People write in regularly, daily, asking how to “make it” as a photographer.
For one–respectfully–I’ve never had the vision to be able to jot down my life’s work in recipe format in an email. If I could summarize it in a few sentences, I certainly would have done that blog post a long time ago.
For two, I read a great piece today written by a Court Crandall of the Los Angeles agency, Ground Zero, that comes as close to answering the question as I’ve ever read. And it’s also about how to “make it” at damn near anything – photographer, filmmaker, agency guy, whatever. Here’s an excerpt:
…[Noah]Clark interviewed to be my assistant a couple weeks before he was scheduled to graduate from the University of Southern California. Unlike the other finalist for the job, an attractive woman the rest of the creative department was imploring me to hire, Noah was more “boy band”: spiked hair, fresh face, jeans that were more fancy than a guy needs to own. But there was something about him that reminded me of myself. And it wasn’t the hair. He was just so damn eager to be in the business. There was no pretense, no attitude or entitlement. All he wanted to do was work hard, learn and help.
So I hired him, spelling out very clearly that the chances of his growing into an art director position with us were similar to the word at the end of our agency name: “Zero.” He nodded along and said he understood. Then he set about completing every task asked of him to the highest standard possible. Between doing all the so-called “grunt” work, Noah grabbed every creative brief he found lying around the office and looked for ways to help out with layouts, taglines, new business presentations, etcetera. He never asked to be promoted. He never bitched about his day-to-day responsibilities or acted like anything was beneath him. Which is why when a junior art director position opened, I decided it was time to do what a guy named Peter Seronick did for me years before: Give him a chance. So I gave the kid who was Ground Zero the opportunity to join our creative department over all the guys and girls who simply wanted to work for Ground Zero. [Click the ‘continue reading’ link below…]
In the four years that followed, Noah turned into an award-winning art director who did the kind of work students at VCU and Art Center now point to and say, “Someday.” But that wasn’t what made him special. The longer you do this job, the more you find that doing good work is the price of entry and it’s all the other stuff that separates the folks you really like from the ones you can’t live without (my emphasis, cj).
In 15 years of owning Ground Zero, there haven’t been many folks who regularly beat me to the office in the morning. Noah was one of them. It should also be noted that he was often the last to leave at night, if he left. I don’t say this to glamorize long hours or a sweatshop mentality, but to point out that he typically wasn’t burning the midnight oil or the pre-dawn oil to better his portfolio, but to make a presentation look a little better, work on the agency new business materials or polish an ad that was still a little too rough around the edges for his liking. This kind of dedication earned him the moniker “The Cleaner” from Laura Eastman, our head of account services. Like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, Noah was the guy who fixed things, no matter how screwed up they might have been when someone dumped them in his lap. When another art director left on vacation, Noah picked up the slack. When another team dropped the meat in the dirt, he picked up the pieces…
If you’ve gotten this far, then you either have character, want character, or you are one. As such, I strongly recommend you read the full piece here, and get some insight into becoming–or surrounding yourself–with “Players of Character”. I honestly can’t say enough about how valuable such a trait truly is…
Must have the precious!
Thanks for posting Chase. It’s a good read and helps me look at the big picture, career wise. The method for building an appropriate team is simple, but entirely effective. I hope to humbly be a part of a team like that.
I’m with Scott Van Dyke on “under promise and over deliver” – it’s a philosophy similar to Paul Arden’s “Astonish Me!”
I am disappointed in Mathew’s response as Court Crandall clearly does not consider “long hours” to equate success: “It should also be noted that he was often the last to leave at night, if he left. I don’t say this to glamorize long hours or a sweatshop mentality, but to point out that he typically wasn’t burning the midnight oil or the pre-dawn oil to better his portfolio, but to make a presentation look a little better…” etcetera. It does however, condone a “whatever it takes” attitude, which is likely to include very hard work and occasional long hours to meet deadlines.
Chase thanks for the article.
Like many other photographers, I started out 15 years ago as in intern. I was getting the coffee, painting the cove, getting lunch…doing things that I thought that had nothing to do with photography. How wrong I was. Even from the simplest things, like taking coffee or lunch orders….it was all part of the big picture. I was learning how to manage time and produce the simplest tasks on shoots. I know it sounds nuts, but it was true. I felt a part of the shoot. Even though I was producing from the lowest end of it, it needed to be done. Doing all of this while not get paid finically, but getting paid in experience that no school could had ever given me.
Like others have said, there is no short cut for hard work. Most young photographers do not get in this game to a professional assistant. I know there are some out there. Most want to be person behind the camera creating the work. Being consistent for me has been hugh for me. Showing up on time, delivering the files on time sending out thank you cards after the shoot is all a part of it from me. You have mention this before Chase…but under promise and over deliver works very well.
So I always have this idea in my head that, if you feel like your getting paid to play, chances are you are doing what you love.
Great post Chase! When I started in photography 28 years ago, after having received a Masters in another field, I got myself in the door of a number of prominent photographers in NY by making it clear that I would do whatever was needed and with a smile. I can’t tell you all the trivial tasks I was asked to do, but it payed off in the great education and experiences I gleaned.
What an awesome article Chase… thanks for posting this!