Sustainable Prospects Week 9 / by Chris Chucas

This week we had talks from some industry people, one of whom was Amy Simmons, a creative producer at M and C Saatchi. The talk was about and covered a lot of how things work at that level that was expected from clients as well as photographers and how they work as part of the creative team. I definitely feel reassured that working on both commercial and personal projects is a positive and complimentary thing to do.

I mentioned previously but I feel really unlucky that the busiest time of year for my consumer photography businesses coincides at the time when I did this module. It is the most valuable and interesting to me of all the modules I’ve completed so far. I think that it is perhaps because I am working as a professional right now with a BA Honours in photography. We’ve been asked to concentrate on three areas this week.

  1. my portfolio
  2. my website
  3. my social media presence

I’m pleased to say that although my portfolio is definitely a work in progress, I’m grateful that basically I'm obsessed with image making, because it means I have a huge library to draw from and working in a contemporary way the possibilities for projects on which I can build upon using existing images is huge.  We were asked to look at exactly what type of photography that we see ourselves producing. I was worried that I would have to choose between shooting only commercial or personal work, luckily all the industry advice has told me that’s not the case and it is actually beneficial to shoot both, but I didn’t like the thought of having to be a ‘specialist’ and choose one genre, such as portrait or landscape. For me I’ve always tried to focus on developing style and being unique as much as possible. It was advice that I took in the last year of my undergraduate, studying photography, somebody said to me you should aim to have work that when people look at it, they know you shot it without having to ask who produced the work. In the back of my mind when shooting, if I have any niggles about how I’m doing something, I try my best to just shoot with my gut and let it work itself out. I didn't want it to be really strict with subject matter, I'm not very good at explaining with words but I think my photographic practice revolves around narrative storytelling. I've made some basic categories as I talked about it with others, these include:

  • fashion
  • PR
  • product
  • Lifestyle (branded content)

As I’m listing these they are not taking into account my consumer business of weddings and portraits, I’ve worked hard to keep them separate and under two different aliases. I treat them like a business and they are two separate businesses, each with their own brand. I would be interested to chat with more established artists who shoot weddings alongside commercial work as I don’t see too many people doing it and if they do I imagine they separated their brands like I have. Perhaps there's a benefit to doing this if you can make a comfortable living from the consumer side and still have enough time, maybe this can be empowering and give you the freedom to shoot a few personal projects without financial risk. Luckily for me I enjoy shooting both I types of photography I do and I think there are skills that crossover, I do want to focus on my non-consumer clientele so for the rest of this post I’ll be talking about that. After talking to the teaching staff and guest lecturers about constructive feedback on my website and work, I was really pleased to hear nice things about my work and when somebody told me that I had a strong portfolio and that they see me being commissioned for various work not necessarily a specific thing that was a really big boost for me. I may have mentioned before, but I’m also glad that I have been a little overcautious about reaching out to bigger clients. I would rather take a longer time getting to that stage of my career as opposed to rushing it and having problems changing people's opinion of my work, or missing out on opportunities because I didn’t wait until I was ready.  The main criticism that I received in feedback, which was voiced by everyone, was more about the structure of the website and not the work, although I have a few thoughts on changes to my shooting that I could try out. After looking a lot at Spencer Murphy’s work it struck me that I’m very rarely shoot portrait as opposed to landscape. I think this is because not only do I work photographically but I produce video and motion as well, I think even when I shoot stills where a linear method of showing them like cinema does.

Website

The structure of the website has definitely changed a lot since I launched it many years ago. I’ve constantly looked at and refined the structure of the website even before I had feedback with staff. After listening to feedback and implementing changes it’s definitely a lot simpler with a lot less text. This was something I was apprehensive about before discussing it because my other businesses rely on consumers finding the website via keywords and I have taught myself a lot of SEO in order to achieve it. The main difference between the consumer industry and the commercial industry, is that in the consumer industry you have to design a website so that each consumer can find you, whereas in the commercial art’s industry that is less important. In these industries networking and the artist reaching out to the agent/client seems to be the way things work as well as being noticed on social media.

We were also asked to think about the technical aspects of our websites. Luckily for me I already tried and failed in some cases with most of the options available to someone with my skill level of coding. I’ve tried weebly and Wix and and found both of them too generic and I was unable to get the website looking the way they wanted. Moving on from there I looked into WordPress and when talking about these differences am disregarding the free or trial versions, as they don’t let you use your own domain and that for me isn't good enough for the presence I need right now. The main difference between WordPress and Squarespace is that Squarespace is a more all in one solution that handles hosting as well. There is more flexibility for WordPress with additional plug-ins and more control over things but after intensive research I found that Squarespace would be more suitable for me as the interface to build and update the website is drag-and-drop, and although the additional in-depth features of WordPress seem good, they can often reveal security weaknesses when plug-ins are not updated and can also conflict with each other causing problems. On the most part you can do everything that WordPress can do with Squarespace just differently and hosting is included with their content delivery network reducing load times globally. I talked about feedback on the design and structure of the website, but since the Maximus Barnett talk I have been doing weekly backend check’s. This included Googling my name and checking results, if there were results that I didn’t want to be included to potential commercial clientele I would rectify it so that they wouldn’t appear. This could be simple things like my consumer websites using the wrong file naming structure and including my commercial brand by accident, it’s just a simple task of going and renaming the file name and alt text.

