What’s A VisionMonger?
Early this week, my second book – VisionMongers, Making a Life and a Living in Photography, was released. Holding your own book in your hands just doesn’t get old. Neither does running to the bookstore to put my books in front of Kelby and McNally’s Hey, they started it.
By now y’all know I’m addicted to the question Why? It’s just more interesting than How? most of the time. So I thought as an introduction to the book I’d share with you a couple of the Whys behind VisionMongers.
Once upon a time, before there were fear-mongers and war-mongers, and the name took on negative connotations, there were honest tradespeople that sold goods to other honest folks. Fish sellers were fish-mongers. Folks that worked with iron were iron-mongers. It wasn’t exactly an elite thing. It was a get-yer-hands dirty name. An honest name, if not a little blue-collar. But there was no mistaking what they were selling. So fast forward to today and the context of so-called professional photographers. I used the term visionmonger because it communicates several things at once, even if we have to first build some meaning into the term. It communicates that we are selling our vision. Not our ability to press a button, or the fact that we have lots of gear. Those are just the wheelbarrow in which the fish-monger delivers the fish. No, our value to the market is in speaking a visual language in a unique way, and delivering it in the way that best meets their needs. Want to be a shutter-button monkey? I think Sears is still hiring. But if you left a soul-sucking day job (and not all of them are) to make not only a living but also a life, in photograpy, then the path to doing that is finding and communicating your vision to the market.
Right, but why write VisionMongers?
I wrote this book because I love what I do. I wouldn’t trade it. Heck I left a career in stand-up comedy to pursue this, and that was an easy gig. People send me emails and tell my I’m living the dream and I can’t think of a thing to say to deny it. But it’s not easy. I want people to understand that this is not an easy path, and it’s not a path you take based on a template or a system for “becoming a professional photographer.” It’s a journey as unique as you are. What your path looks like will differ tremendously from mine. What is common is much of the groundwork that is needed to deal with the colliding of these two different worlds – craft and commerce. You can be a brilliant photographer and never make it as a working or vocational photographer because succeeding in the world of craft is not the same as succeeding in the world of commerce. Not everyone wants both, and that’s fine. But if you want to make a go of it as a so-called working pro, you need to understand the world of commerce as much as you understand the world of craft. So VisionMongers is a sketchbook of ideas foundational to that understanding.
I know, it seems like the same question. There are 9 case-studies in the book in which I look at 9 photographers I know and respect – visionmongers with something to contribute, stories to tell, and solid wisdom to be passed on. So I profile Chase Jarvis, Zack Arias, Karl Grobl, Grace Chon, Chris+Lynn Jaksa, Kevin Clark, Dave Delnea, Gavin Gough, and Darwin Wigget – photographers who between them work successfully in a diversity of markets – weddings, pets, commercial, landscape, travel, headshot, food, and humanitarian photojournalism. They all have things to contribute to the discussion and though I chose them for their diversity I’m amazed at how similar their wisdom is, despite the different journeys taken to get there, and that tells me there’s something to be learned from them. They don’t hold back either, and are all very open about the challenges, failures, and lessons learned that are part of their own success; none of them believe in secrets. You won’t follow the same path as they did, but knowing what their path looked like can be pretty helpful. There’s also a conversation with Joe McNally in there in case you want to hear it from the, ahem, elder statesman of the group. (The image above, btw, is a collection of images from the first page of each case-study, all of them are about 6 pages long. There’s meat on them bones.)
It was tempting to subtitle the book something less artsy. “Becoming a Professional Photographer”, for example. But the deeper I got into the writing the more I realized two things. First, this book is not merely about becoming a “pro” – it’s about crafting a career with the same creativity with which we craft our images – with vision and passion. Money is a means to sustaining that, to making a living. But the goal is to sustain our craft, and that’s more about making a life than a living. Secondly I realized I had a problem with the world “Professional” – it no longer has the cachet or meaning it once did, and the dividing line between so-called pro and so-called amateur is less clear or meaningful than it once was. And that’s a change I’m glad for. So I studiously avoid the word. Not everyone will like that, they get their identity from being a “Pro.” I think there are better places to find your identity than in a label. Instead I talk about being a vocational photographer, one who feels called to it, one who does it because they can’t not do it. I think it’s more helpful.
So that’s a look into the Why and one that hopefully gives you some of the flavour of the book. We’re living in interesting times and I think there’s probably never been a better time to chase this dream. It’s hard work, and you might fall down along the way – we all do – but it’s so gratifying, so challenging, so much fun. These dreams aren’t going to chase themselves, but a little wisdom from others that have done it, are still doing it, might make the chase a little easier.
VisionMongers, Making a Life and a Living in Photography is out now and available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobles, or at your favourite BookMonger. Don’t forget to enter the VisionMonger BIG FAT BUSINESS CARD GIVEAWAY THING. I draw at the end of the month and the prize package is pretty nice. Especially for an aspiring visionmonger.
Have a great weekend. Make time to shoot something you love.