I was once quite naive about how the world worked, at High School I was told that you must go to college because if you go to college you will get a good job, at college I was told you must go to university because if you go to university you will get a good job.
It was seen as the education path that must be taken and those who deviated from it would not excel to the possible heights of those who carried on. The fact is that reality and expectations have a cruel way of not being the same.
At university it did start to dawn on me about the work prospects were not as fruitful as I once believed, but there was always a light that I could do this or that. When the day came and I was standing cap in gown I knew it was going to be a hard slog.
I had started my studies when digital photography was still bubbling away, film cameras were the most commonly used medium, there were digital cameras but nowhere near the standard they are now. When I finished my studies digital photography was king. To become a professional was now easy if you had the money to buy the equipment along with limited skill you could make great images that most people would be impressed by. I know that not all photographers needed or had a formal education but the digital revolution created a huge surge of “pro photographers” that oversaturated the market place.
In one of my first job interviews for a portrait studio I was told that I would need to edit a picture for print in 30 minutes. I was taken aback “how can you guarantee quality?” was my question. Their response “we have presets”. The studio was no longer a place to create a beautiful image for the client but a mass production machine, get as many people in edit the images in a predesigned way and sell, sell, sell.
To say I was disillusioned by my profession to be, would be an understatement.
According to Kripler, in America photography is the third worst college major for your career, just behind Fine Arts and Anthropology. The rate of unemployment for graduates is close to the same as that for high school drop outs at 12%. Graduates of photography are 2.6 times more likely to work in retail than an average graduating student. The pay for a successful photographer can be high on average a photography graduate will earn $10,000 gross per year.
From what I know out of the 30 fellow students who were in my graduating class I believe only 5-6 of us still work in the photographic field.
For me it has taken a few years of doing bits of work here and there, some of it unpaid to be at the cusp of where I think I should be going. I am teaching photography and have time to practise and work in the field.
Photography is not the goose that lays a golden egg; it is a highly competitive field where a belief in yourself and your own ability needs to be unwavering. If I could speak to the younger version of me and give him some advice I would say don’t go to university, apprentice and intern. You can earn money while you learn your trade, you have the experience that people are looking for.
Then again if the younger version of me had followed that advice I would never have met my wife.