For Zachary Scott Theater.
Each of us looks at our daily life through the layers of our past and the constant static of random and chaotic information from outside our rational process. Our memory of past occurrences obscures the real pattern of the present. How many times this year have I heard photographers say, "The whole industry is devastated and it's never coming back!"? But aren't new photographs being made every day? Negativity and news reports lead one to believe that everyone is unemployed, losing their jobs, their life's savings and their homes. Economist tell us that we'll never regain the spending power we had in the 1980's and 1990's.
But what is true? How much of this is random, unrelated static? How fearful should we be? Well, all economics, like all real estate, is local. In Austin, Texas the unemployment rate is around 7% but the unemployment rate at the height of the boom years hovered around 4%. So 3% is the number directly affected by this downturn in my metro area. The other 93% of people still have their jobs. Still get a pay check, still buy groceries and pay rent or mortgages. I know the numbers are different in other parts of the country but in many places similar statistics prevail.
When I read the paper or watch the news things seem horrible. Random killings, earthquakes, storms, wars. But locally? Nothing. Ribbon cuttings, petty embezzlements, Christmas tree lightings, appeals for charities.
How does this all relate to the business of being a photographer? Surely I'm not telling you anything new about the nature of anxiety and the news.
Okay. Here's what I've been thinking about lately. It's been a tough year. The "low hanging fruit" disappeared from the trees. Belts have been tightened, even if only in anticipation of a whole scale collapse that will probably never come. Budgets have been slashed. All the cliches.
So, every photographer (every business) has a choice of how to approach the change in market dynamics. Some will theorize that this is a year in which nothing will happen. These photographers choose to sandbag the windows and retreat into their bunkers, intent on husbanding their resources, for the time in the future in which they anticipate that the clouds will part and the economic engine will re-fire and they'll stand ready to reap the rewards. They're keeping their powder dry. And while they're keeping their powder dry life goes on without them.
The opposite choice is to go out and make the connections and work with what's being presented by your universe. Accept less glamorous jobs. Make new friends. Show new work. You only get one life and if you hide away in your bunker you're just wasting your time.
The solution to the retreat of low hanging fruit is to get a taller ladder. Throw a wider net. Stay connected. When it all works out you don't have to worry about timing the market. You'll already be enmeshed in the middle of it.
I've spent the year trying to stay in touch. Working on my own fun projects. Spending money on cool stuff when opportunity knocked. Writing blogs. Reaching out. Teaching. Writing books. Shooting smaller projects. Planning for bigger projects. Having more lunches with friends. Getting the important stuff right.
When the market comes back I hope I barely notice because I'll be submerged in the process.
Case in point: I have some friends who have seen a few(financially) rough years. One of them had the opportunity to travel in Europe as part of a speaking tour. While it didn't make economic sense for them at the moment they pulled their kids out of school, took some vacation time, spent the money and took a fabulous trip for two weeks. Why? It made emotional sense. Kids grow up. Time won't stand still. The money is less important than the shared experience. Did they have some fear about taking the risk? Yes. Was it worth it? You'd have to ask them but from the smiles on their faces I would say......without a doubt. They acted. They resisted paralysis. They risked. They won.
I look back at this bad year. What do I see? Devastation and ruin? No. We made it through. We're still paying our bills. Clients still call on the phone (but mostly they e-mail). I've written another book. I've shot some fun images. I spent the year having fun with my family. We learned to enjoy new stuff. It's all a wild adventure. I feel like we won too.
Was it a bad year or did we just make less money? Can we separate the nonsense that the photo industry is falling apart from the temporary shortfall in the economy? If we can then we all win.