I think the way each of us finds our way into photography is as special and unique as the background from which we each come. It’s a bit of our individual combinations of personality traits or the work we make behind the lens. Ultimately, we each reached a point where we realized there was nothing else we wanted to do with our lives. And somewhere along the way of that passionate pursuit, you hit a bump in the road and didn’t know where to turn, or perhaps you find yourself in that space right now.
I know I encountered that curveball fresh out of college. It prepared me well for creating influential work, powerful personal projects, and imbibed a great ability to provide constructive feedback and critiques. But I’d never heard the term “photo assisting,” and didn’t know the first thing about bids or how to submit them. In general, I was at a significant loss of where to go or how to start breaking into the industry. This is where this small side narrative ties into the ultimate power that comes from community, and the importance of investing in it. Fortunately, one of my favorite college professors, Lonnie Graham, made it part of the curriculum to be an ASMP (Amerian Society of Media Photographers) member. I am forever grateful for this. ASMP is not the only professional network of its kind; I also am a member of APA (American Photographic Artists). There are a myriad of other fabulous associations to engage with and belong to. It ended up being the lifeline, the tenuous thread by which I held on through the post-college/recent graduate trials and tribulations. It helped me refuse to give up on the photographic art we all fell in love with at one point or another. It kept me afloat until I found my NYC photo family.
I could recount compelling anecdotes all day about how being a member of these two organizations elevated my career. We all have a tendency to overlook the most powerful resource available to us: our community. We often get so caught up in seeing each other as competition that we forget this world is one of abundance. By creating and maintaining a strong industry, we all ensure our future successes. By embracing each other, rather than demonizing each other, we become each other’s greatest assets, best advisors, and most significant sources of support. We live in editing caves. We think that if we work hard enough, long enough, tirelessly enough, eventually we’ll reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I believe the secret is not just those things, but requires one crucial, additional ingredient – being present to and investing in your community.
Those curveballs I talked about earlier aren’t nearly so daunting and impossible to take on when you’ve got 15 other photographers behind your back. They know you have theirs as well. That doesn’t come from just attending parties and networking events though. You create and build that by giving back to the community. That comes from recognizing how that community feeds you. It’s only fair you return the favor.
“We live in editing caves, thinking that if we work hard enough, long enough, tirelessly enough, eventually we’ll reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Every significant achievement, career advancement, my art, and my income has somehow stemmed from investing in my community. It’s been all about cultivating relationships that are genuine, honest, and heartfelt. When I say I found my photo family, I’m not trying to be cheesy or overzealous. Genuinely, my community has become the foundation and the rock for me in this industry. When they become one and the same, the synergy shared among an active group like that creates far more powerful waves of influence than anyone could have previously predicted.
Every time I’m in a situation I’m not sure how to handle, I reliably have at least three people I can call who will have insight or a better perspective than me. I know they will happily give me feedback to the situation at hand. Sure, I could struggle to search out that knowledge for four or five hours in deep dives on the internet. But a 10-minute phone call to someone I already consider a good friend is much faster and far more reliable than some questionable source on the internet. When my flash broke, and I needed a loaner, I wasn’t stuck renting. I was able to borrow one from a friend on multiple occasions until I could replace my own. If it’s the last minute shoot situation, or an assistant who bailed last minute, I have four other friends who assist on speed dial, and they each have their own set of referrals that I know nine times out of 10. Either way, I still have my bases covered. Investing your time and energy in the industry equates to a safety net that also celebrates your successes. As long as you give back to it, it will continue to catch you when you slip or stumble.
Then there are the tangible benefits of being a member of organizations like ASMP and APA, all of the supremely worthwhile varieties. Both provide discounts for various products and businesses that we as photographers all frequent. They include CSI, Adorama, Apple, HotelStorm, BlinkBid, Photo Mechanic, and multiple types of insurance benefits. This is only naming a small few. They also provide unique, exclusive photo opportunities with members-only competitions, exhibitions, and portfolio reviews. They produce quality educational workshops/seminars to help fill in knowledge gaps that you might not have even realized you had (like me and that whole embarrassing photo assisting thing). These are also the organizations that are taking on real-life, game-changing aspects of the industry, like the CASE act and copyright protection. And who can forget the power of the personal referral – hard to obtain, but once gained and you’ve lived up to the standard set by it, which can make or break your success as a freelancer. With that said, if you show up reliably and regularly in your community, you’ll also more likely be the person people will want to work with when real business is on the table, and they need someone they can rely on and trust.
“Investing your time and energy in the industry equates to a safety net that also celebrates your successes, and as long as you give back to it, it will continue to catch you when you slip or stumble.”
So many members of our community think we have to tough it out or go it alone, or that struggling more will achieve better results in the long run. In my experience, the best, most effective, and fastest way to build yourself up is to help build up those around you. When we support each other, we strengthen ourselves from the inside out. A rising tide lifts all boats, and I would much rather float with friends than run aground or be adrift on my own.
Editor’s Note – in the interest of transparency, Alyssa is a board member for ASMP’s NY Chapter. Editor in Chief Chris Gampat is on the board for APA NY’s chapter.