Thursday, August 6, 2009

MLK, Michelangelo, Street-Sweepers, & You

One of the sentiments that has always stayed with me has been this quote, from Martin Luther King Jr:
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.
Today, on assignment in Disney's California Adventure, I witnessed this first-hand. The gentleman I photographed here fit that charge to a T. I watched as he mopped the concrete walks. A stubborn stain he spritzed with his spray bottle, and his holster held other tools necessary to do the job as if he were Michelangelo. He even cared about his appearance as he was doing it, and he also worked during lulls in the crowd so his moping didn't interfere with the parks' guests. I watched for awhile, impressed by his overall approach as well as the details he cared about.

Next is Rutger Hauer, who played Roy Batty in one of my all time favorite movies Blade Runner. "The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long", a reference to Roys' longevity and impending death.

Last up for the day is the tortise and the hare, and that tale of slow and steady over fast and corner cutting is a well known tale. These and so many other parables are guideposts to a future of success in this field.
(Continued after the Jump)

In photography, there are no real short-cuts to success. Yes, there are lucky breaks, yet often, those that experience those do not have the foundations laid for continued success, and often falter.

I'll recount for you a scenario from several years back, to illustrate this point. I had an intern working with me, and this intern had only been in Washington a month or so, and we were photographing the first lady. I was in a holding room doing meet-and-greet images, while the intern was tasked with holding a spot in the room where the press conference was taking place. During that time, my college graduated intern was talking with a young photographer, trying to make idle conversation to pass the time. My intern learned that another young photographer there had dropped out of college to shoot. When this photographer was asked why he would do that, his response was "I'm doing pretty well here, don't ya think? I am covering the first lady!" All in all, the conversational tone was him looking down on my intern and trying to promote his station in life. Fortunately for him, I learned a year or so later, he had returned to school to finish his degree. (Smart move there, if you're reading this and recognize yourself!)

Yes, in a short period of time you can be covering important people doing important things, but if doing so means giving up your rights to your images as a freelancer, or accepting a pay structure that is unfair and non-sustaining, then, as with Roy Batty, you may "burn twice as bright but half as long" and you'll flame out.

Returning to the street sweeper - if you're working for a small paper, a weekly, or doing what some might consider a menial photography-related job, take the sweepers' approach. Do your job well. Earn your respect. Shine brightly as a photographer if you are doing kindergarten snapshots or pet portraits, and you'd rather be photographing CEO's or globe-trotting on an important news story. More than once I've heard of photographers just starting dismiss immediately the notion of working for a small town newspaper, thinking it beneath them and instead believing they were owed a spot at a bigger named publication. Further, far too many photographers believe they are owed something, and that not only should they get a second chance when they screw up, but that they deserve a second chance. They also believe that it is their God-given right to be the next New York Times staff photographer. When you catch your lucky break, if you want to maintain the momentum that the break created, remember this - luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

No comments:

Post a Comment