What’s A VisionMonger?

In VisionMongers by David45 Comments


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.

Why “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.

Why Visionmongers?

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.

visonmonger-cover-smVisionMongers, 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.


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  8. I went to the bookstore on Friday, checked to Kiosk to see if they had it in stock, they did … 6 copies. Went to the section and couldn’t find it. I picked up WIthin the Frame and a clerk went on a search for me to find VisionMongers. It turns out .. they had just received it and had not been brought up from Shipping/Receiving. Brand new .. could smell the ink.

    I’ve just discovered your site and I find your information, guidance and insight very inspiring. Cheers David.

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  10. I got my copy of Vision Mongers yesterday and it is already one of my favorite photography books. Thank you for telling it like it is and not blowing smoke up our asses.

  11. Wow, this should be a nice read. Anyways looking to somehow become a VisionMonger to chase my dream and leave 9 to 5 behind. Can’t wait to get my signed copy 🙂

  12. Have to say that I am excited about reading VisionMongers. As we live in Europe, I figured it was best to just get the ebook. But gee, that whole Adobe Digital Editions format is a bust. The original book was downloaded got corrupted and neither Adobe (which manages the DRM) nor PeachPit seem too inclined to be very helpful. Avoid the ebook version; buy the paper version! Or get David’s other ebooks, themselves flawlessly implemented.

  13. just started reading to day, and even as a 15 year ‘pro” ( a word i now will use hesitantly”!!) it is packed with great info, point-of-views and insight! Great Job, Sir!

  14. “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.”

    I fell down today. On my arse in front of a load of people while helping at a wedding shoot. I just got up and carried on. I had no other choice.

    Afterwards I felt of proud of myself for the way I fell and how I managed to control things under the circumstances.

    Note to self. Buy some new non-slip shoes 🙂

  15. I am excited to get my hands on your book. Thanks for taking the time to talk to the many of us who have a passion bigger than our wallets and who desire to shoot what they love and have success in doing so (personally I desire the success in both the craft and commerce). May God continue to bless you as you bless the many of us who are gaining through your experience.
    Clayton Pearlstein

  16. David, et al:
    The section in VM called “Make a Plan, Stan” fit in with a book that I am re-reading and highly recommend; “Ten Minute Magic” by J. Keith Miller. (It appears to be out of print but, before I posted this I checked and copies are available.(Barnes and Noble, etc. Amazon wants $210, (?) so don’t go there…others are in the $2-3 range) Written as a novel with the characters going through the exercises, the premise is that when we force ourselves to make and prioritize goals and plans in a ‘set’ time frame, (‘set’ them in a time frame, not necessarily ‘achieve’ them in a set time frame) our minds are more likely to focus on them. Very valuable read for those of us who tend to dream and hope with vague plans of action. For example, if one of my dreams is to attend Lumen Dei (etc), I sit down for ten minutes and list the things that I need to do to achieve that goal, then act upon that. Not a very good synopsis, but this is not a book review. Worth checking out.
    I have, obviously, not thrown VM in the lake!!!

  17. Just thought I would let you know that I stopped at my local B&N to purchase your new book and was told that they would not be stocking it in the store and if I wanted to even see a copy of it I had to do a special order. What up with that??

  18. I bought and read Within the Frame. And I’m waiting for VisionMongers.

    I feel more confident to move onward to find my voice and my vision. Thank you!

  19. Well Played on all counts David. Really looking forward to reading this one. Also, the term “image-wallah” got an honest chuckle out of me. Nicely done!

  20. Recently found your terrific blog after reading ’bout it in Karl Grobl’s. I just read “What’s a VisonMonger” after coming home from a particularly difficult day at a “soul-sucking” job and I now feel grounded, centered, knowing my passion for photography will ALWAYS get me through. Now heading to Amazon to order your book! Many thanks!

  21. Got home today to find an Amazon box on the dining room table. I felt as if I was 12 again on Christmas morning….I have only had time to read the Foreward of VM and am already chomping at the bits…Lots of football on TV this weekend….I don’t think so!!!!

  22. So if you’re more than an amateur, but not ready to call yourself a pro, just tell people you’re an “image-wallah” – that should clear things up! 🙂 I love this place.

