Are you paid for what you do?

I am a big fan of doing things for which I am not paid. Really. In general, these are the things that change the world and the people who do them. So I’ve offered and I’ve done this a lot. In fact, there are so many things which I wouldn’t do if I were paid, but I’ve gladly done them for free. For the most part I have actually felt flattered to do them. See my previous post.

Then there is the little detail that we all need to be paid, for something, in order to exist. This is a different story.

And a yet another different story is when people expect me to offer my photography for free or for almost nothing. That is bordering with insult. Because the real implication is that it cost me nothing to make those photos. And that their value is less than what other people themselves expect to be paid for the fruit of their labor.

A custodian of the building where a couple of my photographs were on exhibit contacted me a couple of weeks ago. He was emotional: he had recognized the church and the cemetery where his ancestors were buried on one of my photos. It was taken at sunset on a cold winter day and it did have the moody atmosphere so characteristic of the place, in a small town one hour South of here.

That gentleman wanted to know how much I wanted for that photo. And I was flattered by the fact that my photograph had touched someone so deeply to take the trouble to track me down and ask.  That someone with little means  like him would want to spend part of his money for my photo. It was his emotional reaction to it in particular that counted, too  – after all, he had known that place all his life, but never even thought he wanted a picture of it before he saw mine. It had never occurred to him to take a picture himself either. It was my vision of the place that struck him. That’s something extremely important to me.

So I gave him a figure that was a tiny fraction of the price, which wasn’t even high in itself. A minuscule portion of what other photos in that exhibit and elsewhere go for. It practically covered the cost of the frame, the matting and the paper I used to print the photo. I was simply glad that my photo would be lucky to hang in a place where it had a special significance.

Imagine how startled I was when the gentleman said, with hesitation, that he would think about it. I thanked him for his interest and that’s how the conversation ended.

If he had just contacted me to say how much he loved the photo and how much it meant to him, I would have given him the print for free. I’ve gladly given prints for free to the people whom I personally wanted to take pictures of. It’s the small price of saying “thank you for letting me”. But if the gentleman had the full intention and even took the initiative to buy my photo and contacted me with that in mind, saying “that’s too much” to the price of the frame and paper was a different story. It’s insulting.

That reminded me of an acquaintance who wanted to buy a print of a landscape of mine at an art fair recently. She expressed enthusiastic interest, came back an hour later and thought about it, but in the end didn’t find the price convincing. Yet my prices are actually low by most standards. This friend of mine is a French teacher who gives private lessons. I know she thinks she should be paid adequately for her classes and would find insulting the suggestion that an hour-long lesson should not cost more than a couple of dollars, because there were no or little expenditures that went into it, after all.

Please respect the work of a photographer. What goes into that print or digital file is not just the cost of paper and ink. It’s the time it took the photographer to make the photo, the time to be there in the right time and place, like a particular sunset in a freezing winter day (which takes considerable effort). The time to process the pictures, to print, to mat and frame, to communicate with the organizers of the art exhibition or fair. The cost of photographic equipment, of gas and energy to take the picture and other associated expenses, the cost of post processing software or darkroom material and access, the cost of entering the juried show competition and bringing the framed, matted piece for the exhibition. It would be insulting to suggest that you want the picture but won’t cover that cost.

And this is before even considering the cost and time it took for the photographer to learn her craft, hone her skills and especially develop her artistic vision. Do you say this is not worth too much?


4 responses to “Are you paid for what you do?

  1. Love it! I’m not paid to write (I wish I was!) but love it and post almost daily. Great post!

  2. o well, it is so known… but this is how amateurs and available snapshot cameras really harm the industry, it is how people think it takes only to press the button, no its not. This is painful, painful story, but I may guess known to almost all who dedicated them self to photography.

  3. YIKES! It is a beautiful picture and it totally deserves to go to an appreciative home. But, yeah, totally not respecting the talent or effort that has gone into the creation of the art of the photograph is killer. boo on them.

  4. Thanks for the feedback and support 🙂

    Yes, the availability of digital point & shoot cameras has depreciated the value of photographic work within the general public. But, if I may give a comparative example, words are readily available to everyone, too, yet people are ready to pay for a nice sign to hang at home with quotes such as “Home Sweet Home” and similar calligraphic decorations. How come photography is not respected at least at the same level? I am perplexed.

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