Emerging photographer and recent press and editorial photography graduate James Allen shares his thoughts with the duck…thanks James:
“Its Feast or Fast”
Sage advice from my father on the realities of self-employment. I am at the moment just about to throw myself fully into a marathon not a sprint, competing for work and competing to establish my name in my chosen profession, and like a marathon there’s thousands of runners. I feel that at the moment I have just about managed to tie my laces.
The last few years have been spent training though; the hard graft of three years of University, the luxury of having a limited but guaranteed amount of money to invest in work, equipment and stories. The luxury of time to hone my skills and my art. Time flies. Before you know you’re in your final year. The safe walls and friendly faces of University are about to be pulled from under your feet. Three, two then one month to go, the blur of the last weeks, every moment spent ensuring everything’s perfect. One day to go, the niggling thought – have I done enough? Then you hand in. Distract yourself until the results come in with third year shows in London and catching up with neglected friends and family. Result day comes, you have done enough – you have the grade you want, the world’s at your feet. But then it hits you, you get home and there’s a credit card bill and the rent’s due.
What next? Start running, maintain profile, phone, email, pester and network. That’s the only way it will happen, don’t wait for people to do it for you. A few weeks ago I couldn’t see how it could possibly work. But today I can, the diary is slowly filling. But don’t stop running. Be ready for the wall when you hit it. Feast on your successes but be ready to fast. And also don’t work for free. Always get something out of it, not always monetary but at least a project for your own marketing. Be nice, people like nice, meet clients. An email is cold, a handshake friendly, a smile and a joke makes you human. Keep your personal projects close and ongoing. Be ready to show and take criticism. I was lucky enough to be at “Visa Pour L’Image” in Perpignan this week, and I took a tiny book I made for my degree. Best thing I ever did. I gave copies to some of my idols and watched them flick through it. Creased brows and intense scrutiny followed by positive but honest feedback, then in their bag to put on their bookshelf. My personal work is on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and when showing the work to conflict photographers I could see the images take anchor and response in hard eyes that have seen many things you could not imagine. This is why it’s good to be able to fast. Because I have to survive to at the very least continue my personal work.
Even when fasting it’s important to realise you can still have success. The project I have nurtured for the last year has been selected to be shown at the Love Leeds Arts Festival, a citywide festival highlighting mental health issues and reducing stigma of various conditions. Being shown at the Royal Armouries I hope that people will see and read about the experiences my subjects have been through and have witnessed. What’s the point of taking photographs and intruding into sensitive areas of peoples lives but to share the message with people who may not otherwise know or care?. So if you’re in or around Leeds on the 11th of October then come to the Royal Armouries for the opening and we can have a chat and a drink – it’s free after all.
But then sometimes in life some of the most filling things are.
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You can also see James’ PTSD work in the new edition of Inquire magazine, formally Auto-de-fe.