biz meeting

i am sitting now in a business meeting….i am even a member of our board…yet still, like an errant schoolboy  , i am restless, shifting in my chair, fighting sleep and having trouble paying attention to the graphs, charts, and numbers being thrown around…i have now been in Paris for two days and only know that it is freezing cold outside…i will not savor the delights of the city….

all of this is very important business for Magnum….we have survived for 60 years because SOMEONE was paying attention to all of this…and even i am much better at understanding the business side of our craft than previous…..but , i am very grateful for  all of the other members who are much better suited than i for "balancing the books" at Magnum…i can barely balance my personal accounts…

i am only on the board, in fact, because of my activities with  the Magnum Cultural Foundation and our education initiative….but, i did my presentation hours ago and so now i am writing to you instead of making suggestions for a better four office coordination program…i am, in effect, "scribbling" on my laptop in the "back of the class"…but i am still, sort of, listening too…

balancing a creative life with a business life has always been difficult for me…how about you??  does business acumen help you with your photocraft, or are you like me…more interested in photographs than in flow charts??



72 Responses to “biz meeting”

  • Once I read somewhere, “it’s nice to make nice photographs but it’s better to know how sell them”… Well, I don’t know, it is kinda related to any kind of business but for sure taking picture is much more exciting (for me at least) than trying to sell them (unless you are a lucky guy who doesn’t have to look for)… But anyway, photography is a side thing for me as it doesn’t pay the bills, another kind of less interesting business is involved in order to pay those bills, and this is for sure not that exciting but necessary… To summarize, I think that you are luckier sitting there than me writing this… enjoy Paris…

  • Opposite end of the spectrum from you. I come to this blog on a very regular basis simply for my love of photojournalism. As a young man I took the business route instead of the photojournalism fork in the proverbial road. I still make images but they are for me, for fun and someday, maybe to tell a story.

    Having said that, I spend my time in business meetings much like you are doing today, restlessly waiting out the time and trying to come up with my next creative photographic endeavor. As Yan said, and I dare to to agree with her, I would rather be in your business meeting than the one I am currently attending.

    You are doing a wonderful job communicating, mentoring and just being — by many postings by people that seem to know — you. Keep up the great work. The business meetings will end and you’ll be out making images once more.

  • David, mon ami, bonjour!

    Yes, well, ‘the biz’… I know it makes the world go round, but honestly I am probably (undoubtedly!) even much worse than you when it comes to making the figures add up, show a profit, and keep me out of trouble with the taxman. Reminds me of an apocryphal story from my backwoods Idaho days. To understand the story, you have to know that a ‘cedar savage’ is the logger’s equivalent of the freelance photographer– no steady contracts, lives on a shoestring with minimal overhead, usually camped out in an old travel trailer on the side of a dirt road in the national forest somewhere with one or two mangy old dogs, scrounges up cedar logs (either legally or illegally) and hand-hews them into telephone poles (this was in the old days) or hand-splits them into ‘shakes’ (what some people call shingles) and then sells them in small job lots to a local mill for cash which immediately gets turned into groceries, gas, dog food, whiskey, and Copenhagen ‘snoose’ (chewing tobacco). That’s the cedar savage life, and even back in the mid 70s it was an endangered lifestyle.

    So, the story goes that one year a local doctor won the lottery, and when asked what he would do with the money, he revealed his plans to open up a clinic providing medical services for the local rural community that normally wouldn’t be available in such a place, and charge minimal fees for low income people. Heartily applauded by the community. The next year, the lottery winner was a lawyer, and he established a scholarship endowment fund for local kids to go to college. Both the doctor and the lawyer saw great changes in their personal lifestyles as well, one taking a long trip to India, the other building a big new house and buying two Mercedes.

    Several years later, to everyone’s surprise, a local cedar savage won the lottery. Naturally people were curious about what he would do with this windfall, and how drastically it would change his life. But when a local newspaper reporter put the question to him, he said, “I dunno…I guess I’ll just keep logging until the money runs out.”


  • Hi David,

    I have a degree in Information Systems. I think the technology side of my brain helps with the photography side. There is a part of my nature that is systematic and results orientated. For over 10 years I have been solving problems for a living. That helps me approach my creativity in a systematic way (if that makes sense). It just means that I don’t just show up with a camera. I do the research, I plan, I consider back-ups. I also consider what the client wants and not just being “creative”. So I think it’s healthy and ultimately as a professional, imperative, to have both sides of your brain working. The challenge is the balance. How do you make sure your business brain doesn’t sap the juice out of your creative side. And how to make your creative side ensures that you get paid what you should. Sometimes I think my creativity suffers because I “think” too much. It’s hard to get out of one zone and into another. That’s a real challenge.


  • David

    I’m more interested in photographs of course… but I’m not like you, because you are selling your pictures, you are working for NG… and I…????
    I’m working nowhere and selling nothing…
    Only I pay 20$ for one velvia film with developing… for what?… For nothing…
    And no more probably…


    Ps. That’s why I like your Blog so much… because your mind is here always… even on meeting… even in paris

  • argh, the business side. Well, I’m a bit pessimistic about the business aspects of photography. Let’s just say that I’m keeping my day job.

