Y’all know I take pictures. I’m not a formal business (I know, shocker :p) I’m just an amateur, but I do enjoy taking pictures for others and so I’ve been doing it in my free time for the last…wow, 6 years.
And there’s this discussion now over whether or not taking pictures for someone, or arranging flowers for someone, or baking a cake for someone, is technically engaging in a part of their lives or merely selling them a product.
I’ve been rolling it around in my head for a few days, and examining my own history and experiences, and this is the conclusion I’ve come to.
I do think there’s a difference between selling a mass-produced product (even if the “mass” is a small one, like a single-storefront cupcakery) and providing a custom contracted-service-for-hire.
In mass-produce cases, the consumer can take or leave whatever is available, and the provider merely provides, with little to no control over who their product is sold to or contact with the purchaser. In contract-for-hire cases, both the provider and the client (I don’t even think “consumer” is the correct term) agree to specific terms and conditions, and a mutual vision, for the service or product created.
There’s a fundamental difference between the way the two businesses are transacted, the type of relationship the purchaser enters into with the provider, and so forth.
I think that matters.
Because of that, I don’t think it’s accurate to classify those kinds of businesses – the creative-hire-by-contract kind – as “service industries.” They’re more than that.
All form of creative expression is personal. When someone hires you as a photographer, or you as a decorator, or you as a web designer, they aren’t just grabbing a product off the shelf because they need it anyway and the price is right.
They are hiring you. They are engaging in a contract with you because of your vision and your expression.
Ergo, whenever someone would engage me to take photos of their family, I assume it’s because of me, not the model of my camera or because “real” photographers are more expensive. They want me and my work to be a part of their family, a part of their memories and life experience.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m building myself up. That’s what I look for in other photographers. (What I’m looking for as a desperately try to find a photographer for maternity photos down here.)
In addition, that’s how I approach the shoots I go to. I’m not just there to click some buttons and roll out carbon copies of the same thing I’ve done before. Each family is unique. Each child is special.
I think about the homecomings I shot last year. Probably one of the best memories I will have of that deployment are the multiple homecomings I was able to attend and photograph for friends of mine.
I didn’t charge them anything. I was just there to help them preserve their moment. To help them celebrate their reunion.
Yeah, I was there to help them celebrate.
I told someone the other day that my favorite shoots are maternity shoots, and the weeks after when I hand the mother the final images and (in my mind and in my product) say, “Here, see how beautiful you didn’t know you were!” Helping her celebrate herself and the new life she’s carrying.
I’ve worked one wedding, as an unpaid second-shooter (call it an internship), and I felt the exact same way.
Even though we, the photographers and the florists and the bakers, aren’t considered active participants in an event, we do feel like we’re participating. That the success of the event depends, at least partially, on us.
And therefore, if an event is celebrating something, whether it’s a marriage or a child’s first birthday (I’ve done both), you as the creative contributor do feel like you’re celebrating it, too.
I don’t know if that’s a mindset that’s easy to communicate to someone who hasn’t been in that situation or doesn’t work in that arena. I suppose the closest I can come to is if a person is a freelance web designer or blogger, and they get hired by a company for a campaign for a product. On some level, that company doesn’t just want your platform, they want YOU to help them represent their product. You become invested in the outcome of that product, so if it comes to a point where you realize the product isn’t what it appears, there is (I would think) at least a short introspection on whether or not to continue with the promotional campaign, knowing that the claims of the campaign do not line up with your personal feelings about the product.
I just don’t think that’s the same thing as a mass-produced product that lines the shelves at Target or even comes off a menu at Chili’s.
I could be wrong, I’ve only worked retail before, not manufacturing, so maybe someone with that background would correct me and say that they feel a similar connection with the consumers of their products. I’m open to being corrected. But my instinct is, not.
So, the conclusion is, yeah, I think contract-for-hire creative expression businesses are an industry apart from service and mass-product industries. In pretty much every possible way except that money exchanges hands. I’m not selling my camera body, my photo editing software, or even my time.
Ultimately, I’m providing a part of myself and merging it with your family or your event to create a unique creative expression or representation – and yes, celebration – of your family or your event.
So that’s where I end up. I’d like to hear what you think, particularly if you’re an independent creator.