Saturday, April 23, 2016

When am I?

Spending a lot of time sitting in my car these days in between shoots, idling passing time waiting for clients to be on-site and ready. The passing time is transparent to me, and it's vexing when I look at the calendar and see that somehow the entirety of 3 weeks has passed in a pocket of time I recognize as "yesterday".

Photography-as-work has defined my state of being since April rolled around. The month is nearly over and it feels as if it never happened at all. With my new photography contract, I made the erroneous decision to approach it with the same methodology as my long-standing real estate contract. It didn't take long for me to realize the mistake, these are very different clients governed by very different expectations. And while I managed to adapt my workflow appropriately, I failed to take into account the toll it would take on my private life, and as such the last 2 weeks have been 12 to 16 hour days of non-stop work. That is the crux of contract labor - with no awareness of each other nor the demands of everyday life, it is up to the contracted to establish the balance necessary amid the volume of work. I did poorly with this and am paying the price.

But, today I complete the machine gun beat of jobs and have the opportunity to establish the boundaries of my limitations once again.

Over drinks with friends Kevin and Rob last night, I was able to let out some stresses I've carried too long. I stood on a stoop in Baltimore and proclaimed with a passion I hadn't felt in a long time, "I have sucked the joy out of every thing I love". A cliche statement, but perfectly reflective of sentiments on my back, like pounds of sand, for years. The box I've cornered the practice of photography into, the finite rules and standards that work so well in commercial photography work and enable rapid completion to the end of doing more shorts in less time, has framed every exercise of photography in such a way that it is nearly repulsive to extend beyond those confines and experiment, the very function of photography-as-art. And yet the sterile work I do privately bound in that box does not satisfy me nor bring the joy of the kind of knee-jerk photography I still dare to carry as my namesake. Photography is now a formula to me, and expanding beyond such rigid thinking requires weeks of practiced effort to defy until the satisfaction of spontaneity is once again achieved.

Verbalizing the problem has done more than any blog-based ranting to assuage the stress and disappointment in myself for allowing an artful craft to become such a soulless exercise. And it's wonderful to have people who understand the problem, able to sympathize and commiserate with me in the struggle, regardless of whether or not they are able to directly impart a fix or change. Sometimes you just need someone willing to listen, able to understand.

And barring the back pain from awkwardly situating myself in my car to type this out, I feel enormously better today than the block of time I can only call "yesterday". Time to run off to my next shoot, now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

New work, new balance

Olympus E-P5 with 25mm f/1.8, 1/20" at f/2.0 and ISO 200.

Despite not believing it was possible to expand my business after high performance last year nearly maxing out available time, I picked up a new contract last month which is finding imaginative ways of dominating ever minute slivers of time not already occupied by the hustle and bustle of photo work. This is not a complaint, mind you, but certainly recognition that my inability to say "No", ever, ensures that I will manifest, magically, hidden chunks of time in my shoot schedule through new efficiencies or, more likely, time off from that full-time job I struggle to reconcile in my convoluted career path.

Last month I was contacted by a firm seeking a photographer to handle contract food photography assignments in the DC area (my work, inevitably, will always center on DC). I jumped on this with enthusiasm as food photography is nearly on the same level as portrait work in my short list of dream jobs. After stressing an inordinate amount in the production of samples for the contracting firm to gauge my quality of work (basically a photography-based interview), I quickly received a contract letter and the usual 1099 form, as well as an account by which the shoots would be managed. All very well organized and extremely responsive by email communication, which in the remote nature of the work (I have no idea where the firm's actual office is, or if they even have one) is critical. Then came the flood.

I'm not entirely sure whether the influx of assignments is a backlog of the region or if I should simply expect this volume regularly, but from the viewpoint of a new hire it was quite a lot at once. I did myself no favors by readily gobbling up assignments offered in the NoVA and DE regions as well, which naturally populated my assignment queue by orders of magnitude more. With a service region extending from Mananas, VA to Wilmington, DE, I've had to get creative with my scheduling to make anything work reasonably with the time constraints imposed by broader travel requirements. Juggling these assignments alongside ongoing real estate work, handled similarly on contract and fed to me with the same sort of volume and frequency... it's been a challenge. I've had no choice on a couple occasions but to take an hour of time away from my full-time office work, lock myself into a spare office, and run through the list of clients to schedule times. Inevitably, my weekend dates quickly see their scheduling opportunities evaporate, and to ensure consistent completion of assignments while retaining some semblance of reason in the travel requirements, I'm allowing my full-time job to take quite a hit, at least this month, on time available. The liberal PTO policy at the office has been the blessing permitting my pursuit of photography-as-work for over 4 years, growing from negligible sideline work to a legitimate small business. This may be the first time I've willingly put it second in my workplace importance priorities, and admittedly I'm concerned the abuse of time off may finally come back to bite me.

The photography involved has come very naturally to me, with the requirements of the contracting agency clearly understood and the product straightforward to deliver. Surprisingly my greatest struggle in this new work has been with communicating with clients. Unresponsiveness is something I'm used to from real estate assignments, some people simply forget when you leave a message or don't have the free time or head space to work out a time and date even after the 11th phone call or email. Restaurants, however, have introduced a new hurdle, the language barrier. Frankly, I had no idea how many restaurants are actually foreign-owned. Many owners have been of the English-as-a-second-language variety, which is not a jab at them, simply acknowledgment of the challenge. I've had to learn to speak slower and with considered clarity, and especially with a pared down vocabulary. Remembering my time in high school learning to speak Spanish, the trick has been to limit my use of English to the complexity with which I can command Spanish today, i.e. simple and sometimes in nothing but disjointed nouns. Thus far it's been working out - I find myself more frustrated by employees who refuse to take initiative in scheduling by putting me in touch with their managers.

So it's a busy period. Time and time again, I am dumbfounded by the very real capacity for photography to grow more viable as an alternative to 9-to-5 work. As with every year, my questions are of which career path to invest the most of myself in at any given time. Last year that question was easy to answer as I received markedly little graphic design work at the office, but this year holds the potential to see quite a lot of such work in offices out of State, which directly negates potential growth in my photography business. My photography business has eaten slowly at my office-life commitments for 4 years, it was only a matter of time until the office bit back.

As always, the goal is balance.