After taking some personal time, I am back to work! Photography Fireside's next episode will come out this Monday at 10am. I am so honored that painter Lauren Boilini took the time to share about Artist Residency with our photography community. You will hear me talk about how I initially started in the industry by creating art, but that shooting with a camera was quickly interpreted as “portrait photographer” to onlookers. I quickly evolved into that field of work with no regrets. However, I have found that there are very few resources for photographers to explore the fine art side of their work, so I've been working on quite a few episodes for any of you who want to open up space for fine art in your life. I have some exciting guests coming up who are working in the fine art photography world!
On another note, if you listen all the way to the end of this upcoming episode with Lauren, you will hear us bring up a critical topic about paying artists and female contractors.
I’m sharing a little more about this here:
It is prevalent for artists and women who contract for work to be immediately asked for special discounts, trade work, and donated work. In my almost two decades of contract work, 80% of every potential contract has included those negotiations. That means for 80% of my career, conversations start with "I'd love to promote your work, what kind of discount can I get in exchange? Our budget is really minimal, so how much will you charge?" Rather than, "What is the cost for this service?" And I hate to say it, but the most common “free ask” comes from friends. I could make an entire second career out of the free jobs I get asked to do every year. The thing that becomes incredibly difficult—and possibly more noticeable because I am the primary household income for my family—is that people often assume that because I enjoy my work, pay is optional. People assume that because I am a woman, my pay is secondary to a primary household income.
I have sat with this in incredible frustration for being asked by people who would never sacrifice their primary income for someone else's to donate my product and time. Next time you ask an artist or contractor for a favor or discount, ask yourself if you want to negotiate your paycheck this month. Ask yourself if you are willing to trade part of that paycheck for whatever thing the person is offering you, and if that thing can replace the bills you need to pay. Ask yourself if you are ready to give up part of that vacation you were saving up for to support the interests of a company or friends. Or are you willing to forgo the car payment, miss a payment on the overdue medical bill you've been trying to pay off, skip the health insurance or car insurance, cut back on groceries, tell your kid they can't go to camp, skip the haircut, use hand soap for shampoo, skip fixing the breaks on the car, never actualize the dream of owning your own home, or the paralyzing fear of not having a retirement plan.
My experience is far from uncommon. I could give you hundreds of stories of people who experience this all the time. Especially women who contract in the arts. I have seen and know the devastating impacts of constantly scaling back the value of your work at the cost of your own paycheck. It is a recipe for stress, PTSD, and depression.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, too. I stopped negotiating, trading and doing free work outside of projects I specifically set out to do or support, and the response was anger, lost jobs and lost friends. All for the straightforward terms, "I am not doing free or trade work right now." I'm not saying all of this because I need assistance or because I want to complain. I'm saying this because it needs to be said. Artists and female contractors’ work is not free. It's not optional or secondary income. The value that they place on their work is the value they place on their work. Questioning that value devalues the work. If you are a small business struggling to get off the ground, it's okay to ask for b2b support, but if you have a budget and you withhold to keep revenue in your own pocket, you are taking advantage of the other business. That is not support, that is abuse. If you are asking for a service for free just because you want it, and not because you desperately need the help, that is just plain selfish. If you love someone's work and can't afford it, don't ask for a discount: save your money. Honestly, if you love art and support women in business do this one thing, and don't ever try to negotiate a discount by telling someone you have a house payment, car payment or are leaving for vacation. You are just saying that you don't value the contractor’s ability to pay for such things. Pay them what they charge for their work and services, and pay them on time! Bartering for your value and begging to get paid on time 200 times a year sucks the life out of you. Saying no to 20% of the free work that gets asked a year then getting shunned or shamed for it sucks the life out of you. If I can get two people to change the way they ask for work from artists today, the community will have a little more hope.
I'd also like to encourage my artist friends to share your stories here. I think it's important for people to understand real-life stories on how this affects peoples lives. Here is a story from me: The year I decided to brave reopening a photography studio two months later, I was faced with a devastating divorce. I found myself paralyzed crying on the floor of that studio, and it wasn't because of a broken heart. It seemed that the curiosity around my divorce had suddenly brought to everyone's attention that they needed family photos, so all at once I had 15-20 inquiries for a family session from acquaintances, friends, and family. It should have felt like a sign everything was going to be okay, and my business would thrive. Except, every single person either wanted the session for free, offered me what they thought was the going rate: about $50 or so, or asked me for a 50%-75% discount on services. I can honestly say that each and every one of those people thought they were doing me a favor by supporting my business.
All that said, I do believe in supporting each other as artists and I intentionally collaborate on work that is valuable without a cash exchange. I also often gift family sessions to those who cannot afford it, and headshots to women getting started in business, along with donating time to non-profits that are dear to me.