I’ve just had yet another conversation with a keen photographer who wants to become a photojournalist. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Charlie. I have quite a few of these chats and they regularly leave me feeling in need of a joke or two to help overcome the worries I have for some of these (mostly) young people looking for the right career. Last year I uploaded a load of photographer based jokes to a web forum where a lot of news, sports and press photographers hang out. You know the kind of thing:
Q. How many photojournalists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. None – they aren’t allowed to change anything…
The silly thing is that I spent several minutes agonizing over whether to answer the question as ‘we’ or ‘they’. Am I a photojournalist or aren’t I? In the end, I chickened out and went with they telling myself that just because I used ‘they’ it didn’t mean that I couldn’t count myself in. Typical cop-out!
There were plenty more jokes in a similar vein:
Q. How many art directors does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Does it have to be a lightbulb?
Q. How many newspaper photographers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. No time for that, just stick the ISO up to 6400 and shoot it with available light.
I think that the list (and my colleagues’ patience) eventually stretched to ten lightbulb jokes and I’m pretty sure that I could have managed a few more.
Anyway, let’s get back to the point of this blog post. I was talking to Charlie (our potential student) a few weeks ago and I was telling him how tough the market is right now and how competitive it is to even get a foot on the ladder. I pointed out that news photography and photojournalism were careers in which you were most unlikely to ever make a lot of money and I even told him the other photographer joke that I know: “What is the best way to make a small fortune in photojournalism? Start with a large fortune!”
Charlie was still keen and was still interested in studying the subject but there was something about him and his manner that made me think that he still didn’t really understand what the job was really about and how tough it would be – even if the economy made a rapid recovery and even if advertising revenues came back to newspapers and magazines in sufficient quantities to help remove some of the financial pressures that we battle with every day. We shook hands, I gave him my card and offered to talk again if needs be.
He rang me this morning saying that he had been to a university for an interview where they were offering him a place on a three-year degree course at huge expense and that my opinion of the current market was not shared by the teachers he had met there. They had sold him the dream and he was considering buying into it. Don’t get me wrong, being a photographer and working for the media is often exciting, regularly rewarding and always unpredictable but I am worried by educators selling courses that are largely not fit for purpose. These days a three year degree is a huge investment to make and I have written before about the pros and cons of formal study versus the kind of shorter course (that I now teach on) versus learning as you go.
My main advice to Charlie was to consider what the worst thing that could happen if he did the course and in three years time he had £30,000 worth of debts and no clear idea how he was going to start to earn enough to repay the money. That was a question his parents had asked and he said he had ignored. Now that someone from within the business was asking it he seemed to take it more seriously. It was a telephone conversation but I could sense that his passion for photography had become more real since we had first met. It seemed to me that he had been bitten by the bug.
We talked a little more and I suddenly remembered two more photographer lines that always make me smile:
(Tongue in cheek)
You know when you are a photographer when…
Somebody asks you what your favourite colour is and you consider answering “18% grey”.
Somebody asks what your lucky number is and you find yourself wanting to say “1.4”.
There you go – I’m smiling again. Good luck Charlie… (even if that’s not your real name)