business meeting…


i now have about 20 minutes to "get my act together" and be on time for a magnum business meeting….actually, there are now three full days of magnum business meetings staring me square in the face….numbers….graphs……charts…..project approval….more numbers….

just a few hours ago we were all having so much fun at MOMA and the after party and the after party after the after party on my roof….and now this…..numbers….reality….i have a headache already…

at some point all of us do have to face the undeniable fact that we are in business….we have to sell our pictures….just like a farmer has to grow tomatoes and then get them to market…..growing the reddest, biggest tomato is not the only part….you have to get them to market….

magnum did not survive for 60 years without some kind of "business plan" although all of us sort of smile when the term is even mentioned…..because none of us are "businessmen"….most of us cringe at the thought and i,  for one, certainly chose photography as a profession and a life  to avoid the very business meeting i am about to attend….

are all of you out there good at the "business" side of our art??  what is the proportion of your time spent in taking pictures as opposed to thinking about balancing your check book???

i  suppose you already know what my answer is!!

11 Responses to “business meeting…”

  • I have a day job and the job allows me a lot of leniency. Thus, hardly ever think about the business side of my photography.

    I have seen many photographers who make better pictures than me and they were struggling to sell their wonderful work. Because I have a day job I decided to turn my back to it. I want to have a clear mind to work on shooting what I want and get better at it.

    It does not mean I do not want to sell my pictures. As a matter of fact I have a web site where I offer prints whenever I have a show, but I invented a framing solution where the prints that I hang could be displayed the way I like but I can reuse all of the materials to display different prints at subsequent shows. This way, my only expense is printing, and I can live with that.

    This solution has given me more freedom.

    Before, I was thinking about choosing prints that will sell.

    Now I think about choosing the prints I want to show.

  • Man, that’s incredible! Being the first to reply one of your answers… And just a couple of hours ago we at school were talking about that with our “tutor”, about how difficult is to sell our work… And how everyone would be pleased to pay 20% for an agent. We know lots of good photographers who are working less than they could because they don’t sell their images as well as they should. And the opposite, of course: “bad people” moving around like magic, with flexibility and an incredible power to sell, sell, sell. Well, it may seem like criticism born of prejudice, but it’s just self reflexion. I’d rather make better photos than being a salesman, but i know i’ve got to learn how to make it profitable. Or i’ll have to run an office job, like so many around. Well, suerte for everyone.
    P.S. Oops, i’ve just taken three minutes to write it and i’m not the first. Damn competition! :-)

  • It is 80 percent business – files, clients, billing, calls, etc.

    Twenty percent is for me and that is what it takes – except for actual shoot days – but if you break it down – non-shoot days are filled with interactions with clients, working on images, stock or trying to finish projects with no lead time. The downside to digital has been how much more time is required after the shoot – edit, web galleries, selects, more selects at the last minute for clients.

    Digital Imaging s what takes more of my time than anything else.

  • I’ve remained a staff photographer for a long time to avoid facing the business responsibilities of freelance photography. That aspect of the photo world bewilders me. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me the compromise of newspaper photography isn’t worth avoiding the realities of doing the accounting, marketing, financing and whatever else freelancers must do to survive. So I’m going to take the plunge and try!

  • I live in very simple world. No many no photography. I working a month then I load a few film, buy a bit materials and after few days I broke. Then I go to work next month… groundhog day….
    Life is just amazing… isn’t it?
    Now I have to buy a new camera so it will be long time in work…
    I hope it will be changed soon than later…


    I’m curious, that you are a member of magnum has caused your life more easiest? And your colleagues… you have any profit for that? I mean financial… mental it is only best profits…
    I ask about, have magnum photos something more than only legend and fame? When somebody looking at your agency know that you are greatest of great, but now on the world are millions of photographers who are very good in job or very cheap… for everyone is harder… or maybe not?
    Many of yours members are gone out…
    How is to be a magnum photographer?


  • I work at a part time job (3 days a week) to help ease into fulltime freelance photojournalism.

    I work for a variety of mags and have built up a solid amount of work stetching out until about Xmas. I’m planning to go fulltime in July/August.

