Seven months ago I didn't even know that I was about to go freelance, whereas both mums-to-be knew that their lives were about to change forever. I'm not equating going freelance to becoming a parent but my point here is that both take time to adjust to and both are going to be far more of a success if there is support and planning.
I'd be the first to say that I have had a lot of support from friends and family but the time I had for planning was pretty limited. I had exactly one month between being told that I was leaving the newspaper and doing my first bone-crunchingly nerve-wracking job as a freelancer. It went well, I sent the client way too many pictures to choose from and it turned out to be just the right kind of job to get me up and running.
I tried to remember the last time that I needed to go out with my folio and look for work - I think that it was in 1992 - and so I had to put pictures together and start to make phone calls to try to get my pictures in front of picture editors. The ratio of calls to folio viewings was about twenty to one. There are a lot of freelance photographers out there and picture editors and art buyers have a limited amount of time to see "new" people. I tried emailing people too and that proved even less productive - only one success from a couple of hundred emails sent.
I spent enough time covering on the picture desk at the newspaper to know what formats people were using to show their work - everything from 20"x16" mounted prints to small bound books to slide shows on a laptop. I always found that people who spent a lot of time preparing their pictures somehow missed the point of the editorial process. I cannot put my finger on why but I decided to have a folder full of images on my laptop (with cleaned screen and keyboard) that ran as a simple, full screen slide show.
Having invested a lot of money in business cards, I started handing them out as if my life depended on it. Almost anyone that I met was fair game for a card and I firmly believe that this is paying off. I went back to see a client for the second time the other day to talk over a bigger project and there was my card, on his desk and there was photocopy of it on the desk of his deputy. I made sure that the deputy and the part time researcher got their own copies too. Cynics quote the phrase "be nice to people on the way because you never know who you are going to meet on the way down" but my outlook is simply to treat everyone properly. I remember one talented photographer coming to see me when I was acting Picture Editor (again) and he was very charming and polite with me. I asked him to show his work to a young picture researcher who was working with me and he was almost dismissive of her. I couldn't believe his attitude and never rang him.
So here we are, six months in and I'm doing OK. I would have taken the progress that I've made if you'd offered it to me back in September. There have been disappointments and there have been triumphs. I have genuinely enjoyed the mix of work that I have been getting - and that includes half a dozen days spent teaching undergraduate photographers in two different universities. I hope that I can sit down and write about the second six months and be equally upbeat. The industry in which I have been working for 22 years is experiencing many of the same troubles as other industries and it has become rather obvious to me that almost every single freelancer out there faces a tough time with cut-backs, pay freezes, rate cuts and rights grabs being reported on a daily basis.
By the time that my two great-nieces and one great-nephew start school the photography business will be very different. By the time that they are old enough to make some career choices of their own I cannot even imagine what the profession will be like.
At the end of my biography I always say that "it's an exciting time to be a photographer with new challenges being presented every month and I am on record as saying that I am a very lucky man to be doing what I do." I first wrote those words in 2000 and eight and a half years later they still ring true.
© Neil Turner March 2009