I am a bartender. After 15 years of slinging drinks it’s still hard to come out and admit that shooting isn't what I do full time. The path I've taken has been a twisted, gnarled, winding thing fraught with frustration and surprise. I've been shooting for 11 years and I never expected to still be behind a bar. But, such is life! I’m here to talk about dealing with that gut-wrenching feeling that comes along with any artist who hasn’t quite made it: shame.
Picture it: you’re catching up with old friends and they ask what you’re up to these days. “I’m a photographer,” you semi-lie to them. Of course you conveniently leave out the fact that most of your income comes from (insert day/night job here). After the conversation you mentally kick yourself for still being a part-timer.
Well you know what? Stop it.
The Un-Fun of Being an Adult
You have bills to pay. You might have kids to take care of while being a loving husband/wife to your partner. Perhaps you have student loans to pay off that are stopping you from jumping into photography full time. You may have other obligations that are preventing you from fully committing. Heck, you may just be lazy! The point is you have a journey to take. Your life is complicated and things don't always go the way you foresaw them going. That doesn't mean you can't turn things around and get to a better place. It doesn't mean you'll never make it and your dream of being a pro is over.
You may never make it as a photographer. That’s the cold, hard, reality of it. It’s a competitive business and sometimes (most of the time) talent isn’t enough. Time, perseverance, and connections are what make or break an artist. Of course there are those rare folks that come out of the gates swinging and shoot to the top in no time. However those people are the exception and not the rule.
Don’t Forget You’re an Artist
What keeps me sane? Personal work. Do work that matters to you. It’s fine, even healthy, to want to make money. But peppered in there you need to do some work that keeps you fulfilled. Don’t become a robot spewing out banal images to try to make a quick buck so you can quit your other job. There are always going to be those “pay day” jobs, but you can’t let them rule your artistic life.
I love taking photos of real people in a cool way. That’s what gets me going. I also do headshots, weddings, model portfolio shoots, etc. I enjoy those shoots as well. But when I go to put an image on my wall, it isn’t a headshot or a pretty model, it’s a soulful portrait. Maybe for you it’s a landscape or an awesome fashion shot. Perhaps it’s street photography or a perfect shot of that incoming pitch. On your journey to go full time, don’t forget what made you love photography in the first place.
Network, Network, Network
While you’re in that second job, especially if you’re in the service industry like me, you have a wonderful opportunity to network. Make those contacts. Always have business cards on you. Many of my favorite images are of people I met while working. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that talent doesn’t matter, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been hired for a job simply because I made it known that I’m a photographer. People don’t want to do the research to find that perfect photographer. They want them to fall in their lap. You need to take every opportunity to fall in people’s laps. That sounds a lot dirtier than I intended, but there it is.
With hard work and persistence you can get to that full time status. In the meantime do work that makes you proud, cultivate the relationships you create at your other job, and keep pounding away at it. Put that shame in a drawer, lock it up, and throw away the key. You’ll get there. At least that’s what I tell myself.