April 07th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
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Thanks for reading! Andrew.
There’s no doubt that the professional photography world has changed a lot over the last ten years or so. ‘Old’ business models, such as stock photography, have changed dramatically and rates for editorial photographers seem to have increased little, if at all, over the last two decades. But some photographers are flourishing. Natalie Dybisz, aka Miss Aniela, is one of them, and has made a name for herself as a fine-art photographer and author.
This makes me wonder if Natalie’s success is a new paradigm for making a living as a photographer in the 21st century. I asked her to share her thoughts on this topic – her detailed and cerebral responses are below. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her photos too.
What, for you, are the main differences between being a fine art photographer and being a commercial photographer?
I describe myself as both – as a safety net – because I feel it necessary to ‘sell’ myself as a photographer who can do work for others (hence to invite people’s enquiries). But, at the core, I am more a fine-art photographer because I spend most of my time producing work out of motivation for my own concepts and not commissioned, outright, by someone else.
If one was to describe themselves singularly as a ‘commercial’ photographer, I take that to be someone whose chief occupation with the process of creating images is to make money, and therefore to satisfy the needs of the commissioning client. That usually entails a dilution of concept, message – and even (sometimes) passion – in order to satisfy the business-led motives of the final usage of the images.
Unfortunately that will often involve stereotypes, clichés, replication of trends, and even promotion of commodities negative to real human health and spirituality. The latter is ultimately what keeps me more passionate about fine art – because it allows the creation of unfettered and liberating messages that are often not the kind of sentiments that necessarily make money.
To me, being a true ‘fine-art photographer’ is about finding passion in sharing messages, whilst a commercial photographer finds passion in following money. But that is just one ‘take’ on it. In the real world, all one needs to be deemed as a ‘fine art photographer’ is to make work that is primarily for exhibition, print sale, books or otherwise – and there are also accepted norms that buffer one’s reputation in that field: arts education, residencies, competition wins, associations with other accepted fine-art photographers, a popular work style, and so on.
And, along the way of being a commercial photographer, one might indeed find ways to challenge people and make them think, in more ways than some fine-art photographers feel inclined to do. It all depends on the individual artist’s drive and motivations within themselves.
What are ‘truth’ and ‘originality’ in photography and how can photographers stay true to their own selves as they create new work?
I think I can identify two levels of truth and originality.
The first level is being true to yourself. It is interesting that you have paired together ‘truth’ and ‘originality’ here in this question because it is by being true to oneself that originality – or, more accurately, authenticity – is achieved.
I read a book called Art & Fear which is very good at describing the things artists feel and how to overcome common anxieties about originality. But in order to be true to yourself, you first need to learn what ‘yourself’ actually is, and to do that takes time and shedding of accumulated distractions.
I see a lot of emerging artists emulate one other photographer and end up creating works that are exclusively similar to that one idol. I believe in reaching out to more than one inspiration, outside of photography also, so that there are plenty of sources from which to take influence and to remix them, pluristically, into your art. I believe that is very important to being able to make your own ‘style’ in the way people speak of.
The second level of truth and originality is where an artist chooses to reject trends, norms, clichés and the general zone of comfort of what is accepted as beautiful by other people, and also, by themselves. This is by no means something I have mastered myself. In fact, I think it will be an inherent conflict forever. For example, when I shoot a beautiful image – be it a fashion image, or nude – there is a tendency to settle on a beautiful and easy to comprehend image.
But there will always be a question mark that asks whether the image is ‘complete’, conceptually. Sometimes this involves introducing a level of discomfort into the image that taps into a message I want to convey with the image. Maybe it involves disrupting a nude or fashion image with an unexpected or even ugly element. So, on this level, truth and originality seep though to challenge even the artist themselves. The artist is placed onto a path of discovery.
Truth and originality are generally very debated terms in art. We cannot ever create something purely true or original. What we can do, however, is constantly question everything we do create, question everything around us from which we are taking inspiration, and enjoy being the perfection of being imperfect. This is also why it’s important to take several inspirations and ‘remix’ them: because then it’s easy to be honest and say “I was inspired by x, x and x”, with the viewer able to see how those inspirations were woven into something new: not just copied over from one source. That is what art is.
It seems to me you’ve discovered ‘new’ ways to make a living as a fine art photographer (besides selling prints), such as leading workshops and writing books. In a world where many photographers are struggling to earn a living in more ‘traditional’ areas such as stock and editorial photography, does your approach represent a new paradigm for earning a living as a photographer?
I believe that yes it can, although it would be a strange and impossible world for every photographer to be ‘teaching’ something.
At first I felt frustrated that most of my living as a photographer was being made from unconventional things – but now I am extremely positive about it, and very grateful to be making any living from self-employment in a creative arena. This has especially come from putting the times into perspective, and realising how hard it is to make any living at the moment, let alone a creatively fulfilling one.
The main ‘alternate’ thing I have enjoyed is writing books. In a sense, this is not making money as a ‘photographer’ – because you are writing a book, not taking pictures – however, I realise that this outlet is one I enjoy and value so much, that it is indeed becoming its own reason to create.
A book is a precious and treasurable item and I feel my books have blurred the line between art and instruction, and I am most passionate about the things I believe to be challenging the norm. This is also because I am allowed freedom and autonomy in the books I write – I am not asked to write x number of words on steps in Photoshop for example – so I am able to fashion my own messages and sentiments in the books which I find fulfilling.
Workshops are a very interesting area because we are amidst an explosion of workshops by photographers like myself, who are self-taught, or have engineered their own success/style in some way and are presenting their homemade success skills to others. I have really enjoyed teaching my own workshops, but have naturally moved onto a slightly different type of event that does not involve teaching, but hosting a grand opportunity to facilitate others’ creativity.
It is yet to say how the workshop market will explode – it is already becoming very saturated but this may be a good thing at first, as word of mouth from one workshop to the next spreads. However, it does make me wonder what will come of all the people who attend the workshops and use similar techniques, creating a wave of similar types of imagery.
One problem I see with workshops is the tendency for some attendees to think they can literally ‘shop’ for techniques as if they were going to cooking classes. There are many aspiring photographers who don’t want to think for themselves, but want to buy in the resources they need to quick success – as in many other fields, too.
This and a number of other factors has drawn me away from workshops for the time being, instead to an event which encourages autonomy and free-thinking: the ‘shoot experience’. My partner and I run these events in London and NYC and it is the absolute dream job: to organise a shoot primarily for others, where we can also shoot for ourselves too. That lends itself better to the idea of a breeding ground for photographic talent – because one has to think for themselves.
You’ve written a book and have another one due to be published soon. How much work does it take to write a photography book and what advice would you give anyone who would like to do the same?
It does take a lot of work over time, but the work is broken down into chunks – chapters and spreads – which makes the whole prospect very ‘doable’. No one wants to read long confabulated material anyway, so concise writing across varied shoots and topics makes for enjoyable reading!
I find that the most work lies in structuring a book: the theme and angle to the whole book, and the choice of topics or themes in each chapter and spread. And then, sourcing all the pictures and preparing those files for sending across to the design team. Writing the text is the smaller job!
Learn more about her Fashion Shoot Experience on the dedicated website.