It's October. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing. It's a bittersweet time of year for me; I love summer and am always sad to see it go, but I also love warming up to a cup of hot tea when it's just a little chilly out. Plus my dog is way more snuggly when she wants to share body heat.
This is a season of change. So today I want to write about change: personal changes and the changes we want to see in our industry. Right now is a point where those two are intersecting for me.
For the first time in my life, I have a job. Not a freelance gig or an internship or a temporary position, but a job. It's weird working for someone else and it's taking some adjustment but it's also really, really cool. I'll explain why in a second.
Like most of you, my career thus far has been about navigating the tradeoffs between all the freedom and joy that comes from working for yourself and all the frustrations and limitations that come with that. People assume that freelancing means you're constantly creating and adventuring but the reality is the minutiae of running your own business is far from creative and it can easily suck the creative energy right out of you. Or at least right out of me. Freelancing can be super lonely and frustrating.
So when I finished my Master's program this summer, I decided to start looking for jobs. I hadn't necessarily decided that I definitely wanted a job, but I wanted to be open to it. Because in a perfect scenario, a job is a really cool thing -- ideally you have mentors and colleagues you can collaborate with and learn from, deadlines to keep you on track, resources to accomplish more than you can do on your own... and of course, a salary. Which to me, has less to do with the actual amount of money than the reliability of knowing when you're going to get paid and how much it'll be for. My partner is a freelance photographer and having two unpredictable incomes in our household was really stressful.
A couple months ago, this opportunity came up with a photojournalism startup called ViewFind. At first I was super skeptical but my mentor, Mike Davis, recommended me and after many phone conversations with the Editorial Director, Thea Breite, I started to get excited. This is a company aimed at creating a different model for sharing and monetizing photojournalism. And what really excited me is that they are so early on that I felt I could be part of shaping the company into what I think could be something really great for photographers. I've now been with ViewFind for a couple of months and while there are for sure some intense frustrations about working with a startup with limited resources and a team spread out across the country, it's also unlike any other environment in which I've worked.
One of the critical things I've learned over the past few years is how important it is to identify what you're interested in and what you're good at -- but it's also important to identify the environments in which you thrive.
If you know me, you know that I can be stubborn and opinionated, but you also know that I'm people and purpose driven. And I've learned that I thrive when I'm on a team of diverse, hard-working, passionate people who are all bringing different things toward trying to accomplish a common goal.
I would rather work with cool people trying to figure out how to solve what feels like an insurmountable problem than sit at a desk and simply execute a task I know I can do well. Right now ViewFind feels like a group of people trying to solve a really complicated puzzle with no promise that it can even be solved. And that's what I wish more of us in the industry were doing.
The World Press Photo Foundation and Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism just released a study on the state of photojournalism and the results are sadly not shocking. The majority of photojournalists are men making less than $40,000 per year while regularly subjecting themselves to physical, psychological and emotional harm. But 66% of respondents are happy with their career choice. That's the kicker: photojournalists do it because they love it and because they believe in it.
The problem with this is that when we rely on passion to sustain an industry, we dramatically limit those who are allowed to participate. If our industry -- an industry based on informing the public about what's happening in the world -- is reliant on people's passion alone to sustain their careers, then we're building in a perspective of privilege in our news media. And that's problematic not only for us within the industry, but for the public, whose collective understanding of the world is shaped by the images we make and disseminate. It's the same reason why we should all fight against unpaid internships, which widen the opportunity gap between rich and poor.
That's why it's absolutely imperative that we work together to try to find a different way. Photojournalism needs to be a financially sustainable career or else only the independently wealthy will be able to stay in the game, and those will be the only voices we have to inform us.
I'm not saying that I think ViewFind is going to single handedly change the world, but I hope it can be a start. When I was interviewing, I told my (now) boss that I wouldn't work for a company that I didn't genuinely believe was good for photographers and I stand by that. I see so much potential in this thing that we're building and I know that as much of a ride the past couple months have been, the next year is going to be a trip. We launch our full platform next month and hope to have our mobile app out next year. And then we'll see. I hope this takes off and creates some seriously good opportunities for photojournalists.
But most startups fail and if our model doesn't end up working, I hope we inspire others to try something else. Because nothing will change if we don't make things change.
p.s. (shameless plug) if you're reading this before October 9, 2015 - we're offering three $5,000 grants for visual stories about race. Spread the word and please apply! You can find more details at viewfind.com/grant