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The Artist vs. the Lucre.

I have read a number of very cogent and well reasoned articles on the issue of “photographers” providing work for free to get “exposure” for themselves such as John Harrington’s piece here and’s 6 real life stories.

If I were to provide my work for “exposure” to all the business people who suggested it, I’d be getting all my exposure from the fact that I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy clothes 🙂

The bottom line is that business people’s primary aim is to make money for themselves. They often do so in the most ruthless manner that they can find, and it is up the artist/professional to ensure that they are not taken advantage of.

I have to admit though, in my specific case the allure of seeing my work up on public walls is seductive indeed. For many hobbyist’s like myself, there is usually little need to feed ourselves from the work we do. As a result, a process of rationalization can often make it seem useful to have that exposure that is promised in return for your freely provided work, when, in fact, you are merely being swayed by the stroking of your ego.

I was personally approached recently by a business person, as is usually the case, promising exposure at the negligible cost to me of providing 4 of my favourite pieces framed and matted so that the business person could give me exposure, no doubt while she makes the supreme sacrifice for my benefit of having my work enhancing her decor, and hence the ambiance her customers enjoy.

On sending her a price list, I could feel the shock in her (very polite) response indicating that she had expected me to “sponsor” the pieces that would be hung in this business which she had poured so much effort into (she did not, of course, mention the years of dedication I have poured into my photography). If I were to give her those 4 pieces which I value in total at about US$600 it is highly unlikely that I would ever recover through resulting sales, enough to justify that investment.Meanwhile, I still have to pay my mortgage, still have to pay school fees for the children, still have to pay for endless maintenance on a 20 year old car, and cetera.


I am not going to ascribe malicious motives to the lady, who has been very polite in her communication with me, but I have to wonder if there is any other endeavour anywhere that people expect they will get the resulting product for free?

“Artist” is not a profession, and no one who considers themselves an artist ever expects that they will be able to live off it, but I really have to wonder at the disrespect of a person who sees what I have accomplished through hard work and dedication who then wants me to give them the result of my hard work so that they will benefit, but I should not charge for that.

Worse than the business people who expect free services/products from photographers are the artists or professionals who do give their stuff away for free. Reasonably competent hobbyists or professionals who allow clients or customers to trick or bully them into providing services for free do great disservice to those who have to make their livelihood at photography. The more that is freely given away, the more difficult it becomes for a working professional to command reasonable remuneration. An expectation of free services are created in the customer base.

As I told the lady who approached me (cribbing unknowingly from John Harrington above) the only benefit I am likely to receive from giving her free prints is that more people are going to come to me expecting free prints.

I always feel a bit uncomfortable discussing money when someone approaches me for a print, but I force myself to think of the photographers who don’t have a day job like I do, then it becomes significantly easier.

The bottom line here is, if you are a photographer and someone likes your work enough to want to hang it on their wall, they are getting a material benefit. You should not have to suffer financially as a result of anyone liking your work.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. fidal says: April 2, 2012

    Good stuff dude 🙂

  2. Michael C. Lam says: April 7, 2012

    I have to admit that I am also swayed by people wanting to “use” my photos for some publication or the other. When it is a publication that is “sold” I have reservations since they are making money, they wouldn’t be producing it unless it were profitable. I was recently approached by someone wanting my image for a magazine, and while they wanted to pay what I considered a very small price for it, I was swayed since the magazine is not for sale but a free distribution. I know they have a budget for some photography, and I am getting some “exposure” on it, but in this case I am also getting paid something.
    I agree with everything you’ve said, we need to be rewarded for our hard work, not taken advantage of.


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