On Showing Both Commercial & Fine-Art Work: Emily Shur’s Advice

Posted by on Friday March 20, 2015 | Business, Fine Art

Emily Shur's photograph of Kevin Hart for Men's Health. © Emily Shur

Emily Shur’s photograph of Kevin Hart for Men’s Health. © Emily Shur

"Hotel Pool, Osaka-fu," is part of Shur's ongoing project about Japan. © Emily Shur

“Hotel Pool, Osaka-fu,” is part of Shur’s ongoing project about Japan. © Emily Shur

Emily Shur recently posted on her Tumblr about two of her images (above) being selected for American Photography 31, each shot for very different purposes. One is a portrait of the comedian Kevin Hart commissioned by Men’s Health; the other, a photograph of a hotel pool in Osaka, Japan, that is part of a long-term personal project. While building her career as a commercial and editorial photographer, Shur has also made a point of showing and promoting her personal projects at portfolio reviews, on her site and to her social media audience. She also recently published a book of her work from Japan.

In her Tumblr post, Shur made some interesting observations about how, in a photographer’s career, the pursuits of commercial work and personal work seem, at times, to be in opposition to one another. She also addressed the concern that it might be detrimental or counterproductive for “commercial photographers” to show personal, fine-art photographs that may appear to differ completely from their commissioned images.

We asked Shur for permission to publish excerpts of her blog post here, because we though it might resonate with readers of PDNPulse who aspire to be successful both commercially and with their personal work.

When I saw what had been selected, I thought that these two images really represent what I love to do but in such different ways. The picture of Kevin Hart is everything I love about celebrity portraiture—a positive, fun, collaborative subject in an interesting setting combined with technique to elevate the moment. The bottom picture is of a pool at a hotel outside of Osaka that my husband and I stayed at for one night at the beginning of our most recent trip to Japan. In the morning I woke up and did what I always do—quietly wandered around the area near the hotel with a camera and some film.

I often have a lot of turmoil (for lack of a better and less dramatic word) about whether or not the different types of work I do are too disparate from each other and if it hurts more than it helps to show everything to everyone. Photography as a profession is a very saturated market these days, and my advice to aspiring photographers is usually to focus hard on a style or genre, and don’t confuse people by showing them too much. In order to stand out, become really good at that one thing and then that thing becomes your stamp. One of the best compliments is, “I saw a picture, and before I saw the credit I knew it was yours.” Generally speaking I think it serves us (working photographers) best to be concise in our vision and maintain a consistent point of view. However, if we only stay in our little boxes, it starts to feel as if there’s no growth, change, or progression.

If you ask me, both images above are sharing the same vision and point of view. They’re both about composition, light, color, and mood. To get even more literal they’re both shot at pools and have zig-zaggy lines in them. But one is so quiet and the other much louder—both technically and in terms of vibe. So, I guess my whole point is that when I get emails from aspiring photographers asking questions, wanting answers and advice, I just want to say that we don’t have all the answers. I’m not saying don’t ask the questions. Definitely ask all the questions, but know that there probably won’t ever be definitive answers. There are still so many aspects of this very weird world I call a job that are unknown to me. The best we can do is make work that we’re proud of and excited about, and hopefully other people will be excited about it, too. How and why that happens is mysterious. Still. It makes me happy to get one image I made for work and one I made for myself into American Photography. I would still like these pictures if they didn’t get in, but it’s nice to get little affirmations along the way since the path is not paved and could really go in any direction.


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