When photographers go bad.........

Chuck Winans UnoBlues@aol.com
Thu Oct 16 01:42:02 EDT 2003

When we're all at the same festival with the same access for the same purpose, we all must defer to other working media occasionally.  I don't care if I'm shooting for Rolling Stone and the person standing beside me is working for the Brik-A-Brak Blues Society Newsletter, we ALL must defer to one another so we can all get our jobs done.

Oddly enough, the performance photographers I have worked with who shoot consistently for bigger, more highly circulated publications are the ones who defer to the peers more often.  The bands we are all shooting are going to be on stage for a minimum of 45 minutes.

Unless we're all under a "3 songs and out" restriction, during which we all must work very quickly, there's absolutely no reason for any photographer to be an "angle hog".  As Greg has already said: Take a position, reel off a few shots and get out of the way so the next working photographer can do his/her job.  And yes, folks, it is a J-O-B.

I've seen far too many so-called photographers in working photo pits that are more fan than photographer.  That's fine -- we're all fans of the music.  If we weren't, we wouldn't be there shooting.  Much of the time, we're there at our own expense, footing our own travel, hotel and meal expenses in the hope that we'll snag several shots that will be used for publication later.

Of the little money I've actually made with my camera over the past several years, an overwhelming majority has come not from print sales but from usage fees I earn when allowing the work to be published.  In blues music publications, this money isn't at all great.  But it's something to at least make back a portion of what we spent to get the photos in question.

Almost never have I gone to shoot a festival and come away from it with more money in my pocket than I've spent to get there, house and feed myself.  In situations where I can drive to a festival, I do.  Sometimes (as in the case of North Atlantic in 1999), I drove a total of 21 hours to Maine from Chicago over a two-day period.  On the way back, I cat-napped at rest areas on the New York Thruway and Indiana Tollway instead of getting a hotel room.  While in Maine, where hotel rooms are scarce and expensive in July, I spent $400.00 just to house myself for three days, and considered myself lucky to even get a hotel room at all, at any price.  Between gas, food, general auto wear and tear and hotel costs, I probably spent about $1,000.00 to get there, do the job and get back.

These are the raw numbers, and PLEASE -- no one should take this as me complaining about spending the money.  I did so of my own free will.  Over four years later, not a single one of the photos I took at North Atlantic that year has seen publication.  These are the risks taken when trying to establish and run a business.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  I accept all risks for what they are with aplomb.

But the trip was no "vacation", either.  Photographers are sometimes the only professional personnel working an festival event who have not officially been "hired" (and I DO realize that many of the festivals I've shot over the years are run by volunteers -- that's why I clarify SOMETIMES and not ALWAYS).

My recent trip to Helena for King Biscuit is an excellent example.  I paid for my travel and meals, King Biscuit Time Magazine, for which I am Photo Editor, picked up hotel costs and most meals.  Over the next several weeks, I figure to break even on going to that event.  No one paid me hourly, there was no "contract".  But I went because it was my responsibility to go.

When I go to photograph an music event, regardless of whether it's at a club five miles from my humble dwelling or a big festival that is 2,000 miles away, I'll always work my ass off as though I'm being paid extremely well.  Call it a work ethic or whatever -- but when someone asks me to come shoot their event, I'll always go if time and budget permit.

What do I get out of that?  More than money.  I get comradery.  I get creative satisfaction.  Of the people on BLUES-L I have met face to face, most are ones I never would have come into any physical contact with unless we'd both attended the same festival.  And we're almost always ALL there working in some capacity.

I shot a lot of festivals this year: Chicago, Helena, Portland, Roanoke, Aurora, Illinois and more.  I hope next year to be back at every single one of them, time, health, access and money permitting.

I ALWAYS work hard, even when I'm not feeling well (and there have been a few instances when I've shot festivals with colds and flu, etc).  I figure it this way -- what's the point in even attending with photo access if you're NOT going to go to WORK?

Chuck Winans, President
Portraits In Performance Photography, Inc.
Chicago, Illinois
EMAIL: UnoBlues@aol.com
WEBSITE: www.pipphotography.com

In a message dated 10/16/2003 1:10:39 AM Eastern Daylight Time, slimlively@hotmail.com writes:

> You've got to know your place when working as a photographer. For the events
> I have stage access, I use it sparingly. In-out, take your shot and vacate.
> Never get in the way of the performer or performance. I have another rule of
> thumb, too. Since I am taking pictures for a lesser-distributed publication,
> I always let those who's shots will be used on a larger scale have the
> right-of-way. If I see somebody like Jef coming up, I gladly step aside for
> him. He'll have his shots published to a  far greater audience and will
> promote that performer more than I can ever do with my outlet. Respect is a
> key, be it for other photographers or more importantly the subject. I'd
> never dream of stepping onto a stage and getting anywhere near a spot that
> could interrupt a performance. And for another reason, I can't state how
> many times I have taken what I believe to be a prized photo, focused clearly
> on the subject at the time, only to find out later I've gotten some
> photographer or stage hand in the background disrupting the whole thing.
> Like Chuck, I am finding a great deal better shots coming
> from the audience
> or pit areas anyway.
> Greg

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