It’s a dream for lots of photography enthusiasts . Go pro! Earn your living doing what you love the most! Who wouldn’t want to turn their images into money? What’s not to like?
I’d be the last to rain on anyone’s parade. I had a long and quite successful career in photography, I had some great times, met many wonderful famous people and many more wonderful and not famous people and went to myriad exotic places.
But I started out as a pro. I had no prior interest in photography so I only ever knew it as a living. As I gained knowledge and experience, I saw more and better opportunities on my expanding photographic horizon and I went for them, as is my nature. So I never went from amateur to professional.
All this means I am badly qualified to know the exact thoughts of someone contemplating the jump from amateur to pro as a photographer.
In another field, though, I do have experience of am to pro and if, as I suspect, there are parallels, the Chinese saying – the title of this blog – should be borne in mind. Bear with me on this.
I’ve played guitar since I was a kid. I taught myself and played in a little band when I was 15 or so. We played for a few friends and thoroughly enjoyable it was. I had to give it up when I left school and took on my press photography apprenticeship because I could never know when I’d have an evening off work. I carried on playing over the years to myself and family, for the pleasure of it. My pleasure, at least.
When I gave up photography as my day job, I moved to rural France and while there I met a guy who was interested in starting up a gigging band doing pop covers. I was a blues player myself but my era pop is mostly blues based anyway so I was really excited. A new career as a musician! It was a lifelong ambition, to play for other people. I’d never wanted to be a pop star, just to play and learn and be heard.
The other three guys in the band were experienced musicians, all had been involved in music for years at a pro and semi-pro level. It was difficult for me because they had a short-hand for music, they knew all the likely chord changes in songs they needed to learn and how to busk what they didn’t. Their experience meant they had confidence in their playing. They played hard and loud. If they made a mistake it didn’t throw them. Once would pull a face at the other and he’d pull a face back and it was all part of the joy of music making. For them
It was different for me. I didn’t have the experience and therefore the confidence. If I made a mistake, it threw me. I lost my place. I’d have to listen to them to see where we were in the song. It made my playing tentative. I’d play quietly and take a back seat in case I f****ed up. For a lead guitar player, these are not prime attributes.
It made a gig not a pleasure but a trial. One evening I was driving the 35 miles to a gig on a wet and windy night on a hairpin bendy mountain road in France. When I arrived at the gig, in a bar in a village, there were about a dozen people there. They were standing at the bar talking and drinking noisily. I was late and flustered. The others were set up, I plugged in and tuned as quickly as I could.
Our first song was ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’. I hate that song, a musician’s letter of self-admiration as indulgent and tacky as ‘My Way’, about the only song of which Sid Vicious recorded the best version. In this first song I missed the chord change which would lead me to my solo. Ignoring the frantic head nodding in my direction from the rest of the band, I did the only thing I could and came in late. On the 3rd chord of the chorus. I was now two bars behind the others and playing off a wrong chord.
As I fumbled my way over the fretboard of my Strat, I glanced towards the audience, who were still at the bar, still chatting noisily. It wasn’t a complete disaster because it looked like no-one had noticed my little faux-pas That was because no-one was listening, of course.
And then things started to look up. A woman left the bar and was walking over to us. A song request, I expect. No, she was on the way to the loo and put her glass of beer down on my precious amp as she passed. At that moment, a blinding revelation came to me. I was a musician, a working musician! After all those years of dreaming! No, not that revelation.
The revelation that I was in a bar scuzzy bar 35 miles from home on a filthy night playing music I didn’t like to people who didn’t want to listen. After the weary drive home I dragged guitar and amp through the rain into the house in the early hours, booted up my computer and emailed the band saying I had played my last gig.
I have never again wanted to compromise my love of guitar by playing one for a living. It’s a different thing
What has this to do with photography? If it isn’t already apparent, substitute camera and photography for guitar and music. The parallels aren’t direct and if you are serious about a career as a photographer they won’t put you off.
But those Chinese aren’t daft, are they?