Photographer Ben Lowy speaks at Georgia Tech.
In a world where more photos were created this year than in the entire history of photography combined, how do you make a living? How do you get started?
Lowy and Markosian know what they are talking about. Lowy is a conflict photographer who has shot for a laundry list of dream publications and photographed the War in Iraq and Libya. Markosian, at only 24, has put herself on the map with some extraordinary work that has been featured in Time and a number of other publications.
After each photographer gave a brief overview of what they are working on today, Estrin got into the meat of the talk. How do you get yourself noticed? How do you make a living? Each photographer had their own perspective. In Lowy’s eyes, the issue isn’t getting published but getting seen. He’s a huge social media user.
“How do you connect with people who see 4000 images a day. How do you get through the static?” asks Lowy.
Lowy, Markosian and Estrin all seemed to be in agreement on that point. You have to shoot in a way that is true to yourself and is different enough for people to notice. If you are trying to shoot what other people want to see, you won’t get anywhere.
On getting started, both Lowy and Markosian talked about cold-calling as many editors as possible. At the end of the day, according to Lowy, photography is a business. Part of a business is forming relationships with your clients.
Markosian started out her career by meeting with every editor who would give her the time of day. She told them that she would be going to Russia to photograph and then tried to keep in touch. As the years went on and her work got better, editors took notice and her momentum grew. Lowy did something similar. He went to a Barnes and Noble, pulled out every magazine that he wanted to work for, and cold-called the lowest photo editor on every masthead. They both encountered a lot of failure but they each had one big success and, in the end, that’s all you need to get started.
“When I first started, before I got my gig to go to Iraq, every single agency and magazine told me to go back to school,” said Lowy. “I had $7.44 in my bank account. My mom told me to be a waiter. I just kept going. The same time that I walked into Corbis, who gave me my first job, I also applied to Starbucks ... One person, and that’s all it took, looked at me and said I could do it.”
Making it in the business of photography may include a bit of luck but it’s also the willingness to put yourself out there, even in the face of failure.
A long discussion on the merits and detriments of social media for photographers filled out the remainder of the discussion, with Lowy enthusiastically for it and Markosian more lukewarm about it. Lowy’s argument was that social media is free marketing and a way to directly connect with your audience.
“You can monetize it,” said Lowy. “It’s just not a direct monetization.”