    I amassed other side jobs that help pay for some photography expenses. Many times I wish I could scrap my day job and 2 other side jobs to devote full energy into photography and photography business but I haven’t seen any ‘hints’ which would tell my gut to make the plunge.

    In other words, I think of you as lucky to be able to focus on photography and if you need to deal with the business side it is still photography related.

    cheer up, get a hat and mittens and a hurry into that Paris sleet to make some wet dripping shots ;-)

  • Nuno de Matos Duarte

    I’m not a photographer. I only like the way poetry emerges from some special photographs, because photography it’s a form of art that has this unique and strange way of linking us to reality. Said that and it’s obvious that I don’t need to make that kind of balance between money and art. I work has an architect and my money is always safe. Not much money but safe. Outside my office I’m free to do whatever I want to do. I love all forms of art. So I’m writing, drawing, painting and photographing.

    Best regards


  • I’m working on some business today in fact. Not the most fun but pretty damn important.

    But, without a doubt, I am horribly doofus-like at this aspect of photography. That is why I am ever so thankful that my wife is brilliant! I’d be lost without her.

    By the way…what is this “flow chart” of which you speak? ;^}

  • That great Sidney!

    Right now I’m in the middle of it, living a (somewhat) compromised lifestyle for the purpose of doing what I love. It requires putting my skill-set in design to good use in order to support my interests in photography.

    So I figured if I was going to be “da man” instead of working for him, I was going to have to run my life like a business, which I know sounds horribly unromantic. I don’t know how it is in other countries for freelancers, but here in the States if you don’t keep track of your numbers, you’re going to get screwed with taxes. So I got my DBA (doing business as), business checking account (to keep it separate from my personal) got my accounting software to track money in and money out, expenses, mileage, payments to sub-contractors, equipment, etc. (see I told you it was unromantic!) I’ve also lined up an accountant/CPA to prepare my taxes (usually do it myself but since I’m now a business, a professional will make sure I don’t miss anything.)

    Beyond that it’s just seeking design contracts online and trying to find editorial photography jobs (which don’t really exist in Michigan.)

    That sums up the current approach to the numbers. All of this keeps me poor and happy. I’m going to quit now before I start writing my business plan.

  • Dear David,
    I came to know your wonderful blog two months ago through my friend and It becomes an infection of reading the blog regularly and today the topics look so interesting that i cannot stop me to write something.

    started with an interesting story………

    we have a painter named Makbul Fida Hussain who exhibited his work in Kolkata, India on 1955 and cannot able to sell a single copy of his painting with a mere 100 rurees ($2) but in early 2000 he sold his 100 photographs in 1000 millon rupees ($25 million) and now it almost jump to twice his value and sold ($0.5 million per painting). Is it so that his shots were not worthy for $2 at his first exhibition?
    A true photographer is not a businessman…..rather to him photography is one of the portions of his heart, reflection his emotional mind and his passion….he only bothered regarding the creation……but the businessman….only think about commercial value of the photograph….commercial value can be enhanced by different ways, for that reason monetary value not always represents the quality of the photograph…….sometimes its the brand for which the photographer get payment not by the quality of the photograph……
    you may probably agree that most of the photographs sold in the world is just above average and the best ones seldom get the values.
    In our Indian Philosophy an old lady said to God that don’t give me much money rather you give me poverty so that i can remind you always………huge money can destroy the heart of the photographer….most of the creative work in this world comes through sheer struggle and poverty (e.g Vincent Van Gogh )and sometime the artist who is quite advanced cannot get the recognition in the tenure of his life……and get all the fame after his death.

    Now come to the point balancing a creative life with a business life is a really tough job………if you concentrate more in business your creativity must suffer a lot and if you concentrate nothing regarding business then it may be quite difficult to get recognition and even continue such an expensive matter. So I want to get that much for continuing my photography nothing more nothing less.

    there must be clash between these two as photography is a matter of heart and business is a matter of head.
    just my opinion.
    sorry for my BAD english…..
    what do you thing David?

    Partha Pal
    from India

  • you’ve touched a raw nerve david ;) i am not a pro photographer and probably i am not in a position to answer your question from a pro’s angle. nonetheless, my experience in this regard has been quite revealing. as a starry-eyed new-comer, i tried to contact some multi-award-winning photographers of my city (not pros) and after much effort and much more running around, i succeeded in contacting some. what i gathered from them was not at all what my starry eyes were ready to see for the future. some of them told me about some of their weird plans but i liked none because these guys were seriously involved with photography for quite a long time but they had nothing to show in their ‘business of photography’ side. one of them was quite revealing. he told me that he was taking pictures for the last 30 years and after winning numerous awards (whose list runs a few pages, i have seen, many of them international), he still finds not a single buyer from his solo exhibitions! it must be that he is either a particularly unlucky guy or to be just a bad businessman, i really don’t know. but when i accompany him to our weekly photo-outings (he is good friend now), his enthusiasm about photography inspires me a lot. the ‘business of photography’ may have eluded him all his life, but nobody can steal his ‘eye’ from him. he still is a class photographer without any return. anyway, after all there ‘research’ of mine, i have stopped researching because i was losing interest in photography and was always thinking about ‘how to earn money from photography’. this really bothered me. i have now stopped worrying about this ‘business’ part, for me it is like: if it comes in future, fine, if it doesn’t, i simply don’t care, let me just keep my passion for photography. i don’t earn my bread from photography but that doesn’t stop me from taking photographs as good as anybody, even like pros. so, i have become cool about it these days.
    yes, like you, business distracts me from my favourite subject. there may be guys who are lucky enough to have business acumen as well as the mastery over photography.
    for the time being, for me, its only love and learning, ‘business’ shall wait.

