When I started this blog back in 2010, the idea that people could make any actual money from photography online seemed pretty much impossible. Even though Instagram was still but a twinkle in somebody’s eye at that point, people were already far more likely to spend time on a closed platform like Flickr than they were to click through to your blog, where you’d at least have a fighting chance of running some kind of ads, or an online shop.
There were some notable exceptions to this of course, but all too often, it seemed like those who somehow managed to garner a large following on their own domain then ended up with the desire to monetise it in every possible way; a transparent desperation that appeared rather disingenuous to many of us who were primarily interested in sharing our creative passions. Perhaps it’s just a misplaced sense of pride or foolish notions of integrity, but I still find something rather guache about the juxtaposition of art alongside a list of Amazon Affiliate links.
That isn’t to say I don’t think that people shouldn’t make money from their photography. Quite the opposite, and for the longest time, the logical way I saw to do that was to actually take photographs. I spent years in nightclubs, going to festivals, convincing bands to let me go on tour with them, and newspaper photo editors to give me a chance. I desperately wanted to avoid falling into what felt like the trap of doing weddings, which meant that when I did, I almost always did them for costs (that’s a whole other post for a whole other time).
Ultimately, I realised that I don’t actually like being a photographer. Or at least, I don’t like taking photographs for other people.
After years of chasing £50 invoices from huge publications like the NME, or fighting with clubs over an extra £10 a shift (figures they all could easily pay, but which for me meant the difference between being able to pay rent or not); being constantly patronised by anybody else in the room with a camera; taking abuse from drunk people and security staff for no good reason at all; coming out of a venue at 3am only to find my car with all its windows panned in; having to spend weeks wrangling a photo-pass for an event on the off-chance that I might be able to sell a couple of pictures to a newspaper afterwards, and turning up only to find that I was never on the guestlist as promised – or even worse – that the promoters who were often owned by millionaires had decided to impose a mandatory ‘donation’ fee on the gate that I was expected to pay in order to get in and work… the people who were never happy; those who said their bar staff would do the same job for free; the over protective relatives; the ‘first three, no flash’ where the band were lit by strobes. Fuck. That.
Only when I ditched my road weary and severely beaten Canon 5Ds, sold off my fancy L glass, and instead started experimenting with weirdo Russian lenses and ancient cameras did I rediscover my love of taking pictures for the sake of it. Taking pictures of friends. Documenting my life.
Of course that then left the question of how to make any money off of the work I was doing. Or maybe, I didn’t need to at all – and for a long time I chose not to bother. I was liberated from the demands of others, and just took whatever pictures I wanted whenever I wanted to, and shared them on my blog, with no real concern about whether anybody looked at them or not.
Lately though I’ve been thinking again about this. I can’t help but feel like I’ve missed a trick along the way; that there might be some kind of way to maintain and support an obsession with photography without having to sell your soul either to those with unreasonable demands, or (worse), to the God of Content. Ultimately, it’s less about making money, and more about finding a new way to share and engage with a community of folks interested in what you are doing (and not get swallowed up in the anonymity of something like Reddit).
I’ve been making videos over on YouTube about my experiments with music over the past few months, and found that you can fairly quickly build up decent numbers of subscribers if you are prepared to ‘show your work’, and can’t help but shake the thought that if I had invested time into a channel for my photographs rather than blogging that I would be in a much better position, and perhaps I should just start now – but then it becomes a whole different ball game. I want to take and share pictures, not create ‘content’ about taking pictures, with one eye constantly on the Revenue tab.
For now, I’m toying with the configuration of ads on this site, but so far the results have been hilariously bad. Either Google plasters huge banners in between every picture on every post, or includes nothing at all – and so far I have earned precisely £0.76. Not really worth the instrusion. My apologies while I get that fixed.
Whatever happens, I need to find some kind of consistent motivating factor to help provide a renewed purpose for taking pictures. While doing it ‘professionally’ was a curse, it also provided some kind of confidence and photographic identity, which I feel has slipped away intro nothingness. For the past year I’ve barely lifted a camera, and I’m not really sure how to find the drive to do so again.
Maybe I just don’t really like being a photographer at all.