Unfortunately some who have achieved leadership in the profession often dictate from a confused throne of success—a success which may be more financial than otherwise.
With a few exceptions, publications of the photographic world are founded on the desire to stimulate the photographic trade; materials, equipment, gadgets have been in high flood of production and sales and the advertising of these countless items have been the backbone of this publishing. The dangerous suggestion that you can hire someone to do the drudgery, plus the encouragement of superficial thought and methods, has robbed photography of much dignity, clarity and effectiveness.
I have been away from the public eye and the buzz of media for a bit. The reason is not important to the point I wish to make, but it did give me some time to chip away at a backlog of reading, and to listen to a few podcast episodes that lingered in the queue.
On one such podcast, a photographer of some new-found social media notoriety spoke proudly of having secured sponsorships from a number of companies at a trade show, which reminded me that upon being invited to speak at an upcoming event the organizer also asked me if I was sponsored by any companies who may cover my speaking fees in exchange for promotional opportunities.
I have only been tempted to align with corporate brands a couple of times in the past and am not likely to consider it again. Other than my innate resistance to having any “strings attached,” especially when it comes to potentially limiting my ability to speak my mind honestly, what turned me off the most was the inevitability of such arrangements leading to encounters that to me are too close for comfort with some bureaucrat dedicated entirely to doing the bidding of his or her employer—being “all business,” as the saying goes—a corporate soldier offering no glimpse into his or her being anything other; a human form channeling some corporate creed, ready to promote and to defend its masters’ interests without question and without remorse. Such people, I admit, played a great role in my decision to part ways with the corporate world some years ago.
I don’t begrudge anyone the desire to excel at their job, whether such excellence can be justified by any quality other than the sense of being good at something and being appreciated for it. But admittedly when such desires find expression in an “all business” attitude obscuring the individual, obfuscating whatever identity, empathy, dignity, sense of wonder, and whatever values he or she may possess outside their corporate role; I find that person and that attitude to be incompatible with, if not outright toxic to, the things I care most about in my work.
As stated by Bertrand Russell, “Art springs from a wild and anarchic side of human nature; between the artist and the bureaucrat there must always be a profound mutual antagonism, an age-long battle in which the artist, always outwardly worsted, wins in the end through the gratitude of mankind for the joy that he puts into their lives.” And one may consider the outcomes (perhaps not all bad) of what the absence of such antagonism might lead to: when an artist and a bureaucrat collaborate, and the motives that may drive such collaborations. At the very least such artists, if only in appearance, give up a degree of credibility and freedom of expression, which to me is a cost exceeding whatever benefit I might gain from sponsorship.
And so I am, proudly, unsponsored—an independent explorer (of many things); an unprejudiced ambassador (for wildness and for creative expression); an artist (and not just an artisan). I have to be. Doing what I do, in my mind, is in too many ways not compatible with the motivations of corporations.
Should you wish to chide me that accepting such sponsorships is, “part of the game,” consider that this is not a game to me. It’s my life, and I wish to keep it free of some influences to the degree that I can help it. And should my reluctance to align myself with corporate brands seem worthy to you, consider please that it also means I have to generate income without the business benefits of such sponsorships: by the support of those who appreciate what I do.