  • Business: YAWN!

  • I love that even in the midst of “business” you are taking photos….and blogging. Very funny…I am imagining you “taking notes” and trying to look interested in the meeting while writing to us. :)

    “does business acumen help you with your photocraft, or are you like me…more interested in photographs than in flow charts??”

    Definitely more interested in photographs! I can’t imagine anyone here saying otherwise.
    The “business acumen” that helps me the most with shooting is the people skills I’ve learned as well as intuition (which I think is “honed” in business) and being able to “size up” a situation quickly.

  • i can hardly sit still myself… so when i’m at university i’m always thinking: please, let someone take notes and put them online. this term, i actually stopped taking notes fully because i admited that i won’t be able to read them anyway.

  • maybe the most boring part of any business is the charts and the figures and all the accounting…
    but I think that the most difficult part of it is the marketing part… how to sell photos?… to whom?… who could be interested in this subject?…
    there are some things that I don’t understand clearly…
    I read once that Salgado quitted magnum to open his own agency, amazonas… and amazonas only represent salgado’s work… I don’t understand how could be this an advantage…
    what is the difference between having an agency that represents only your work and just work as an independent photographer?… must be something related with marketing…
    un abrazo,

  • Photo craft, not flow chart. Though I wish I was better at the business side. I will learn this stuff. It’s a matter of survival after all. As to when I’ll have time, however, is another matter entirely.


  • Ahh Sidney, yes, i know a few “shake rats” still out there … and i can totally see them saying that! … business is the next meal … straight out of Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion,” a most underrated book (what Faulkner did for the deep south (and Sally Mann), Ken did for the NW coast (and ???), and Cormac McCarthy does for the Southwest (and Allard, and ???))

    David …

    it seems the prevailing wisdom for photographers is that you have to be as good, or better, a businessman as a photographer … but so often that seems to translate into so much McStock, time spent marketing instead of following your passion, fluff, shooting a specific style for the editor, selling your soul, your creativity and personal vision for the bottom line … or you can go the alternate route and “do what you love, love what you do,” profits, big house (or house), be damned. While they don’t have to be mutually exclusive … it certainly seems that way for me.

    For nearly a decade I owned a small business, a very small newspaper, but cared little for the business side, to which my good friend the IRS agent can attest … yes sir, i said on our first meeting, what’s your first name, i asked, to which he replied “Mister” … really we’re good friends, now, lol … and i can remember all the stories, proudly, i printed that cost me big bucks (40% of my annual revenue in one case … throwing rocks in small ponds is harder than throwing rocks in big ponds … the ripples are larger) but the truth is more important than money … so when i sold to the corporate gods … have mercy on my soul … i entered the world of the bottom line, profits over content, money over service, “doing more with less,” short-term thinking over long-term, the paradoxical concept that cutting content, jobs and quality will make for higher profitability … perhaps true in the very near-term but completely unsustainable … a quagmire of the cynical. I lasted a year.

    David, you may remember our brief conversation where you assumed i came from the business side of things … ;))

    So if you can find a collective that places equal value on both quality and profitability … and makes the link between the two and sustainability … the alternate route with both structure and freedom … treasure it and suffer through a few pie charts for the greater good. I mean really, David, you’re in Magnum … i don’t care ;-)

    For the rest of us on the alternate route still seeking such Nirvana, and I would suspect most here are at least partially on the alternate route, here’s a glass raised high to the alternate route … to art, to passion, to Bob’s ice wine … damn the pie charts, full speed ahead :))

    Geez, did i actually tell Harvey to quit whining … i know he has a great sense of humor but crap … hey david, nothing but love, man …

  • I once read of a magnum meeting that was chaired by Henri Cartier-Bresson. The minutes apparently read that the chairman was kindly asked to stop painting water colours during the meeting.


  • thank you everybody.. All of a sudden I don’t feel like a looser anymore. Business and photography??? For some reason they never got along…movies and money:yes!!! Music and money:yes…photography and Money though??! No… Why David, why,why,WHY???

