London Fashion Week just wrapped up, and a lot of the people I follow on social media were there, taking over brands’ social media accounts, taking pictures, looking good. I spent most of the past four days sitting around at home with absolutely no plans to go anywhere, and I think if you’d touched me, my relief would have actually rubbed off on you. It was that strong.
I had some leads for this weekend, mainly to work as a street-style photographer. I’m not much of a fashionista, and I didn’t want to throw myself to the wolves, so to speak. I spent a little while contacting people who were looking for photographers for their websites or publications. I don’t have much to show, so it was bound to be a bit of a crapshoot, but I did get some responses.
Most of them expected me to give them an entire weekend of my life for no compensation whatsoever — and put my money into it, too, because they didn’t have a budget for expenses.
I know a lot of people want these gigs, unpaid or not, and that’s their prerogative. I don’t. I’m tired of people shaming me for it, saying I’m ungrateful and entitled, or warning me — unsolicitedly — that I’m never going to get anywhere if I don’t work for free.
They’re a lot of assumptions in a very short sentence: You’re assuming that my portfolio matters more to me than my livelihood, that I have the same goal with my photography career as everybody else, and that what I’m doing right now — within the guidelines I’ve set — isn’t working for me.
Today, I want to paint a complete, 360º picture for you, so I’m going to give you a rundown of the reasons I, specifically, won’t cover London Fashion Week street-style, specifically, for free.
YOU (the person in charge of a publication, website, etc.)
- You want someone to cover LFW for your blog or magazine, so you don’t have to. Your blog needs a redesign, and/or the social media buttons aren’t easily available, and/or you have worse stats than I do and a readership that’s not going to care about who took the photos you’re using. There’s nothing in it for me if I work for you.
- You want someone to cover LFW for your blog or magazine, which makes money off advertising, sponsors, etc. It’s a for-profit thing, and you want me to work for free so you can reap the page views and clicks. No, thank you.
- You started off listing everything you needed from me and shut down when asked about budget. When people do that, it means one of two things: You realize you’re asking for a lot and you’re pretending you’re worth it in a strange, “fake-it-till-you-make-it” episode without any consideration for the fact that you’re dragging another person down with you; maybe, you genuinely think creative types should work for free. Frankly, I don’t know what’s worse. It’s dehumanizing either way. You’re dehumanizing me. I’m not up for that.
- You went on and on about what a great opportunity it is for my portfolio and my experience and exposure, and I get to be at this place and network with people. Only at the end did you mention that the position was unpaid, even though it was heavily implied in the rest of the email. See, here’s the thing: If I’m seeking out a role like this, I already know what’s in it for me. Listing it all out is boring, worthless, and reeks of shadiness and manipulation. I want to know what’s in it for me if I work for you.
- You don’t have time to write up an agreement stating how you can use the photos that are ultimately mine. Really? I don’t have time to risk you screwing me over.
- You calmly stated you were on a low budget, introduced your site/magazine, said you’d be all right covering my expenses, the photos would remain mine, I said yes…and then you vanished.
- I have very specific priorities. My top 5 looks like this:
- I have learned not to trust strangers with free labor. Even when they haven’t screwed me over directly, I’ve felt used, gross and stressed out because there were other things I could have been doing.
- Here are a few things I would rather do than cover LFW for free, in no particular order:
- I want to do fashion week. I want the experience, and I want the images for my portfolio, blog and various photography ventures. But it’s not my only option for street style photos — there are people everywhere, events every week — and I wasn’t gunning for catwalk shows anyway.
- If the options are:
- …other people do it. Different people have different priorities, different financial situations, and different approaches to fashion weeks.
- …it’s expected of my career journey. I didn’t move to London after four years as a hermit, after two consecutive, three-months-in-college dropouts so I could do what’s expected of me. It’s been a long process for me to realize that there are many paths to get me where I want to be, and I don’t need to sacrifice my welfare to get there. It’s probably time you start accepting this too.
- …it’s expected of anyone in the creative industry. If we all do what’s expected of us, the creative industry is never going to change for the better.
