Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/08/22

[Author Prev] [Author Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Author Index] [Topic Index] [Home] [Search]

Subject: Re: [Leica] Elitism and the PRO
From: Donal Philby <>
Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1998 14:58:42 +0000

Paul Chefurka wrote:
> Now, for soemone who valued the work of Duncan, Capa,
> Eddie Adams and HCB, spending three or four years of
> 14-hour days shooting baby portraits, tool catalogues
> and cans of bug spray was ultimately soul-destroying.


Welcome.  I think you are in good company.

I have had some of your same experiences.  Starting as a PJ for the love
of people and documentary pix.  For various reasons I ended up writing
for many years and owning an ad agency.  When I decided to return to
photography it was natural to pursue clients I already had and markets I
knew.  (Strangely enough, only one client was able to make the
transition--to see me as a photographer, despite the work.)  So I have
learned to do the commercial stuff well, but iy is sometimes like going
to a factort job (which I have had) but with a lot more stress.  For a
while the challenge of making difficult commercial images was enough. 
But eventually, it wasn't.

In the 80s there was buckets of money and many in advertising could do a
few jobs and get enough to do personal work.  Today, budgets are so
thin, there is little left over for personal work for most
photographers.  Since signing with a big stock agency, I find that my
initial feeling of freedom (hey, no art director)  was soon replaced by
questions of whether the photo was worth taking--are the models perfect,
can I get releases, is it commercial, slick--nothing less will do.   I
found myself so critical and afraid to "waste" film on subject that
wouldn't sell that I found myself cramped and passing by the subjects I
loved to shoot because they couldn't be used for advertising.   

A few months before he died, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture
in Los Angeles by Ernst Haas. His topic was "Why Do We Photograph?"   
It was all about retaining the playfulness, about remembering why we got
into this in the first place. For most, it wasn't to support a big
studio and staff, it was to see the world and record its beauty and pain
and triumphs and comedy.

Last year I took a three week trip to Kauai and didn't shoot a single
image appropriate for my commercial stock agency--but had a great time
shooting people and places that facinated me.  Now the challenge is to
find additional markets for them (I've already made back the cost of the
trip in sales) to fund another such trip.

Less and less in the world is done for love--even craftsmanship has
fallen to the assembly line.  The cost of living the way we have become
accustomed to living has made productivity and profit essential to

The problem with being an amateur is there often isn't the time left or
the money to do larger projects.  Unless, like some famous documentary
photographers, you are independently wealthy.  

I spoke to Colin Findlay a couple months ago.  He shoots only BW and
mostly documentary stuff.  He did say he loves to get a good commercial
assignment occasionally, so that as soon as the check arrives he can
turn in into a plane ticket and go shoot documentary.


- -- 
Donal Philby
San Diego