    I’ve been attempting to get the business side right, because that will help me achieve my goal- fulltime freelance work.

    Personally, I don’t want to do weddings, newspaper work etc. So by concentrating on editorial work i find that I’m shooting/writing about issues/stories that are interesting to me.

    I once had a newspaper photographer say how much he envied me. I couldn’t understand that because he was working on a good salary, gear supplied etc. When i questioned him about it he said he didn’t have time to spend on a story, whereas I can spend a week or so per story. I know that’s not like spending 3-4 months on a story like Nat Geo, but it’s better than 5+
    “stories” per day for a newspaper photographer.

    I cut all my expenses to the bone, live in a converted double garage (into a 2 bedroom “cottage”!) to achieve my goal.

    I need to do personal longterm projects too, so try to piggyback them on regular jobs.

    I feel that if I’m business-like there is more chance of receiving airline sponsorships etc. too. Also, if the business runs ok I get better tax refunds!!! Don’t want to give the govt. more than they need!

    David, I hope you don’t mind me asking but could we hear more about Larry Towell? His work fascinates me and I feel that he seems to have worked out a great work/life balance too..

  • david alan harvey

    i will try to answer everyone’s questions at once…

    when i graduated from college, i worked for a newspaper for almost three years…i realized immediately, that three years was just about right….very very good experience at producing pictures on demand, but not good for a lifetime in photography…i cannot think of one single newspaper photographer who has “lasted” for very long at any kind of long term development…i am not quite sure why this seems to be true…

    the freelance life has some problems too…mostly that you do have to be more “organized” and you do have to think a bit more about business…with the newspaper job you do not have to “sell” your pictures…they have already been sold..but so have you!!..and this is a huge price to pay in the long run…

    i value my independence and freedom more than anything…and freelancing keeps you “fresh” and “hungry”….even my staff job at national geographic eventually ended up feeling a little bit like the newspaper job…i love the longer assignments at national geographic, but it is still only one editorial point of view..and on the staff , you are an employee pure and simple….even pushing the “edge” of national geographic is not quite the “real edge” you may want to push…but, for me, national geographic is far far and away the best editorial work you can do, so i have nothing but positive feelings about natgeo….

    but, magnum gives me unlimited opportunity..the ultimate…total freedom…and endless possibilities…and it is my agency…mine…or , i should say “ours”…i have no “bosses”…i do not want a boss…i could not have a boss anymore ever…clients yes…bosses no..

    and, most importantly, magnum gives me a place in photographic history….the association i have with my esteemed colleagues at magnum knows no equal….i am very very proud to be a member of magnum….why is magnum so good for me?? because you can never ever get to the “top” of magnum…there are so so many creative photogs who are always doing new books, and shows….to keep up with this crowd you must always always be doing something special…i like this type of “push” …it suits me perfectly….

    and a three day business meeting once per year is a very very small price to pay…and besides it is often very very interesting and this is where and how we come up with some of the amazing project ideas that keep us alive and independent…

    and my balance of personal life and professional life has never been better..but, i have always been pretty good at blending the two….this is the real secret of “success” and more important than anything else…

  • Good point, David, you’ve got an wonderful story, evolving from a job to NG assignments and then to a cooperative. But and the rest of us? I don’t consider working on a newspaper, as nowadays press photogs do lots — i mean tons, billions of billions — of “office work”, covering politicians, for example; they’re not on the streets, anymore. Well, some of them are, but my point is newspapers don’t seem to be the school they’re used to be. I think it’s easier keep a part time job and work on my projects in parallel. But how do we sell this projects? That’s the hardest part of the transition, at least for me. Does anyone has an answer? Or a single clue?

