearsheet...

Just some bits and bobs I had to shoot for ASOS magazine at the end of last year...

Inspirational stuff...

For anyone with an interest in fashion images, or anyone really interested in pretty amazing pictures, this blog provides some fairly frequent updates on some of the awesome work out there.

In other news, Vincent Laforet as the first look at of his documentary on Jamie O'Brien online - check out his blog to find out more.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Could I be arrested for taking this picture?

Demonstration in Parliament Square, 12th January 2008 © Greg Funnell
Well this week a an article in the BJP seems to suggest that maybe that isn't such a ridiculous question. According to the article new laws that come into force on 16th February give the police authority to arrest anyone who they suspect has taken images that are 'likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'. Of course with all laws like this they may be liable to be twisted and turned when used in the field. Some journalists fear that such laws will allow police to intimidate press photographers and prevent them from recording incidents where police are involved. It is easy to see why in some ways the new law does make sense, but equally it's easy to see how it could be abused. The BJP article references an incident at the anti-BBC demonstration on 24th January where freelance photographer, Justin Tallis, was challeneged for taking the picture of a policeman who then tried to forcibly confiscate the camera. You can see a photo of confrontation taken by the photographer Marc Vallee here. I know from personal experience that police at demonstration can get frustrated and some of them, perhaps with a lower threshold for patience, will quite often when in this position, try verbal intimidation. With laws such as this being inacted, verbal intimdation now carries a lot more weight behind it. I would suspect that invariably it will be the freelancers and the one's working for small agencies with less clout, that will be the ones more suseptable to such tactics.

According the BPPA the following is being organized as a response to the new law:

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has teamed up with Mark Thomas (writer, broadcaster, comic and political activist), Chris Atkins (BAFTA nominated director and writer of the feature film documentary Taking Liberties), The British Journal of Photography and others for a "media event" outside New Scotland Yard on Monday 16 February 2009. The plan is simple, turn up with your camera and exercise your democratic right to take a photograph in a public place.

16 February 2009
11:00 - 12:00
New Scotland Yard
London SW1H OBG

Note: This is NOT a Protest. It is just photography.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Recent forays into film

It feels like a very very long time since I've shot film. Of course it used to be all I shot when I was first learning, yet I was limited to shooting 35mm because that's all my old school darkroom could really cope with. Having not been fortunate enough to study photography at any level, let alone at college or university, I found it hard to come by facilities for processing film...or at least digital started to become too convenient for me to try. Anyway recently I was lucky enough to have the chance to put a roll of 120 through a friends' Mamiya 7 II and I have to say it was pretty refreshing to be able to take photography back to basics. There's something so pure and unique about a film image, or at least it seem the case. Even more so with a polaroid. Alas I'm not here to bemoan the demise of film and the rise of digital along with the decline of the still image as it was once known, but instead I thought I'd give you a little glimpse at what I shot. Nothing spectacular, just stuff personal to me, but that in itself is pretty refreshing as far as I'm concerned.

And from my little old Spirit 600 Land camera, guaranteed to always come out with something completely random...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Afghanistan shenanigans

© Danfung Dennis
With this being the year that Afghanistan finds it's way back onto the news radar I thought it might be worthwhile to do a quick post on a few Afghan related things that have recently been brought to my attention. Firstly a good friend Danfung Dennis has just returned from a three month stint there, completing various assignments for New York Times amongst others - if you get a chance check out some of his work here from the recent trip.

Another photographer who has been spending a lot of time out in Afghanistan is John D McHugh. John D was shot in the stomach in May 2007 during an Ambush in Nuristan whilst embedded with US troops (you can read about that here). Yet within a matter of months he was back on his feet and determined to head back out to 'stan'. Previosuly John D had quit working as staff photographer at AFP so that he could spend more time in Afghanistan, so when he was wounded he was working freelance, thus adding further expense and trauma. Since going back however he's been commissioned by the Guardian to report with photogrpahs, video, audio and an online diary. You can check out the project, Six Months in Afghanistan, here.

Finally and on a slightly more quirky note, meet the American photographer who's taken the concept of shooting pictures in Afghanistan to a slightly more literal level - see it here.