  • Hey David, when it comes to business meetings do what I used to do, look interested; making notes, but instead of notes – draw fish. Be sure to take pens with different coloured inks – that way you can go tropical and produce a nice shoal of fish from even the most mediocre meeting.
    I’m afraid business leaves me cold; that’s why I’ve always been a freelance photojournalist – for myself. I’ve earned my crust elsewhere but my mind has always been on the current photographic essay. I live in the sticks: any photojournalism in such circumstances must, in my opinion, be self-generated and self-financed. If you can sell it later, great; if not then at least you are working on what interests, nay, consumes you and not photographing another cat up another tree (apologies to any cat photographers) for your local newspaper.
    That’s how I see it – and I don’t have to go to any meetings and draw fish! The downside is that as you don’t rely on a photographic paycheck you don’t have the need (or sometimes the time) to go out and sell the essay.

    Best, Mike.

  • David, I use meetings to catch up on my blog reading. It’s a good tactic, you might try it. I’m in a meeting right now, responding to your latest post.

    Fancy that!

  • Whoa, David! I don’t know where to start to answer your question: balancing a creative life with a business life… I’m full-time employed in academia (graphs, charts, papers, writing grants, doing research, education….), I have started 1-2 small businesses on the side in the past 2 years, I’m totally obsessed with photography (currently exploring local freelance opportunities), I play bass in a jazz band, and I have tendencies towards attention deficit disorder.

    I don’t know what “balance” would look like. I often dream of a life that is purely creative, filled with nothing other than photography, music, family and friends, without bureaucracy & political BS. I know that is not only rather unrealistic, but that I would also quickly miss the variety of activities: the grass is often greener.

  • Partha Pal
    beautiful comment. seems like we all share similar understanding, but the way we express is a little different. I am so business un-savie, but really thats fine for me. I have had commercial success, to a certain degree, but it really twisted me up. i was constantly wondering if my work was acceptable, pallatable or wharever, how do the people react to it, thats important if you are working w/ art directors etc.? but now I quit all that shit, i put my work on my blog, and its what I want to show, like it or lump it, i don’t give a shit. it belongs to me. it’s not business, is that selfish? Magnum has meetings, organization, important shit to do, are the photographers doing the administrative work, I doubt it. but somebody has to do it.
    I made a lot of sacrafices to follow my heart. My daughter lives with her mom thru the week, in a cosy beautiful house, looks over a lagoon and then to the pacific, its sweet. When she comes to my place, its a brutal reality check, downtown LA a few blocks from skid row, at nite here its hard core, hookers, drug addicted homeless, grafiti, you all know the drill, a far cry from normallity, but its beautiful to me, you know.
    so now i do have a small business, and its photography, but truly objective type of photography, shooting fine art work. the most important part is that the shots are technically perfect. no subjective or artistic issues to deal with… it.
    so now i can shoot my art work how i please and in my book, thats the only way.

  • David,

    I doubt that you want to know how’s life being a freelance photojournalist in Portugal and how the business part of the job works around here. (does it work at all?)
    One thing I know, i’m poorer but happier since I quit my former job to only do photography. When I have a bad day (week, month, year) in terms of income I always remember my former job and the payment that used to come along with it every month. But then I also remember being a zombie and watching life passing by outside the office. That helps reminding me that I had worse days than my actual bad days and that I’ll never go to quit being a photographer :)

  • Flow chart?…what the *^^%R$! is that??!!!

    isn’t that the new add-on for PHotoshop or was that the new tracking mechanism for the M8 and Nikon D3?? ;)))))


  • Hey Tom Hyde,

    Would you say Allard and William Least Heat Moon? For the midwest?

    Then again Allard’s no slouch as a writer…so it could be Allard & Allard! Heh.

  • it’s all a mystery to me(business), but if I’m going to be able to keep making photographs forever, I will have to get a little smarter anyway. I guess it’s all about balance–and sometimes it is even sweeter to have a camera in hand after doing something boring like balancing the books.
    And after working with Photoshop or other computer tasks, it is so great to take a break and check in what is happening on this site–thanks to everyone who shares their wisdom, questions, frustrations,humor,etc– and their love of photography. Merry Christmas–Happy Holidays to all. Thanks, David.

  • Well, numbers & charts are just to see where you have been yesterday and/or where you are today. For tomorrow they can just give estimates. They do not really get you anywhere. They help you to analyze the outcome of decisions you have taken in the past for possible better decisions for the future.

    You have to be able to take these good decisions to get where you want to be tomorrow. And there comes creativity in from the back door again. These decisions are not always obvious, are they ;)

    So we are talking about many different things here ;)

    Being good in administration does not automatically mean you are good in business… It just means that you maybe know where you are standing.

    For me it means that I know how big the taxbill will be … and that I will have to save a little longer for a M8 …

    Running too (where is Bob?!)

  • Flow charts? Business acumen? I have no clue what any of that is. I am a civil servant and consequently do not actually work for a living.

  • Currently I’m surrounded by receipts etc wondering how long I can put off doing my books the answer is at least till after Christmas. I’m also planning a nice story and thinking who will buy it, the answer is properly no one. My New Year resolution will be to try and become a better business man but it’s unlikely. After I’ve feed the kids and paid the rent most of my money goes on doing things I think are interesting (rather than I think will make money) or another bit of stupid kit that I can’t live without. Luckily a big car and a nice house aren’t how I keep points BUT the kids could really do with having a garden.

