"Soooo..... In December, I don't cash checks people pay me with because its christmas and I somehow feel bad..... And then in January, I assume people are recovering from Christmas.... So. It's February, if you wrote me a check in the fall: I'm heading to the bank in the coming days. IF that doesn't work for you, just let me know..not a problem. :)."
Which results in clients screaming - "go cash my damn check! lol" and then several photogs clients emailing me and (nicely) telling me how much I 'suck' at business and how I need to charge more and cash checks immediately..... to which I laugh. A lot.
Perhaps I should explain:
"When I was in high school I took a journalism class at John F. Kennedy High from Mr. Lindsay, he also ran the school newspaper.
The school had this fantastic Cannon camera - with proper lenses and *auto focus* which was *big sh*t* back then because I was still using my parents Pentax K1000, complete with rainbow striped leather camera strap. Oh yeah... I was rockin'.
If you were on the school newspaper, then you got to use said camera (which LOADED It'S OWN FILM!) - and I very quickly found myself stealing that camera for days on end - dragging it to every class, in the hall and to every single school event. After that... I found myself being the Photo Editor of the school newspaper. It didn't pay in pennies... and it didn't even pay in social glory: but I spent countless hours in the darkroom, blasting my Nirvana and my Alice in Chains... which felt like 'payment enough'.
When I moved to London - with all my expansive Senior year photography education and started covering bands in London (which *really* was flying by the seat of my pants.... I had *no* freakin' clue what I was doing) -
That's a career where you *pay* to do the work and hope someone buys your stuff - editorial, the label, the band, etc..... but you go for the love of doing it. I always *loved* music. I always felt inspired by it - and capturing bands was an extension of two loves: music and photography. I didn't care that I didn't get paid much (sometimes never) because traveling on tour buses and hanging out backstage and *never* have to sit in the regular seats with the mere mortals... yeah: that was kind of payment enough. lololol
Oh - and a neat factoid: bands always get a rider. A rider is a selection of foods that the tour manager hands over to the venue that the bands has requested - usually various foods, chips, condiments, milk, beer, soda, etc. It's a bit like how you might stock your fridge at home. Most bands don't take the rest of the rider with them at the end of the night - so.... they let *you* take it! I have so many bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise and cereal... there were days or weeks where I could get by on rider food alone. So... it seemed like a good deal to me.
After I came home and 'quit' photography, I really thought I was done with it. Then I went to see Franny & Dougie at their show at the Schnitz and saw Noel again... and after *that* night I decided to go back to it.
Not long after that I met a man..... and I still don't remember *how* I met him...... oh, somehow I got a job shooting a golf tourney for Kells Irish Pub (probably 'cuz I'm Irish and sh*t) - and I met a man there - Steve. Steve was *great* and was almost immediately my biggest fan.... even though the picture's weren't done - I had taken a different spin to usually boring images and instead I had shot every group like I would shoot a band. I had them standing and looking 'bad ass' - or pretending to ride their clubs like horses, or doing goofy stuff. The photos were a huge hit.
Shortly after Steve called and wanted to book a family session... and while I had done rock stars and album cover and video stills... I had *yet* to do a 'traditional' family session... but I said yes anyway. He had this old, old Mustang that was cherry red with white leather interior and was a convertible - it was all fully restored and *gorgeous*. He wanted a 'formal' picture of the family, then with his kids, then he wanted the car - AND - most importantly - he wanted casual photos of them interacting with each other: laughing, smiling, relaxed.
Sounds simple - but this is circa 2000 - so these kinds of photojournalist family images weren't really the "done" thing... this is still the days of families showing up dressed in all denim outfits and standing in a field together. No. Seriously.
But, I had worked with bands - which is a lot of just them hanging around... so I took that same approach to this job and did it.
I spent *hours* with them - it took waaaaay too long for the three teenage kids who "just wanted to be done" - and in the end, even good-hearted Steve was a bit tired. But I carried on until I was certain I got every frame he wanted, until I had captured the love between him and his sons, portraits of everyone together, in groups, on their own.... It was like 15 rolls of film (a wedding is usually 25 - 30 rolls of film) and then I developed them and put them in a lovely album and drove them over two weeks later.
Steve paid me $150 - which is almost what it cost me to buy the film and have it developed and printed... but I didn't care: I thought Steve and his 'Blondie', as he affectionately called her, were amazing people and Steve was already handing my business cards.... oh - BTW - I didn't *have* business cards when I met Steve, so he made them for me. He bought me a leather folio for my pictures and walked me through a resume: he wanted me to be a working photographer and he helped me every way he could. Soon, I was working with lots of families in the area just on his recommendation alone.
Less than 9 months later... Blondie called. She gave me the date and the time and the location and two days later I arrived to an entirely full parking lot - I had to park at the high school across the street and walk over. The room was packed, standing room only. A large portrait of a smiling Steve sitting on those white leather seats, arms stretched over the polished cherry red metal - taken with me standing on a ladder and shooting down - was set up on an easel at the front of the room.
