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Best and Worst Things I’ve Been Told

I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore. In its heyday, stock photography was big money and various stock photo agents actively sought after my partner/husband and me. We had a deep body of travel and portrait images that were valued by many and we had set up meetings with some of the stock houses that were located in NYC – just across the river from where we lived, in NJ. One day we had a meeting with a rep who repeatedly praised our work as she went through our portfolio and made it clear that she wanted to sign us up. Then she said, “I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore.” We didn’t sign up with her, went on to make a lot of money in that part of the business (at that time anyway) and live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States that happens to be in NJ.

We call this the “love” contract. When many photographers were making pretty good money producing and/or licensing “stock” or existing images, one of the big stock outlets decided to roll out the new contract. At that time, stock photo contracts were changing and to be brief, the changes were never in the favor of the content creator. One day, there was a huge meeting of the photographers at their NYC headquarters and the point people from the company came out on stage and joyfully announced the rollout of the new contract, which they called the “love contract”.

That immediately caught my attention but not for the right reasons. Later the audience asked dozens of questions about changes or alterations to the contract, which were answered with replies like “we’ll take that to corporate”. After about an hour of listening to this but not seeing anyone taking notes, I instinctively asked, “How are you going to remember all this?”

They say your print is only as good as your negative. When we were starting out we were very lucky because we were embraced and mentored by a leading art director at a prestigious magazine and he gave us a lot of opportunities. I can honestly say, that knowing and working with this man has changed my life for the better I many ways. One thing he loved to do was to have a luncheon or dinner with the photographer(s) and writers and staff who worked on the article together. We were young and very green and we’d be at the table with some of the legends in the business. During one of those luncheons, a very prestigious photographer and his wife were in attendance. The photographer was going on and on complaining that he couldn’t find an assistant that could make a good print. This particular photographer was well known for complaining. I’m not sure if it was the 2nd glass of wine I had or the fact that I was sympathetic for the assistant but for some dumb reason something popped into my head from what they always told us at Brooks and I blurted out – “You know what they say. The print is only as good as the negative.” I don’t know who laughed harder, the photographer, his wife or our mentor.

We didn’t feel we needed to see you. One day my daughter came home from school and told me that her teachers didn’t feel they needed to see me on parent/teacher night because she was a great student. At the time, our town was growing and class sizes were getting big and I suppose the teachers felt that since there were no problems, there wasn’t the need to talk. I understood their plight, but I have one child and pay dearly for the public schools through high property taxes. So, please don’t tell me I can’t have 10 minutes of your time. When I met with her teachers, they praised her and said they really didn’t have much more to say. I instinctively said, “ I didn’t know it was going to be a one-way conversation.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? When I was headed to Brooks Institute and planning to drive my 10-year-old VW bug from NJ to California, by myself, my Dad told me that I would be foolish and it would be better for me to buy a better car. I immediately said, “How will I pay for it? My dad said, “you’ll get a job”. I said, “What if I don’t get one?” He said, “Gail, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I thought, well they would take away the car if I couldn’t make the payments, but at least I’ll get to California.

Why not? I got together recently with my friend and fellow filmmaker when she was in town to do a Q&A at a screening of her new movie. She reminded me of something that I once said to her and has stayed with her and inspired over the years. I said, that whenever someone questions me and asks me why I’m doing something that may seem too outrageous or daring, I answer by saying – why not?

 You’re 25 and already making compromises? I call this story my Jay Maisel story and is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. I was young and showing my portfolio around in NYC. My love was travel and I wanted to shoot for magazines, but it wasn’t a good time to pursue editorial work, Look magazine had recently shut down and Life had folded for the first time. Everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living with photography then I needed to shoot commercial work. I had put together my commercial portfolio and went to see the legendary and blunt NYC photographer, Jay Maisel. He looked at my work and pretty much threw it back at me and said: “This is crap, this isn’t what you want to do – is it?” I told him no, and that I wanted to shoot for magazines and travel but everyone told me that I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. And the blah blah blah of youthful excuses. He asked me how old I was to which I replied that I was 25 years old. I’ll never forget what he said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises!”

Read more at: Journeys of a Hybrid

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