  • david alan harvey


    i do not tell you my story for any other reason than to give you a clue or hope or story cannot be your story, but that is the whole point..we all have to work it out individually, but there is always a way…

    in other stories on this blog, you will see other parts of my “story” that will help explain what i mean…

    for example, if you only read the “success” parts, you could imagine some kind of perfect nirvana life…

    such is not my case….i almost died or was crippled with polio at 6 yrs old….i failed at my first attempt at national geographic and was told to look elsewhere for work…i also failed at my first attempt to join magnum…

    another way to look at it is that i failed first in absolutely everything in which i later “succeeded”…

    edgard , i do not know your exact circumstances….but, i do know you can certainly live up to your full potential by just going out there and working very very hard on a personal project of your choosing…something that does not cost a lot of money to produce….

    i looked at your subway pictures…this seems like a pretty good start at a personal project….not expensive to shoot and you can do it any time…and i saw several very nice pictures….

    but, if you want this to be “noticed” you must take it even further…you must first remember that any editor or gallerist or publisher who looks at your underground work is going to remember bruce davidson’s “subway” book…or luc delahaye’s “bus” work…you should know the work of any major photographer who has already done what you are trying to do…not that you should not keep doing it, but please please know your “context”…

    if you produce a brilliant essay, you will have no trouble to “sell” it…

    you must work to the highest possible level….your fifth picture and your last picture in this subway series are starting to get to a high level in my opinion….in the others you are just in a mid-level…

    you must develop a real “point of view” or say something about underground travel….the isolation and loneliness of underground train travel is obvious…but, take it way way out there mi amigo…

    i hope you do not mind this very brief critique….it is impossible to give a true critique like this, but i only do so for your own good….in my classes, sometimes the critique is very tough to push photographers forward to their personal “next level”

    you describe working with your heart and your soul…so , show me this in your work…it will not be easy, just like writing about it is not easy….

    post new subway pictures….i will keep looking…

  • Thanks for your words, David. I do agree with you: i know that i still have a long way to make my work reflect the way i feel and see the world. Think right now i’m at the middle (beginning?) of this process. I know the references, Davidson’s work — not only Subway, but also Central Park and East 100th Street books are made from a heavenly matter — and i’m the first to say i’ve got to work hard to meet the standards.
    About the critique, i’m pleased, really. Mainly because it comes from you: i see how you respect every one’s opinion at your community and i saw personally the way you breath photography. Actually i’m quite amazed with the fact you find time on your schedule to manage the site. (I wonder how, really. Am i wrong or did you say you only need four hours of sleep?)
    I just hope you ain’t got the impression i was complaining: i was listening to you very closely when you told about how you’ve failed on the first NG assignment. I know i’ve still got some dusty roads to walk through, and i know there is no such thing as gold paved one. I was just saying that many of us (and when i say “us”, i’m including some good “pros” i knew here in Madrid) have real trouble to cross the ocean between doing and selling. Thanks again. And you can be sure i’ll keep on working. I never learned how to give up. Hasta luego!
    P.S. Actually, my work at the subway is at a “cryogenic state” since i saw Davidson’s book, a couple of months ago. But i’d rather show my work, even if it’s not the work i wanted to show, than showing nothing at all. I know lots of people who just talk, talk, talk, and i don’t like it (i’m outside on a rainy day, i do expect to wet my suit). Now i’m working on a new series, about amateur artists, and i’m think i’m a little closer from what i want.

  • I’m on the other side of the fence, as an art dealer and I struggle with the paperwork because I’m a very disorganized person by nature. Administrivia takes up an inordinate amount of my time, and I HATE it. I look forward to a day where I’m able to afford to delegate it.

    I was just talking with Eric Carroll about the overlooked benefits of working as a studio assistant when you’re just starting out. I work with tons of emerging photographers, and the ones who have some studio experience tend to be the most together, on all fronts – they understand editioning, they have a system in place to keep themselves organized and the know how to produce beautiful work and frame it nicely. It’s a combination of the stuff they’ve been required to do in the job, and also the contacts they’ve made while doing it – they know good framers, printers, labs etc and have good relationships with them.

    For better or for worse, as a freelancer you have to think of yourself as a self-contained business – there’s no accounting dept, or PR or marketing. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

    Of course the best solution is to become hugely successful so you can hire a studio manager yourself! Even then, knowing what needs to get done and how it should be done is a very good thing.

    Sorry this is overly long. David, your rooftop is fantastic and all the Magnum events this week have been swell.

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