  • Well, in the hart and mind i’m going 100% for the photography. BUT the reality is that I can’t live only from
    creating photo’s. I’m running now for 10 years my own small “bizz” as a photographer (and with succes finaly after long time). There was no other option than learning the buziness part if I wanted to “survive” and if I wanted the make from photography my incomming money. So the reality today is that I’m 70% buzzy with being a buzzinesman and only 30% buzzy with my biggest passion the photography. The bizz part for me is mostly being buzzy with advertising for my bizz, calculating prices for clients, a lil bit accounting stuff, and all those other things. 10 years ago I was totally not good and not comfortable with the bizz-part of photography. But with time you get older, smarter, wiser, and now I realize that it’s a must. Anyway, I’m very happy that I have my money income as a photographer.
    Of course I can only speak for myself and I know the situation here by us in Belgium and Poland.
    Also…who am I…I’m just a small photographer :-)
    Don’t know how it is on the High Level like you mr. Harvey

    fine regards

  • Michael, i just read Blue Highways again! … i may completely revert, grab kerouac and hop a freight again … keep thinking about it, really i should … is Woody’s America still out there … ahhh, i’m all talk :))

  • Tom & Michael. It’s funny how cross-cultural some artists are. I live in New Zealand but read Blue Highways and was inspired by it, so much so that I bought the book.

    I’m also just starting Kerouac’s “On the Road”, and you can’t get much further away from the US they write about than NZ!

    Have you seen the doco “Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus”? it’s worth a look. They do seek out the more unusual and marginal folks from the South of the US, but it’s an interesting watch.

    Regarding business; If you want to derive all your income from from photography you have to think of the business side. But one thing for sure, banks hate the word “freelance”! I think it sends shivers up their collective spines.

  • I have had a whirlwind of year as a newbie with my camera. I have talked to some pros and they suggested that perhaps the best thing to do is to continue what I am doing, which is being crazy about learning about photography but shooting for myself. I have had a few clients now and each were learning experiences. Creating my first invoice was much like opening my first image in PS, both symbolic for me.

    The pros spoke of how they sometimes lose their passion for it and the importance of the business side. To me, it seems that no matter how much business is involved, that the moments of interaction and creativity, in whichever form, must surely outweigh what seems to be the negative side. It doesn’t matter the percentages of time spent on one side or the other, because being a photographer is really about having the opportunity to shoot.

  • Even reading how many reply being total underperformers when it comes to business, I am ready to bet i am even below their standards when it comes to organization and finances. what has saved me in my life is that i am of a frugal nature, spending wise, and as a few friends have remarked, I made whatever money I had work for me, never the contrary.

    IMO, the glory waxing stories of riches started with a needle pin have no redeeming human value, lest you give it all away selflessly to end up with that pin again.

    About my lack of business acumen, I suspect, though, that procrastination (no reddeming human value here either, let’s be honest!) has more to do with it that utter disinterest.

  • BTW, sorry for the wrong link to my Flickr pix all these past months, i finally found out how to link them the right way.

  • Tom and Ross…

    Ah yes, On The Road! A momentous read for me. I was early twenties and floundering…no direction, then I read Kerouac and it all got worse! But in a good way!

    Subsequently I did the cross country thing 6 times. And Ross, everytime I did, every hostel I stayed in I ran into Australians and New Zealanders! A few Europeans and Asiatic folks, but mostly you folks from the southern hemisphere. You’re a traveling bunch, eh?

    Tom, maybe I’ll meet you on one of those trains!

  • Taking pictures costs money ,going to places to take pictures costs money, the means of taking pictures costs money, so you support this this expensive habit by learning how not to go broke so you can ..hey! keep taking pictures!
    Having business accumen doesent make you less enthusiastic but I’ve had the arse hanging out of the back of my pants enough times to appreciate that being broke and up to your ears in debt does’nt help much either.
    A little knowledge goes a long way!

  • Michael; It seems to be a rite of passage for us and Aussies to do the travel thing when you’re young. I missed out on that and am planning to make up for it now.

    Blue Highways gave me the sort of itchy feet that no amount of foot powder would ever fix!!

    As for money versus art; the entire “starving artist” theory is overblown. Sure, often money isn’t the prime objective but it’s a lot easier to be creative with a roof over your head!

    I read a saying once that said “there’s no point being the greatest artist in the world if you can’t afford to feed your family”… There is a balance between art and business, it all depends on your wants.

    I live in a converted double garage (2 bedroom) in the country so have much lower living expenses than in the city. If i had to live in the city (& the mortgage that goes with it) I couldn’t afford to try the freelance route.

    Glenn: I hope you don’t mind me asking but I see you’ve been to Timor a few times. I’m planning a trip there in early 2008, have you any tips about accomodation etc. the cheaper the better!!

  • This may be getting off of your subject, but it’s inline with some of the other responses. I am intrigued by what Robert Angel said when he wrote about making sacrifices in order to keep the integrity of his work.

