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Cecil Beaton: Photographs 1920-1970
This opulently produced monograph is
the first comprehensive presentation
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Imagine you're a fabulous trendy fashion photographer. What do you imagine yourself doing?
Chances are, you're clicking away unending rolls of film while screaming "Yes, yes, yes, YES!!" at stunningly gorgeous models, receiving lucite statuettes on the VH1 Fashion Awards for "Fashion Photographer of the Year," travelling to exotic locations with palm trees, white sands, blue seas and scantily clad women, or if you've seen Blow Up, hordes of teenage groupies chase you down the street screaming and tearing at your clothes.
There are, however, a few things that probably don't come to mind, such as spending hours on the phone frantically trying to find a hair stylist who will work for free on a weekend, or working from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. with only five hours to sleep before another 17-hour day of work. And who would have thought of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars of your own money on a shoot for a magazine which they decide not to publish at the last minute? Yes, a career in fashion photography does have its highs, such as seeing your work in print, travelling, working in a very social setting, and having tons of creative freedom, but there are aspects of the job that aren't terribly glamorous.
The Nitty Gritty
Possibly the most common misconception about fashion photography is that the photographer just shows up and begins snapping away at the models. In reality, 90 percent of the job doesn't even involve picking up a camera. Most of the work that goes into a fashion shoot happens before the film is even put into the camera. The photographer is responsible for directing all aspects of a shoot, including booking a stylist (the person who assembles all the clothes and decides what the models are going to wear), the makeup artist, the hair stylist, the photo assistants, and the models. A fashion shoot can easily involve upwards of 10 people all working hard to make sure the images are perfect, all of whom the photographer must keep tabs on to make sure the different elements are working together.
On large commercial shoots, the photographer may also have to work with clients on set. These can include art directors, creative directors, magazine editors, and even the head of the company for whom you are doing the shoot. When there is a client on set, the photographer must make sure they are happy with the way the shoot is going, since they are footing the bill or publishing the photos. This means a photographer has to be extremely tactful with how they communicate with people -- what to say to certain people, what polaroids to show them (on almost every shoot, polaroids are shot which show exactly what the finished film will look like), and how to instill confidence in them that you are in total control of the shoot -- even when things are going completely haywire.
How To Get There If this still sounds like something you want to do, then you may be wondering how to get there. There is no set way of becoming a professional photographer. Unlike doctors, lawyers, FBI agents and dentists, there is no degree or qualification that makes you a professional photographer. Many professional photographers did go to school for a B.A. or a B.F.A. There are hundreds of colleges and universities that offer photography programs and degrees, ranging from small specialized art schools to huge universities.
However, not all photographers went to these schools or even studied photography in any sort of formal program. Most photographers have worked as photo assistants along the way, learning in an apprentice-like setting from established photographers. It is still common to graduate from college with a degree in photography and assist for several years before starting out on your own as a photographer.
Assisting itself is not easy to break into, as it requires patience, a large amount of technical skill, communication skills and professional conduct, persistence, a strong back and seemingly unending energy. Often, the assistants are the first to arrive at a shoot and the last to leave at night. Assisting alone, however, will never make you a professional photographer. The single defining aspect that makes a photographer a professional photographer is the ability to work and earn a living off of it. This means finding work, which is in itself no small undertaking.
Most of the work a photographer does, particularly at the beginning of his or her career, is actually finding work. To do this, you must first go through the slow process of assembling a portfolio (or "book" as it's known in the industry) and showing it to art directors, photo editors, fashion editors, art buyers, creative directors and pretty much anyone else who will look at it. Along with this, you must mail "promo" cards (postcards with some of your work and a phone number, advertising your services), meet with people, and make lots of phone calls. All of this comes straight out of your pocket and is very draining financially. Eventually, with a combination of talent, luck, persistence, a good attitude and patience, you land your first job. This is where it really begins.
Most magazines start new photographers on portrait jobs of up-and-coming and minor celebrities. For example, I've photographed Sam Huntington (one ot the stars of Detroit Rock City), Christian Bedat (owner of Bedat & Co. watches), Adam Garcia (soon to be in Jerry Bruckheimer's upcoming film Coyote Ugly), Iben Hjejle (starring opposite John Cusak in High Fidelity) and Green Gartside of Scritti Politti (a band from the 80's). I even got to photograph Macy Gray just before she released her album and blew up. If you do well with these jobs and deliver photos the magazine likes, then you'll get your first fashion feature.
When you get your first job doing a fashion shoot, if the magazine pays your expenses, consider yourself lucky. The competition is fierce, and there are thousands of other photographers out there who want to be doing exactly what you are doing–so much so that they are willing to do it for free. In general, when you're starting out, the more glamorous the job, the lower the pays. But the unpaid jobs, if done well, could get you noticed and lead to a great, paid job. It may be because you do a shoot of a celebrity just before they hit it big, or it may be because you outdo everyone's expectations and deliver amazing photographs. It is this work that gets you "tearsheets" (pages in a magazine) and demonstrates your ability to handle bigger and bigger jobs.
If you persist and believe in what you're doing, who knows. Before you know it, you may be out on some beach in an exotic location with several assistants, a huge production crew and a supermodel, snapping away and screaming "Yes, yes, yes, YES!!"
Alex Freund is a fabulous, trendy fashion photographer who can often be found working absurd hours in exotic locations with huge crews of people who have fabulous, trendy jobs.