A little-known aspect of being a photographer: the search for partners

A race against time

October 2011. We have been in Charente-Maritime for 3 days now, preparing for our exhibition which is to be held in 2012. We are looking for local businesses which will partner with us in our project. We have 6 days to reach our financial goal.

A photograph of the canal of Beaugeay. Used for the exhibition.

A photograph of the canal of Beaugeay. Used for the exhibition.

A tight schedule

Our daily program is simple. Every morning we wake up at 8:00. At 9:00 we leave the house. We spend all day meeting company representatives. 90 percent of the time, the only person we see is a secretary or receptionist. The litany is always the same: "The boss is busy” or “he has an appointment”. Whatever the reason, he has no time to see us. In this case, we try to contact him via email. Then we move on to the next company.

The most extraordinary thing about being a professional freelance photographer is how little time we actually spend taking pictures. What takes up the time is not classifying, organizing, selecting and developing our photos. It is not the time that it takes to deliver our pictures to photo agencies or magazines, nor the hours spent to managing the IT infrastructure of our four computers with one our server, or the the hours that we spend maintaining our website.

The element of our lives which takes up the most time is the search for sponsors and patrons. This task is surprisingly time consuming. Three years ago we had the idea for an exhibition in Charente-Maritime, France. It took us two years to get the 40 pictures we needed. Of course, it wasn’t two continuous years, because we live in Texas, in the USA. The total time that we spent in Charente was about 5 months. Once we had the photographs, we had to find places for the exhibition.

Seeking partners for the exhibition

We spent a lot of time on the road finding the right contacts in the different municipalities and ensuring that the facilities were what we wanted. Today we have two beautiful showrooms in two major cities and we are still waiting for an important response. We usually have to wait for about 6 months. Right now, we are 8 months away from the exhibition. It is time to look for sponsors or patrons who will donate part or all of the 5500 Euros that we need to install the exhibition. Before the trip, we prepared a list of companies to contact. For two days we have been building our list of contacts. It is not an easy job, since we are first and foremost photographers and technicians, not salesmen.

Of course, as professional freelance photographers, we are used to going to shows to sell our pictures and articles, but this time it is different. We need to sell the exhibition to people who do not know us and have no relationship with the world of photography. Every morning we bring two posters that serve as examples of the pictures in the exhibition, a stock of business cards, a notebook with everything that we need to remember, and a lot of will. Every time that we walk through the door to another company’s building, we are anxious about how it will go.

It’s true, we have nothing to lose. Our lives are not in danger. It will not be fatal to our project if this company cannot sponsor us. Still, we cannot be calm and relaxed. We only have a few minutes to sell our project. We are also responsible for a company and we know how important time is to a manager. We do not want to be intrusive or disturbing. We try to be concise, concrete. In the evening, after the sun has gone down, we come back to the house. It's time to record our impressions, who has refused us, and perhaps those who have agreed to donate something. At 10:00PM, the day ends. Even after we’re in bed, the day isn’t over. It is true that we are still suffering from jet lag (the time difference is 7 hours), but in spite of ourselves we keep on reviewing what happened during the day.

Fending for ourselves

So far everything has gone well. We have already managed to convince some companies to partner with us. But we are still a long way from reaching our goal. Every day that passes, we realize more deeply that we need contacts. We are strangers in this region. We do not know anyone who will partner with us or recommend us to others. We must rely on dedication and courage. We have no choice. If we want to develop a network of contacts, we have to keep going on the road and meeting people. We could use the services of a press secretary. We tried to find one, but no one took our job offer. We had no choice, so we decided to carry on the search ourselves.

A photograph of a fishing hut with a net along the coast of Charente-Maritime. Used for the exhibition.

A photograph of a fishing hut with a net along the coast of Charente-Maritime. Used for the exhibition.

Going back to the fundamentals of our job

The most interesting thing about this experience is that we have identified the need to return to the fundamentals of our job: exhibitions, books, conferences. We must re-learn how to sell our work, to make ourselves known, with or without contacts. The key is to make sure that people will talk about us and recommend us to others. In recent years, we have forgotten these fundamentals and lived on our laurels. Now that competition is becoming fiercer, it is time to get back to Earth and actively sell our merchandise.

Always stay confident

Although we are uncertain about the results each day will bring, we remain calm and strong because we are confident in our work. We know that we are taking high quality photos. The number of clients we have is the best evidence of our professionalism. But the most important thing is that we are free. We chose what we wanted to be, and we live our lives fully. This approach to life is priceless and worth all the sacrifices in the world.

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