At “PDN’s 30: Strategies for Launching and Building a Career in Today’s Market,” a seminar at PhotoPlus Expo, PDN’s 30 2017 photographers Cait Oppermann, Christina Holmes and Sasha Arutyunova, and Sony Artisan Christopher Lynch, spoke about how they launched and sustained their careers. Also on the panel was Bloomberg Businessweek deputy photo director Aeriel Brown, who added the perspective of someone who hires new and emerging photographers.
One theme that ran through their stories was the importance of building and sustaining personal relationships. For Sasha Arutyunova, that practice started when she was a student at NYU, and collaborated with people outside the photo world, including artists and musicians studying in her program. When she graduated, those relationships led to casual jobs shooting music videos for bands and headshots for actors, and a wealth of experience. She and fellow artists met for monthly critiques and organized exhibitions. The connections also provided a support network of peers, who encouraged Arutyunova to show her book of portraits and personal work to photo editors a few years later. One of her first meetings was with a New York Times editor she knew.
For Cait Oppermann, assisting a handful of photographers before launching her professional career taught her technical skills. She said it was important to work with photographers she clicked with, and who were generous with their knowledge rather than protective of their trade secrets. During a long flight home from an assignment with photographer Thomas Prior, he gave her valuable business advice. She notes that the industry is small. That makes it easy to get to know people and get referrals. It also means that if you’re talking about a client or crew member at a bar, you have no idea who they might repeat your complaints to.
Christina Holmes also found assisting to be a useful way to build relationships. Assisting, she says, “gives you the opportunity to reach out to people you like,” by offering your services. Holmes spent several years as an assistant and then as a digital tech, and says she has kept up relationships with photographers she worked for and admires. As she’s moved into editorial and advertising assignments, she still considers these mentors, who continue to offer critiques of her work, “which I much respect,” she says.
Christopher Lynch points out the importance of online relationships, which he builds through Facebook, LinkedIn and other networking groups, where he often comes into contact with potential clients. Lynch says although he considers many of his clients friends, he understands that “I’m not necessarily the first person on their minds” when thinking about a job. “That person is that last person to reach out to them,” he says, which means that Lynch makes sure to invest in outreach along with building his network.
Aeriel Brown showed assignments shot by photographers who had established relationships with the magazine, and demonstrated that they are collaborative. She depends on the photographers she hires to deliver the specific images she needs, while at the same time trusting them to go beyond the brief they’re given to make even better pictures. With layers of editors above her who depend on Brown to get the photos they need, “I might be reluctant to hire someone who was not collaborative,” she says.
As these photographers attest, at the heart of their successful careers are the relationships they’ve maintained with clients, mentors and helpful peers.
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