    Personally I believe the truest form of art comes without business attachments (if this is truly possible), true art is about personal intent. With very few exceptions (and there are some amazing artists included within those exceptions, money cannot help but muddle one’s intent, thereby adulterating the purity of the art. When we choose to make a living within our chosen medium, 9 times out of 10 we are forced to compromise. It is the patron we must appeal to if we want to be compensated for our work – whether your patron is a collector, an agency, a curator or someone simply buying your work off the sidewalk, they are choosing to pay you for what THEY want. As pure as we may have began out of art school, with the highest ideals of intent in mind, those ideals can get murky when once we realize in most cases it comes down to what the clients tastes are, what the agency wants, what the celebrity thinks is their best side – or in the case of fine art, does the color scheme match the room in which it will be displayed?

    Once this realization is made, and if one is not independently wealthy, it is difficult to be purely free of capitalistic thoughts and more difficult to focus solely on the art itself – the landlord always comes knocking on the 1st and baby needs a new pair of shoes. Using photography as an example, if I have a show and sell out of an edition that happens to have a lot of green in the pallet, while similar pieces with mostly red didn’t sell at all, and my biggest collector thought the red ones were awful, and the greens genius – it is difficult to not notice and be slightly influenced the next time. Of course this is a stupid and simple example, but what I’m getting at is – does the truest form of art happen only when business is not in the picture? When a photographer takes pictures for HIS blog or HIS book, it seems to me he has very little reason to compromise, and can focus on HIS vision, and HIS intent. If however, he wants his pictures to get into a magazine that typically runs pictures with curly haired blue people in them, he’ll probably try to get some pictures of curly haired blue people.

    At this point the devils advocate will bring up the Renaissance. Da Vinci, Michaelangelo and Raphael were all in a sense “filling orders” and few would disagree that they came up with some pretty good stuff. I would argue however, that it was a different kind of patron during that time period, but now I am getting very far away from David’s original post.

    I am a photographer and a filmmaker who works within the film industry. Most days making a living from within the belly of the beast is enough to drive me away from wanting to make movies at all, a gallery “meet and greet” can make you want to stop taking pictures all together as well. I have seen so many talented people compromise their integrity, so often, that I wonder why they do it at all, or if they remember why they started in the first place.

    However, the other question is, am I compromising myself by working a desk job I hate 8 hours a day in order to keep my art pure in my free time? Am I better off taking the desk job and making movies outside of the system, taking pictures just for me? Even when I do this, is it really pure? Am I not hoping for a gallery show, a purchase from a big collector, someone to take interest and finance my next film project?

    Fortunately for me I still have days at work when I see something come together that truly inspires me to be a better filmmaker, so for the time being I am content to remain in the belly of the beast. But I do see why people choose the desk job.

    Maybe the folk artist Henry Darger had it right, or maybe Steven Spielberg does….?

  • Natan,

    Interesting comment!

    For me the word “pure” is so ugly. What is pure? I can see that shooting strictly for an ad agency might be seen as a little less than pure comparred to some teenager bopping around the country side with his old F3 and some black and white film, shooting with nothing in mind but what and how he “feels” at that moment. But there is a continuum between the two. Where does it become “selling out?” Where exactly is the line separating purity and whoredom? (to use a word.)

    I don’t think I know the answer. But I tend to cringe just a little when I see the word “pure.” I get pretty jazzed almost every time I go out to shoot, whether for a job or for myself. I genuinely love having the camera in my hand. Doing some candids of my nieces and nephews at a family get together (as I did last night) or trying to make a waste water treatment plant look somewhat appealing for the contractor! It’s all pretty cool. Don’t know if it’s pure, though.

  • This Evening Also

    more fully,
    since snow fell even on this
    sun-drifted, sun-drenched sea,
    blossoms the ice in those baskets
    you carry into town.

    you demand in return,
    for the last
    rose back at home
    this evening also wants to be fed
    out of the trickling hour.

    –Paul Celan
    (translation from the german)

  • Ross wrote:

    but it’s a lot easier to be creative with a roof over your head….

    I read a saying once that said “there’s no point being the greatest artist in the world if you can’t afford to feed your family”…

  • At least you have your computer and camera at the meeting to amuse yourself. At least you’re at the meeting. I mean the Magnum meeting in Paris, for chrissakes! You are part of a family, and at least the business meeting isn’t a family feud. Then,

    are you stopping in NY on your way to Colorado?

    In the picture, who is that beautiful woman close on the right? Who is standing up talking?

    Were you wrapped up in a wool scarf also? Vest? Glasses dangling from a string? You get all that on and no one will even notice the camera hanging from your neck. Photographers’Camouflage.

    Bon Voyage

  • The discussion brings to mind the story I remember of Eugene O’Neill’s father, James O’Neill. In his day he popularized the stage roll of The Count of Monte Cristo, in the eponymous play. It seems the people knew him and loved him as this character and it brought him relative fame and wealth. But night after night, day after day, month after month, year after year, his talents stayed with this roll and this roll alone. I wonder at times what I would have done.

