After I was laid off earlier this year, I went ahead and stuck my hands in as many metaphorical jars as I could. I had been jumping from one advertising agency to another and the timelines between when I started and when I was sick of the gig kept getting shorter and shorter. It turns out it was time to jump ship, to try something new, to change course entirely.
One of the jars called back about two months ago. He was an event organizer for the series of RAW showcases. He saw some of the photographs I had applied with, liked what he was looking at, and wondered if I would want to show my stuff at the next Denver showcase?
I mean, sure? Why not?
So set off one of the busiest five weeks I’ve ever had getting ready to do something that I had never even thought of doing: hanging photographs that I had taken at an event that was characterized as “art.” Forcibly taking all of the photography skills I had been batting around for months and putting them into something much grander than a Flickr album. There is a massive leap between having a half-way curated Instagram account and having your images exist in a capacity where they could eventually adorn someone’s wall-space.
Before I knew it, it was the night of the show. I stood in a booth in front of my work for four hours and tried not to look nervous as people openly reviewed all the images I had composed specially for this show. All around me were dozens of other artists showcasing work from across all sorts of mediums. There was music, at top volume, which I strained to speak over to those who had some interest in my photos.
There were also more people than I expected wearing nothing more than body paint. I mean – I expected some people in body paint, just not that many.
As I punch up this reflection on the event in the mire of a social hangover, I realized that even if I hadn’t sold a single print (mad props to those of you who dropped some cash in my bucket) the RAW showcase was the best learning experience I could have had during these early, reintroduction days to my freelancing.
Stuff I Learned:
I Had To Learn To Self-Promote – I’ve never felt comfortable talking about what I was working on. In a world of finished products, I always had works-in-progress. Self-promoting what I was working on was something that I avoided at all costs. To make my position in the RAW showcase work out, I needed to more or less get over myself and get it out there. I had to learn to say out loud (really loud!) “Hey, I’m over here doing something that I think is different and I just want you to notice.”
Even if what I was working on wasn’t good or interesting to people, I’ve found it a general truth that most folks just don’t know about most of the thing they might want to know about. Myself included. There is something about taking a moment to look around and just notice what other people – especially those in your own circles – are doing.
In My Digital World, I Needed Something Tangible – A few weeks before the show I printed out a series of 5X7 prints on matte paper over at Mike’s Camera. It was all stuff that I wanted to hang at the show and I wanted to see what looked good printed out. Surprisingly, nothing looked that great. Everything seemed darker than I thought it would, muddier. And why wouldn’t it? I was taking a digital exposure and editing it on something that lit up from behind and usually posting it in a place where other people would look at it on a brightly lit screen.
Take away all those lights? Mud.
Seeing things in print gave me a moment of pause to recognize what I was asking people to look at and what I was taking my time to look at. Of alllllll those posts on Instagram that I’ve liked – what would I want to buy a blown up 16X24 version of? What gave me a moment’s pleasure to look at and like, and what would I want to frame up on my wall for contemplation for months or years from now?
Investing Improves Chances Of Success – I won’t lie, I had to put down a little money to make this show work out. Not much – but between all of the photo backings, lighting, website toys – there was some adding up to do. In the end, two things happened: I was leveraging more mindset on making the show successful, and I was committing to doing this for a little longer than the one show I had been committed to. And, in a way, it worked. I still have a good deal of prints to sell and some interest in hanging my stuff at other places in the near future.
At this Moment Success or Failure is 100% on me – If I were to attempt a career in selling prints or photography, I’d have to put down a lot more of the right work. Of course, I am also relying on others who want to put down the money for my work to make that career happen. Long before that is months of work, properly punctuated and well executed, which must take place to make sure I’m set up for that kind of success. Same goes for everything else I’m doing in this strange world of quasi-employment. Yes, I’m freelancing and taking all kinds of odd jobs. And that’s great for now. However, it has become resoundingly more clear that I’ll need to continue working if only to set myself up for success when the next big opportunity shows up around the corner.