  23. Thanks for the answer David, much appreciated 🙂

    As I typed the question I began to realise it wasn’t exactly straightforward and found myself getting confused on what I thought the answer should be, or even what i’d like it to be. “Most of all I define success by who I am becoming, not only what I do. I don’t define success as a lack of failure, so I think that helps” encapsulates it perfectly.

    Many thanks!

  24. Great post, David, your writing gets better every day. (I’ve been in the archives again, can you tell?) Thanks for taking time to explain the title, …I did wonder about the “undesirable” connotation. I knew you must have a good reason and it makes perfect sense now, …can’t wait to read the book.

  25. Agree the term pro is sloppy and not too helpful as used today. In my view, the term “professional” first describes a standard of integrity, dedication, and client-focus put into your work, whether photographic or otherwise. We typically expect this of people who do something for money … wait, this isn’t my blog, I’m a guest here.

    I’ve been slowly working through my copy of VM since Monday (thanks, Peachpit!). It really is a helpful framework, and I imagine it’s what a weekend coaching session would be like. Thanks!

  26. Author

    @Sander – That’s the perfect word for it. VisionMongers and ImageWallahs!

    @Ian – Interesting question. It is, like so many things, a question of definition. And there is macro-success and micro-success as well. On the large scale, yes, I’d say I’m successful because I’ve met or exceeded the goals I wanted to have met by this point. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’m doing what I love. I’m working for clients I like, teaching the stuff I’m passionate about. I still have goals yet to be reached in life, so this is a question you need to keep asking. Most of all I define success by who I am becoming, not only what I do. I don’t define success as a lack of failure, so I think that helps – there is failure aplenty in my life, but that comes with risk – the true failure lies in allowing momentary set-backs to cripple you.

    On a micro level I think some efforts are a success, some are not. Some shoots are better than others. Som some days I feel more successful than others.

    @Ed – Check out the link Sabrina provided. She beat me to it. Like Within The Frame, VisionMongers is available in a digital format already.

  27. To quote what you said: ‘my path is different than yours’. I have long been a reader of Joseph Campbell, the great American mythologist. He talks about this all the time, that when you go searching for your mission in life, if you follow someone else’s path, you will find their mission, not yours. Good stuff.

  28. For those looking for an Eu release date, Waterstones are quoting 28/12/2009


    Hi David, wise words as always and if i may ask, they conjure up a little question in me. Do you think you’re succesful?

    A couple of reasons for asking; the first is that I remember you saying a while back that in essence, vision will always outstrip gear and you’ll never really be 100% satisfied for that reason. Also, you say in this post

    …”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”….

    that it makes me think, that’s the whole crux of the matter. We focus on things such as “pro & amateur”, “succes or failure” and yet ‘success’ is really not something best judged other than by the question ‘Are we chasing the dream’ and if the answer is yes, then that’s success.

    It doesn’t matter the position we are on the path, because the dream will always outstrip that position. Amateur or Pro, 10k a year, 100k a year, we’ll always feel we aren’t quite where we could be and that “success” is just around the corner, when success is really just being happy doing what we do.

    Apologies for the long reply, i’m just reinstalling Vista (again) so i’ve got a bit of time on my hands lol, and the thought intrigued me.

  29. Ah, it just sprung on me, and David – as ‘amateur’ of India – will like it. The translation of monger in India would be wallah! A very useful and honest word/suffix for anyone who does good hard work. Even for the desk-wallahs in the Writers Building in Calcutta at time of British Rule 🙂

    Vision Mongers: halas, not on Amazon UK or Amazon DE yet!

  30. Hey David,

    I’m in China and trying not to add any more physical possessions to an overweight lifestyle. Are there any plans to release this in an electronic format as I’d buy it then for sure?


  31. Hey, David i love your web blog and your e-books. Can you tell me when Visionmongers will be released in Europe. ( I’m from Holland)

  32. Great post, and a terrific summary of the book.

    I will buy VisionMongers as soon as I am through Within the Frame. 🙂

    P.S. I love the use of the word “cachet” in this post – so apropos!

  33. My copy arrived today – a quick flick through the pages tells me I’ll spend this weekend reading it from cover to cover. Awesome job (again) David!

  34. Great, just ordered mine.

    You’re going to need another tagline soon “books are good, but vision is better” 🙂

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  36. I finally caught up on all of your ebooks (phew) – so yeah, I’m looking forward to visionmongers. Thing is, Amazon.ca delayed it til mid december. Now there’s a void in my schedule… and my soul :-

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