People spoke, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. And then a slideshow started - the room was silent except for the sound of tears and noses being blown a bit too loudly - and then there was me.... I barely new Steve, though I adored him - I wasn't a life long friend or a business partner.... but there was I was and as the slideshow started a rude, overly-loud gasp emanated from the bowels of my being as *MY* photos filled the white screen that come down from the ceiling of the Church.
Image after image of Steve laughing with his boys.... looking lovingly at his daughter: holding his wife... his Blondie. They all rolled past and were it not for my very loud and sudden gasp... all you could hear was the music they were set too. It was - without a doubt - the most beautiful thing I had ever seen - and it was *my* work.
During the session, only Steven, Bondie and I knew that Steve had a rare form of very aggressive brain cancer and that he was leaving one month after our shoot for treatments in New York and Denver. Steve had died - though outlived the handful of months he was initially given.
At the end of the funeral in that crowd of people, the oldest son sought me out immediately. He wrapped his arms around me, his college freshman body shuttered with tears and he gulped air as he pulled back and said: "I thought you were the biggest bitch that day... but now I know why. That's me and my Dad - laughing and talking. That's me and my dad... and I don't have my Dad anymore, but I can see him, I can feel him still laughing when I look at those pictures. I didn't understand why my Dad chose you - but now I do. Thank You."
Aside from the fact that I could *barely* make it to my car after that - I realized that *that* moment was a hugely defining moment for me, both as a person and as a professional. These were just 'family sessions' - these are people's memories. These are moments capture in time that we don't get back... and sometimes we lose them altogether. That is a very empowering gift to have and you can either use it for the great good... or for our own good.
I chose the greater good - or at least I like to think I did.
Let me be *clear* - there is nothing wrong with getting paid. Nothing at all. There is *nothing* wrong with studios charging $1,200 to do your infant photos. There is *nothing* wrong with that *at all*. PERIOD.
For me, however, I know that for every Mom who *can* afford a $1,200 session, there are 100 Moms how cannot. For *those* Moms: Sears should not be their only choice.
Steve had set me up - before he died - with his company to do their holiday party every year, and he even negotiated the fee and terms... because he knew I wouldn't charge enough. hahaha - but shortly after, I was doing head shots and family sessions for people at the company. Without any advertising and relying only on word of mouth, I was booking up fast and somewhat consistently.
I kept my prices * reasonable* - I never charged more than I could afford to pay myself - which based on the fact that I have incredibly low self-esteem and I shopped at the goodwill for years... well, needless to say, I've always been a bit of a bargain.
Fast forward a few years, many, many years in fact - and I was at a photographers social night. These events *usually* involve me getting skooled by people for 'undercutting the market' - mind you... no one else ever thinks they are charging too much for the crappy they produce... but whatever... lololol
One of the bigger, PPO photographers - who win tons of awards and are 'sought' after, informed me that they charge *at least* $5,000 for a family session.... to which I laugh in his face because I think that's B.A.N.A.N.A.S - my *first car* cost 1/5th of that.... so *that* seems crazy to me. He informed me - in a boastful way - that the family were *thrilled* to pay it and *loved* their photos - and also because the Dad had liver cancer and was dying - so these were their last family photos.
He noted that that was a great way to 'up-sell' them on the biggest package - because it would be their last family session ever. He told me that people who were dying spare no expense to 'save' those memories.
I pointed out that if that were *my* client, and I found out one of them was dying, I would have done the job for free..... he laughed in my face and told me I would never "make it in this business".
Ok Mr. Stupid Portland Photographer Who Won Some Stupid Award.... I was published in RollingF*ckingStone... so dude, newsflash: I Already Made 'It'.
I haven't *ever* changed my reprint prices - in 12 years. I don't do a 'sitting fee'. I don't charge a 're-touching fee'. I keep it simple, one session, around 400 finished images on a DVD for you to use however you want is $250.00. Usually an outdoor location, different looks... blah blah blah. Some of my clients pay more, some of them pay less.... and to be frank: some don't pay at all. I'm fine with whatever works best for them. Oh... and most *certainly* if you, your child... whatever - if someone has one foot in the grave - I probably won't take your money.
It is a *tremendous* power to capture and expose the love between two people or a family - and.... I for one, do not think the right thing *for me* is to abuse it.
I don't cure cancer. I don't run into burning buildings and save small animals and people from being charred like a BBQ. I don't pull over drunk drivers, get puked on, and arrest said driver thereby saving countless innocent lives ... all with puke shoes on my feet for 8 more hours. I'm not in an under-funded classroom of 35 kids working to save and educated each one of them.... hoping to make a connection with the one I think miht get bullied too much.... - and doing it for under $50K a year while I have students loans in nearly triple digits.
