Monthly Archives: February 2011

How is working on spec any different than working for free?

Or in other words, how else can a small business owner save money while supporting other creative professionals?

Where is this coming from you might ask? Well, I saw a tweet posted by a very influential photographer encouraging other photographers to use www.99designs.com. He advocates a service that unfortunately is part of the ongoing problem with low pay for creatives based on people being willing to work for free. That’s what spec work is. In particular, with a site like this, and it’s not the only one by far, they hold “contests” for design work such as a logo, and if your design is chosen by the person wanting a logo, then and only then, will you get paid for your work. And to top it all off, “prizes” are generally less than industry rates.

I find it very ironic that a photographer or other creative professional would support such shenanigans given the same problems in the photographic industry. How often do you see posts and articles bemoaning the ongoing lowering of the bar for rates due to all the would be photographers who will work for free or very little pay for “experience” or “exposure”? Its a problem that has become even more pervasive with the easy access to professional level gear.

The only way out though is education. We need to teach photographers and other creative professionals to value their time and each others’. We need to teach our clients to value our work and pay what we’re worth. And those clients may be us! That means charge industry rates yourself. And pay each other industry rates. Find someone who will do the work you need and skip the spec stuff. There is a range of prices in every industry that hovers around an average. You should be able to find someone you can afford. If you think you can’t have you looked at other options than straight cash? Contra deals, or barter of services in other words. Saving up a little longer to afford the one you really want to work with. Will your designer or whatever take multiple payments? How about some creative fund raising like www.kickstarter.com? After all, the money you spend on marketing your business is the best money you’ll spend and why would you cheap out? You wouldn’t on your gear when it counts.

And don’t forget, if you don’t want to work for free, why should anyone else?

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Why bromoil?

I’d like to tell you a story. About why I love to do bromoils. I had a wonderful chance to see a fantastic exhibit of pictorialist photography here in Vancouver, a couple of years ago. It was the TruthBeauty exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Pictorialist photographs from about 1835 to 1945 were on show and they were fascinating. The premise of the pictorialists was to use photography to create art, not simply record what they saw realistically, but what they envisioned. Many different printing processes, now called alternative processes, were used to produce fantastic works of art. I fell in love. The images, the visions expressed, the interesting printing methods, all spoke to me of what photography could be. And in our digital age, so much of photography ends up seeming the same in the end, an exact as possible realistic rendering that all blends together after you’ve seen so many.

One process in particular stood out for me. Bromoil printing. I had to find more out about it. To give the short answer, bromoil involves bleaching a black and white print, and then stippling on layer after layer of ink to bring it back. You can achieve a wonderful etching like quality to a print that has a luminous depth or even a highly photographic style rendering, depending on your technique. It offers a great deal of control over your print, creative freedom in producing your print, and the satisfaction that comes of handcrafting something beautiful.

I love the unique look of a bromoil print. For me, the prints have a different feel to them. They produce an emotional response beyond just the subject matter. I love the historical connection. I am using a process that is over a hundred years old. My teacher learned from masters of the process and there is this long unbroken line of learning stretching back into the past. Also, wonderful historic processes used with modern photography allow us to connect directly with the past, something that is lost so often in our high tech digital world. 

Crafting your photograph in general, directly making the print by hand is a tie to the past that digital technology has robbed us of. Creating images this way allows us to appreciate the beauty of something handcrafted, another castoff from our mechanized age. And the rarity these days of these processes, of handcrafted works of art in general, especially with photography, allow us to create something that truly is unique.

If you’d like to see some prints, I’ve posted some of my images earlier. This is the link

Posted in alternative processes, black and white photography, bromoil, philosophy | Comments Off on Why bromoil?