TO SPECIALIZE OR NOT TO SPECIALIZE — THAT WAS THE QUESTION
In the fall of 1965, when my business partner Jim Houghton and I first formed our own photo studio in New York, we had a major decision to make. Should we go the route of most commercial photographers and establish an identifiable "style," or be generalists that could handle a wide range of assignments? Between the two of us we had the necessary experience to be able to take on just about anything from still life to industrial ads to high fashion. But we drew the line at weddings! Or the creepy stuff that low-life paparazzi do.
Our mentor, Richard Avedon, was known primarily for his fashion and portrait photography, and had a strong look that immediately let you know whose work it was. We could have just imitated him, and to some extent in the beginning we did just that. Especially in his sometimes use of dramatic lighting. But the work offered to us in those early days often called for something different, and to pay the rent you have to do what the client wants.
We decided right off to have no particular style, but to offer another quality instead — one all too lacking in many "hot" photographers. That was dependability. Always being on time, ready to work, and with the right equipment and resources to do the job. In the long run this resulted in loyal clients and repeat business.
Quality was another important factor. We had both worked for Avedon, and so knew how to produce those stunning black-and-white prints. We also chose the very best lab in town to do our color processing, and to supply us with the pick of emulsions.
Styles in photography, as in many endeavors, come and go. What is in high demand one year may be utterly passé the next. Photographers who are too identified with a particular "look" often have to re-invent (and re-sell!) themselves every few years, or go hungry.
Another early decision that we made was to always be in absolute control of every shooting, the way a good movie director is. There are basically two types of photographers in this regard — those who record events over which they have no control and those who take charge of every little detail, leaving nothing to chance. Both are equally valid, both require talent and training.
Having no particular style also smoothes out the inevitable ups and downs in business. When the demand for fashion photography is slow you can always fill in doing promotional shots for airlines.
Not being stuck with one specialty also keeps you on your toes, meeting new challenges and solving new problems every day instead of doing the same old thing over and over again.
But the best advantage is simply that a variety of experiences just makes life more interesting.
I left the business after 15 years not because I was bored but because I wanted to open a new chapter in my life.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? Why, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.