- …you think I don’t want it enough. I want it enough to do what’s in my power to get it. Anything beyond that is fine, but quite frankly unnecessary. I’m not here to compete on how much I want something. I’m not here to compete at all, actually. In my experience, having to persuade someone to hire you ends in one of two things: it’s a waste of time and you don’t get it, or you get it and it’s a nightmare.
- …it’s unfair to people who do it for free. I’m sorry, and I think you’ve missed the intent behind all of this, which is: I want people to ask for their due! I’m saying: doing things you don’t want to do is not the only possible way to build a portfolio, or get a break. If that works for you, great! Do it! But if it doesn’t — don’t be scared to ask for payment. Don’t be scared to set strict guidelines. I feel used when I don’t, like I wasted my time and gave someone something they didn’t value, and it’s a really gross feeling. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way!
- There is no other industry where people are expected to work x hours in one day, then go home and work another few hours, putting in their own thousand-dollar equipment, no matter their level of experience (but certainly enough experience to know how to work that equipment without any training provided), for absolutely no monetary compensation whatsoever.
- There is no other industry where someone would think you’re greedy and entitled for wanting monetary compensation for your time and work.
- There is no other industry that deliberately creates a divide between the importance of your work on its own and your value and needs as the person who makes it. I mean, if we’re talking about how great art is as an end result, how great is it to save lives? Shouldn’t the satisfaction of saving a life be enough for a doctor to live on? Obviously, no, it isn’t, because saving a life doesn’t pay the rent, or the bills, or put food on the table. Neither does art as an end result.
- I have better things to do than cover fashion week without monetary compensation, and I have better ways to cover fashion week without monetary compensation than doing it for a stranger who may or may not give a sh** about whether I feel I got something valuable out of it.
I (the photographer)
1. Money for rent
2. Money for food
3. Catching up on design work
4. Keeping up my blog
5. Taking time off to stay sane
Notice how “building my portfolio” isn’t on there? It’s not even on the list, at all. I build my portfolio tangentially to my priorities. I seek out paid opportunities when I can and work with friends — real friends, and people I genuinely already like — when I cannot.
1. Take pictures to sell as stock photography
2. Take pictures to sell as fine art prints
3. Draft media kits for design clients
4. Draft labels for design clients
5. Write blog posts
6. Write this article
7. Edit pictures from my backlog
8. Pick up a modeling gig
9. Cover LFW for my own blog
10. Cover LFW independently and then try to sell the pictures
11. Skype my cat
12. Read a book
As you can see, even going to LFW at all doesn’t take up much of the list. I have a very large backlog of work and no money for travel expenses. I also have massive social anxiety that gets triggered by crowds. Doing fashion week has to be a very conscious decision for me, something that doesn’t take any money out of my pocket and that leaves me with something tangible as a result. If “something tangible” includes money, that will go a long way towards me actually taking the plunge (read: the tube), and going to a place where I know I’ll feel incredibly uncomfortable.
1) go to fashion week on my own dime, put in as many or as few days and hours as I choose, take the pictures I want to take, edit them without pressure from anyone, or judgment from anyone, share them on my own site(s), and be able to do whatever I want with them without having to push for clauses in the contract that specify the copyright stays with me,
2) go to fashion week on my own dime, take the pictures someone else wants me to take, put in the amount of hours they want from me, not be able to miss a day if I feel bad or need a break, be under pressure to have everything ready on a very tight deadline, and have the work mostly attributed to the site it will go on (and let’s be real, you’re lucky if you get a small-font byline with a link to your portfolio when it comes to street style photos),
Well. Guess which one I’d pick?!
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF…
If you don’t, more power to you. But I know where I stand, and I want to keep standing upright. I’ve set guidelines for a reason, and I want you — if you’re a photographer, if you’re in a situation like this — to know that you can, too. The world isn’t going to break if you ask to be compensated for, at minimum, your time, work and equipment. The creative industry may develop a crack or two, but anyway — it’s about time it gets a good fix.