Every year I spend 1-3 weeks, mainly in July, shooting graduations at English universities. I do this through one of the country’s leading graduation photography and gown hire companies who contract me to work on a daily basis. I won’t pretend it’s the most exciting thing I do all year but it usually falls in the quieter times of year and you can stand a couple of weeks of pretty much anything, right?
As a Midlands-based photographer I tend to be allocated the same Midlands universities each year which means I often find myself working with the same group of photographers. And this is one of the real benefits of shooting graduations (or “grab and grin” as some photographers have been known to refer to it), the chance to chat, swap ideas/news etc with people in the same position and industry as yourself. This especially good because many photographers work in a very solitary environment. Yes, they’ll be speaking to clients, suppliers, the bank and so on, but for a week or so they’re able to chew the fat with perhaps a dozen of their peers.
Over a period of years, people come and people go but it’s possible to get a good idea of the state of the industry from the interaction with the others. And this year was no exception – but the impression given wasn’t a great one. At the university where I worked for 6 days in July, I worked alongside around 10 other photographers, all of whom I’d met previously, and all of whom had, until this year, presented a very positive impression of the state of their businesses.
But this year was different: out of the ten photographers present, four were no longer full-time photographers. Of these, one was now working in a car body shop, one was selling photographic services for another company, one was working 9-5 in accounts, and one was going off to live on a remote Scottish island a couple of weeks later. All of these talented and experienced professionals had previously had successful businesses. If this is an accurate barometer of the state of the photographic industry from the position of freelancers and small businesses in the sector, I wonder what i will be told next summer.