  • oh, money..

    My lifestyle is a reflection of not wanting to put my awareness around kids, no house, no car, get the idea. Flying under the radar to meet my creative needs.

    It’s not that I don’t want to have a really strong and healthy relationship with business and money, but to date my entire business plan can be summed up by the lines of the little girl in the movie Miracle on 34th Street when she is trying to convince herself that Santa might be for real..

    “I believe… I believe… It’s silly, but I believe. ”

    I have a filmmaker friend, so smart, so able to think about who will back her projects and how to make her visions manifest. In talking with her, I realize that for her it is all integral, she would never consider going into personal debt to try to pull something off. Maybe it comes down to understanding your work’s place and value in the world, something I have yet to grasp for my own.

  • اهلا و سهلا
    I have to disagree with Nate on the purity thing. There is never a definite line in these sorts of things on what is pure or whoredome. It’s the same as in the music I listen to. It’s very easy to tell when someone has “sold out”. I definitely make this the case in my own life as I make my living shooting “sell out” family photography. I have tried in the past to make myself believe I can make something pure out of it. People don’t want pure though, most people want manufactured singers, movies, photography. That is why they are so successful. In Summary you have to do what you love and it will reveal itself to everyone else as pure.

    Στον φιλο μου Panos! πουστη!!!

  • Ahhhh!! Natan just started another chapter… He is right about lack of purity… When money involved… but let me oversimplify… The Great Artist (David A H or DaVinci or Bertolucci or Fellini or Bresson) will produce Amazing Art-Work ANYWAYS… No matter what… Why? Because that’s all they Can Do! Thats why they are at the TOP… Money or not does not create a genius… It doesn’t even affect one…think of Diego Rivera…
    Now some photographers think that if they working for the local mall “picture people” or shooting “seniors” and weddings , that brings them closer to their destiny… All I have to say: still don’t matter..all it matters is to record your view of the world in your personal unique way And then… Share with us… Share with the world… In other words I don’t care how You pay your bills…just show me some good photos… Please…let’s all stop thinking and talking… Just go out: Feel and SHOOT, shoot,shoot…
    One more time check the work of DAH or Antoine D’Agata….it speaks for itself… Peace

  • Panos…

    I have to ask again, what is “purity?”

  • i am hopeless when the word business is mentioned as i know nothing about it. Perhaps i should and maybe i would have more belongings than would fit literally in my 1989 nissan compact car. the interesting point for me is that my parents are all about business and have made a good solid profession from being business savy.

    my infliction is that i’m a dreamer and for the most part live in my head often times these dreams manifest themselves through photography. Since i was a boy literally i lived vicariously through National Geographics color photos and later on through the articles.

    all of my heroes in life have been maverick artists whom think in the all or nothing category for better or worse. Vincent Van Gogh and the writer/painter Henry Miller come to mind. These two artists were so serious about their freedoms that they lived in poverty for most of their lives. Also they had a dream and were adamant about not making compromises for anyone. My mother thinks that they are little boys who never grew up ?

    yeah; so the other day i was speaking to my mom about my art and what i want out of Life. Honestly I’m perfectly content with nothing except my cameras a meager place to sleep and the gift of communication. She thinks this is childish and egocentric ie. selfish.

    anyway my family and i are always debating about the realities of life and how one should LIVE. Nonsense; i don’t want to be preoccupied or tied down by anyone or anything. I just want to be free like the wind. oh; the life of a dreamer or perhaps the fool on the hill ?

  • Since you started this up, i have some questions…
    What is the best selling part of photography for you: commissioned editorial work, fine art print sales, books, annual reports for companies, advertising?
    I’m not asking you the numbers or details, but the percentage.
    What are the trends regarding this things inside Magnum?

  • ALL…

    i just returned to new york an hour ago…i have a bit of scrambling to do around my office this afternoon, but i will read all of your comments soonest and reply…

    cheers, david

  • following up on the Celan poem:

    “He is rich who is content with the least; for contentment is the wealth of nature.”–

    “Dad, why do you let shit bother you. It’s not that important…”-Dima Black

  • I think it is maybe less about having money or not and perhaps more about how important it feels for a person to have it.

    In other words: would a person REALLY change their art in order to sell more or just go for it regardless if it sells or not?

    By the way: even van Gogh tried (pretty hard) to adjust in order to sell. He just did not manage to do so…

    Does the expectation of money corrupt a soul or not?
    It is an idividual thing, and it depends on so many aspects … Like the specific situation someone is in and how much really he/she believes in what he/she is doing… Sometimes great people do lack selfconfidence.

    Some of those, who just go for it regardless of the outcome, might get lucky and actually sell what they stand for and earn their living through it (or more even). Maybe they are at the right place at the right time? And maybe not. van Gogh was too early. But others were not. It is not necessarily so that you have to be poor just because you do not go for compromises. And it is not necessarily so that you get rich because you compromise.

    You might sell yourself and end up with nothing or the other way around. There are examples for everything.

    So we might still get lucky ;-)
    It is just over when it is over. Until then: the game is on!
    I think this is a very comforting thought. Don’t you?