Although we haven’t talked about it much on the module I think a competent knowledge in SEO practices is essential for today’s climate. Obviously most people if given the option, could afford to pay a specialist and as we discussed in the talks with the editorial landscape dwindling at a rapid rate, photographers are having to become more and more adaptable to survive, this includes new responsibilities for those who can't afford to pay others for digital marketing etc. In that regard I feel lucky to have struggled and have learnt these skills from a consumer business to implement them into my commercial practice, even if I did get to the point where I did outsource it I have a good understanding of what was going on and know if I was getting a good value service.

Social media

Although I thought I knew a lot about social media from my need of it with the consumer business I have learnt that there are differences that need to be implemented for commercial/arts clientele. Since starting this module and taking on board all the advice from the industry we’ve had through talks, I completely wiped my Instagram feed and started from scratch. I have tried to be more regular in the schedule of posting, that seems to have positive effects, probably related to Instagram's algorithms. I’ve also experimented with posting at different times of day, I'm still not as knowledgeable with the optimal times for either but I do feel I have a strong skill set with digital marketing from a consumer business, which with a little bit of time and experimentation will enable me to optimise the delivery and engagement on my separate social media channels for my commercial clientele. I’ve also noticed an increase in agencies galleries and other working professionals since implementing the changes that I have put into place. Like all social media testing, consistency is the key to maximising engagement and reach. My refined marketing plan so far is to use my Facebook business page to connect with my audience more than my clientele. What I mean by that is people interested in the arts/non-commercial work, my personal projects that are inspired by and created for the communities are often the subjects but the audience can also be fellow artists and the general public. I do post occasionally on a business to business level to let people know that I am a photographer and video producer that can provide a service that they may need.

Further Reading

I had an interesting time going through some of the reading material this week. I listened to a the Jane Hilton interview on the 'A Small Voice’ podcast.

https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/jane-hilton

“That is my main thing about documentary photography, is being non-judgemental and basically using subject matter that people feel they know everything about but actually know NOTHING about” 42:10

She also talks about including biographical information about the women she photographed in her project previously, I thought it interesting that she said she didn’t display the information directly next to or underneath the images as she was worried it would force the reader into viewing the images differently. She explained that she included the information at the back of the book to make it a little bit harder for people to connect them to the images. She explained that she had to work hard to earn the right to take the photograph so she wanted to apply that to the viewer, they should work a little bit harder to get extra insight. I think that’s really interesting and I touched upon before but using text could be quite restrictive, I can force the viewer into reading an image in a restrictive way. I might look at including some basic information about the people in my photographs in places where they were taken in a similar way. I need to know exactly how I'm going to exhibit the work first.

I think it is really useful to look at my practice over the course of the three modules taken. So far my work has been produced with three approaches.

1. Narrative based Reportage

This method involves me making contact with people within the scene, carefully explaining my intentions and what I intend to do. I explain that I want to document the scene as a member of it and to continue on from where others have left of. My concern is in portraying the people within the community in a sensitive way. I pay close attention to body language and how people react to what’s going on. I often put the camera down and concentrate on building a good rapport with people before taking any images. Then after building these good relationships with people I continue to work with them documenting everything as I go along. I often find the longer I work with people the better the images are and the more they say about the community.

2.Self Portraits

 

 Get It Done, my music project practice with my old friend Jack, who is behind me

Get It Done, my music project practice with my old friend Jack, who is behind me

I like the way that artists I've been looking at like Larry Clark and Nan Goldin include themselves in their work. For me as a practitioner I feel that adding this autobiographic element both suits the work and adds to it. I am constantly trying to make a power neutral relationship between me and the subjects in the work.

 Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin

 A self portrait with punk rock fans taken whilst on tour with Lark Hill

A self portrait with punk rock fans taken whilst on tour with Lark Hill

3. Re-contextualising work from the community

©Chris Chucas-CRJ www.chrischucas.com-crj 0050  July 10, 2017 Falmouth University Ma Documentary Photography.jpg

This week I managed to head out to a larger show; Comeback Kid.  It was a larger show which meant the whole dynamic was different, having a camera didn't make anyone feel uncomfortable because they were expecting to see photographers at the show.  I was more interested in trying to capture portraits and document the fans rather than the artists. I don't think it was as successful as the other shoots definitely something I will be mindful of in the future. If I had spoken to management and contacted the band directly that would have been really good, but unfortunately they did not respond. I'm glad that I made it out and captured what I did.

I can see the progression of my work and although this week everything had terrible colour and the images work better in monotone I want to look at adopting some new variations when shooting, that might lend itself to being published easier purely as an experiment. If I think it's successful and delivers the visual message well, it can be helpful with reaching a wider audience.