“Do your job!” – Louis CK
by Ian Maclellan
I’ve been photographing a lot of events at different universities in the past week. Events are long and you take a lot of pictures of a lot of people wearing nice clothes under weird light. There are always snacks, but you can never eat them in front of people. You’re not hanging off mountains like everybody on your Instagram feed. It’s easy to lose perspective on things and I think the most important advice is just “Do your job!” as Louis CK says. I don’t just mean show up and get the job done, because I already do that, but why not do the job the best anybody has every done that little thing, all the time?
It’s pretty easy to get carried away about how artsy and clever of a 20 year old photographer you are. If you just had the time and the money you could totally best Salgado’s epics, Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s self-portraits, or maybe just live and work in the warm orange California glow of Jake Stangel, taking daily long bike trips up the coast and traveling to Europe a lot. The reality is that I’ve been fully out of school for less time than a lot of photographers I know have waited to be paid by magazines, but still I totally think Wired and Real Simple both just lost my number. Those people worked so hard and so consistently for so long to get where they are.
A lot of my work is for universities and corporate clients. It’s a lot of long events and marketing videos. I put most of my creative passion on personal projects. That’s a fine strategy, but it’s easy for me to lose sight of the value of the jobs I have now. It’s easy to just hang around with my camera gear and get pictures and video that meet the client’s expectations. Photography is challenging as it is. Light changes, people blink, a lot, and you only have so many angles to shoot from.
Last week, I decided to take the Orange Line to a shoot in Jamaica Plain and I was feeling tired and reserved in a very crowded T car. Two high school kids individually came up to me over the course of the trip and asked me if I was a photographer and filmmaker and I was nonchalantly like “yaaa” when I should have yelled “shit, yeah!” They each went on and on about how cool art is and how they have friends that make music or do video game design and how much they want to be artists when they grow up. They asked me about some of my jobs and I was like well I’m not doing anything that cool this week, just an event about college sustainability, one on finance, a bike race, a dental school ceremony, and a charity golf tournament. I thought they would tell me how lame that sounded and how life will get better when my jobs get better, but instead one of them said, “Wow, you get to meet so many people and see so many different things.” It took me a second to realize how right he was.
Every single assignment I’m meeting new people and in totally different situations. I should take all the photos that meet the client’s needs, but there is so much more I could do. I should be taking people aside and setting up portraits whenever possible. I should be getting more personal information from everyone I photograph to improve captions. I should get there even earlier and stay even later. Any chance event or walk down the street could lead to a new connection, new scenario, new test. Why not walk a little further and talk to a few more people? I’m going to be standing there the whole time with my cameras anyway and nobody else is going to run around and take the pictures for me; that’s my job.
Looking back on some of my peers, there are so many opportunities I should have taken advantage of at Tufts. I’ve done a great job constantly practicing exposure, but I’ve never really done the best job reaching out and building my networks and making the most of where I am. I’m trying more and more to work locally for personal projects, but what’s more local then an assignment I’m already at?
My point is, do your job. If you’re a young photographer like me, make every assignment awesome for the client and awesome for you too. If you’re a college student, talk to your professor after class(I know I never did). If you work at a wine bar, drink more wine.
Too bad I’ve only got one assignment left (a beautiful and hip wedding in Belmont) before I head off on a canoe trip down the Connecticut River with my friend Arlin. Tough.