  • Lassal : Just the thought of making it financially is enticing especially doing what you love. Being paid to execute your own vision would be a RUSH !! Also being able to afford a leica and two lenses would be nice; almost there. Also i don’t think that $$ necessarily corrupts people i think it’s an individual’s character that determines that. Money probably just brings to the surface more readily what was always there in the first place. Money itself is not evil as it’s an inanimate object.

  • If we really wanted to make money at photography, we probably wouldn’t take the pictures we are taking. The market for editorial and street photography may be large, but the payout is tiny. You would be better off shooting pictures of cats and selling them to a greeting card company than stalking the streets looking for a decisive moment. Or staking out Britney Spear’s (now pregnant at 16) sister. Now that’s money.

  • Yes Michael we are on the same page, I don’t necessarily like the word “pure” myself, I was really using it to pose a question. In fact I personally don’t believe pure truly exists outside of an ideal or concept.

    Panos, absolutely I agree with you as well. The truly great artists will always make significant work and will force the movements to bend towards them, they create the color pallet that people try to emulate, they move the market place. Those artists are rare, but they are alive and well – see Paul Thomas Anderson, Julian Schnabel (his new film not his paintings), Gus Van Sant, Bob Dylan….

    Also agree with Panos when he says…stop talking and go out and SHOOT – touche’.

  • First I post, and then I see that Natan has already said most of what I said, which makes me redundant, and then Typepad says that I am spam. Given that I’ve always thought of myself as more of a roast beef type than in any way spammish, this comes as a significant blow to my ego. Apropos nothing at all, did you know that here in the USA the people of Hawaii eat more spam than anyone else in the country? Another fun fact from Akaky’s Believe it or else!

  • just left a long post…..typepad thinks im, we’ll see if it makes it ;))…


  • just left a long post…..typepad thinks im, we’ll see if it makes it ;))…


  • Hey David,

    Sorry to hear that you have to sit in the board room and listen to talks and look at graphs and charts. Too bad it is chilly in Paris. I just returned from a week in Paris, (my first time there) and really loved the place. Despite the more or less continuous rain, I was able to shot and explore lots. The Barbes market is a real gem for shooting, and ppl observing. Enjoy the last days in Paris, and wish you a wonderful and peaceful Xmas, and a prosperous new year.


  • Hi running Bob,
    welcome in the spammer group.
    I’m in there, too…

  • I think we wrote too much. The short comments work out fine …

  • Nathan and Panos: I really agree.
    Cannot comment, becaus it will turn me into spam!
    so long

  • lassal :)))…that’ll be good company :)))

    the Good Man Harvey will have to release the posts in order for them to appear….

    just a hint about my post (that was turn-keyed as a “spam”)

    it concerned (at least at the end) eugene richards ;)))


  • Yeah, good to be running with you, Bob!!!

    I think I copy&pasted my comment several times… Even rebooting the system to get a new IP. Then trying it again. So if David releases all of my tentatives, then trully I would have caused SPAM!
    Signing off now. Got to get going.
    Stay safe and happy everyone. Until soon, I hope,

  • ALL….

    i just read all of your posts….as usual , very very interesting stuff….this is so much fun for me (and i hope for you too) to discuss these little everyday nuances…it should be pretty obvious by now that i have zero editorial “plan”..i have no clue from day to day what i will post…it is basically just based on whatever direction i happen to be looking at the time or at whatever bus is about to run over me….and you!!

    now you probably also have figured out that my recent travel schedule would leave even the toughest among us just a bit fatigued…such is the case with me tonight….so i will not comment to each of you as i often try to do…i have to make sure i catch the flight early tomorrow morning to go see my mother and the rest of my family in colorado….so, off to bed i go…

    again, my heartfelt thanks to all of you for paying attention and contributing so thoughtfully…

    cheers, david

  • DAvid et al,

    Maybe this is more about how said I am than anything else, but I would *love* to see more Magnum “business meeting” photos.

    Believe it or not, I often run a search on the Magnum website for “Magnum AGM” just to look (yet again!) at the many pictures of the mythical creatures…scratching their heads or yawning or photographing each other or dozing-off or — in some cases! — paying raptor-like attention to some procedural point that they want to go their way… Endlessly fascinating, for some reason.

    Just out of interest, David, does anyone ever say, “For God’s sake, put the camera down and listen!” or “Enough, already, you photographed me every meeting we have!”


  • I JUST WANT TO TAKE PICTURES! I frankly hate the business side of photography which is probably why I am poor. I was told recently by a very succesful photographer if I wanted to make money in this business, shoot what I am passionate about. He said, “if you woke up tommorow and couldn’t make money in this, what would you do”? This bit of advice has turned my world upside down.

  • Did they even notice the nice and quit M8 shutter sound;) And taking photos is much nicer than so many other things…

  • ALUN…

    the very nature of Magnum would prevent any Magnum photographer from telling any other Magnum photographer to “put the camera down” for any reason whatsoever…by the way, i really DID listen for most of the meeting!!!

    cheers, david

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