*THOSE* people need a raise.
I.... do not.
I don't have any special powers to offer the world. I not special in any remarkable kind of way - other than I can take pretty pictures..... oh - and I can give those pictures away if I want to. I'm not a saint, I'm a mouthy b*tch with a camera who will bark at you like a drill sergeant and not apologize once for it.
I wish I could do more for the world - cure cancer, cure AIDS, end famine.... the stuff we've all been praying for for years.... but I can't do any of those things. I can only do what I can do - and being me- I can only do it the way I feel is *right*.... which by any standard definition means I suck at running a business in the proper sense. lololol
Today Facebook post brought on a conversation with a photographer who I adore and absolutely respect who was calling me 'cray cray.....' and lolololing at me..... he said I should charge more and get paid ASAP and it would be better for me and the kids, which is true, I can't argue with that.
However, then I said this: There are worse things in the world than being poor. :)
True dat'. he replied.
I might be fiscally poor.... but, I'm not poor. My life is full of *amazing* people who do amazing things for me and with me..... two weeks into my divorce a monthly client came over and brought me an 'ugly cry' kit - complete with magazine, tissue's, chaptstick, chocolates and *very* expensive eye cream - oh, and three $25 gift cards to a Chucky Cheese type place to take the kids. Fast forward a year and one of them lost their job - and even though on hard times, their child's 18 mo pictures and a new pregnancy and what not happened... so I showed up and shot those jobs for free. They tried to pay me, but i knew they needed their money for bills... but I also knew this Moms heart and that she would go without food before missing a milestone in her child's life. So I would leave their money on the counter and walk out...... it's the *right* thing to do, not the fiscally smart thing... but the *right* thing.
Fast forward to Christmas, these clients (and several others) showed up in the days before Christmas with *very nice* presents for my children.... isn't that *better* than getting paid?
For me: it is.
I don't believe that I'm going to lie on my death bed and say.... "Wow, I wish I had charged so and so more for their family photos every year... think of the nicer home I would've had....."
I already look at my life now and know the *only* reason I am still standing is the result of the clients and friends who rose up around me in my darkest hours and propped me up when I needed - and kicked my butt when I needed that, too. I'm pretty sure on my death - *that* is what I'll be thinking about... that I didn't waste time on money. That I put people first and money second. You can always make more money (a second job, sell something... whatever) - but you can't always get another friend.
Many years after the conversation with Mr. Portland - they lost their studio. They had inflated their prices sooo much, that when the economy tanked, so did their business and their clientele. They lost everything - so in the end.... charging more got them nowhere.
I, however, still have nearly *all* the same clients I had back them - and more..... I weathered the economy tanking and my income *never* faltered: it remained the same or grew, even in the hardest of times when I was doing the most work I had done for free... I *still* made more money.
I don't think I'm special.... or that 'my way' works for everyone, I'm not enlightened.... I don't do Yoga (clearly).... however, if we acted more in kindness - if we *stopped* in every aspect of our lives and just did the kind f*cking thing once in a while..... wouldn't life be better?
If we made a *real* commitment to 'paying it forward' - not just because it's a cool idea that made a fun movie and a groovy bumper-sticker.... but *everyday*, even if we haven't a penny to spare - if we looked to do those little things - hold the door open, help a Mom struggling with a stroller on the curb, let someone in a hurry take our place in line at Starbucks.... *do* something nice for someone - even if we don't know them.... like, wouldn't that be really amazing?
Well.... I'm kind of a loud-mouth/potty-mouth beeeotch.... and I do it all the time, and I can promise you: it's easy and it's amazing. Plain and simple.
(But... if you cut me off in traffic, I'll probably honk and give you my best one-finger salute... .just sayin'....)
EDIT: So I got an email this morning from someone who said that I "clearly see [myself] as better than everyone else and as some kind of savior".
Hmm.... only if the definition of savior has been changed to read: slightly heavy, potty-mouthed female.
Which I highly doubt.
THE POINT of the story is that I never got into photography to make a million dollars.... I operated out of a desire to take good pictures and the example set for ME BY STEVE - was one that put people first. The man was *dying*.... DYING - and he knew it. He had only precious months to spend with family and friends and he went out of his way: for me. He did that *simple* and kind thing of taking an interest in me - making me business cards and introducing me to his rather wealthy friends.
Why? Because he saw a nice person who needed a hand.... and just extended his. DONE.
That is the basis for how I have run my own business - and while it won't ever make me even sustainable - it has made *my world* and my children's world a wonderful place to be.
If anything... it's the most basic kind of Forrest Gump logic at work. Be kind, put people first, put money second and never miss a chance to do the right thing. Simple. Easy. FREE - by the way, to do. It's the master plan of someone who see's themselves as better than anyone, or smarter than anyone or anything else for that matter..... so I fail to see how living in simplicity and kindness exhaults me to savior status.