AVOIDING THE SPIRAL OF IRRELEVENCE
By Sean Cayton
Commercial and Freelance Photojournalist

' Without a healthy market to give the photographer clear direction, even the best work risks descending into a spiral of irrelevance.' ------ Peter Howe in an essay ' The photographer's eye in a digital world.' http://www.cjr.org/year/02/4/howe.asp

This is what I worried about when I quit freelancing for newspapers. I worried that I had just lost my shot at doing what I love - documentary photojournalism. I worried there were no markets outside of newspapers for my style of photography. I worried it would't sell.

Boy was I wrong. There are incredible opportunities for documentary photojournalists to do what they love and be paid fairly for it. There are more than a few places outside the mainstream media to sell photographs. And there is more than one way to make a mark in photojournalism.

Although I continue to do some newspaper work today, 11 months after I left a steady gig at a metro paper, the work that I do is on my terms.


This is an example of the types of ads I use to sell my documentary style. It usually runs a third of a page in the newspaper.
2002 Sean Cayton

I shoot assignments for a news weekly that can't afford good photography. Instead of receiving $35 per assignment - which is what they offer freelancers - I negotiated a trade for advertising space.

I use the space to promote my documentary wedding and portrait business. I sell my documentary skills to brides and grooms and to people who want day-in-the-life photo essays. The response to the ads has been incredible. The space is better than any credit on any photo of mine ever printed in the newspaper. It amounts to a yearly-$20k advertising budget for my business.

 

At the same time, I use the same editorial assignments to sell my work in two other markets.

First, I sell personal prints using a web storefront and cards with my web site address on them. I pass the cards out when I'm working. So far, a steady increase in orders has been the trend.

I also transmit my photographs from my assignments and some of my personal work to a stock agency called The Image Works. http://www.theimageworks.com The agency sells pictures to mainstream buyers of editorial and commercial photography. So far, a steady increase in sales has been the trend here too.

On top of that, I continue to shoot the documentary projects that I want to do and pursue avenues for that work outside of newspapers and magazines.

Recently, I found a home for my work from the Hayman fire.


Some of my images from catastrophic wild fires in the Pikes Peak region will be on exhibit at the Pioneers Museum for three months starting in August. This image shows a hilltop burning out of control during the Hayman fire. June 10, 2002
2002 Sean Cayton All rights reserved

My photographs of wildfires, most of which have never been published, will be featured in a museum exhibition on catastrophic wildfires in the Pikes Peak region. This is a win-win for me and the museum. The museum gets to showcase contemporary history and I have a place to display my work.

In addition, the museum has reduced my costs for an exhibit by providing the mats and frames for my prints. These images will also be accepted into the into the Pioneers Museum's permanent picture collection.

I think this is more satisfying professionally than seeing my photographs on newsprint.

I am kicking the newspaper habit, slowly . It's been a difficult road, but a rewarding one in ways that I never imagined.

I am fulfilling my potential as a business owner, as well as a photographer practicing documentary photojournalism, fine art photography and portraiture. I have also become an important asset to my community and I have distinguished myself from the journalists that parachute in from above.

Who can ask for more from their professional life?

 

Sean Cayton
scayton@qwest.net

http://www.caytonphotography.com/

 

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