Introduction: After a previous "Random Excellence" posting, I got into an argument in the comments with two readers who didn't like my choice. At the end of the conversation, I made them an offer: I told each of them that they could pick a "Random Excellence" of their own, and that I would post whatever they chose. One participant (very courteously) begged off, and the other was Bruce Robbins, whose choice—and I agree it's a great one!—is presented here. —Mike
By Bruce Robbins
It's a fair bet that many TOP readers would love, given the chance, to make their living from photography. However, anyone who's actually tried selling prints over the web will tell you that it's not an easy thing to do. I remember once emailing a photographer with a great online portfolio to ask him how many prints he'd sold. Back came the message, "To date I have sold zero prints." And that guy's work was superb.
One man who is "living the dream" is New York snapper Dave Beckerman. He's one of the few photographers I've encountered on my travels around the internet who makes his living entirely from print sales. Of course, it helps that he's based in New York: if he'd been born in Duluth, Minnesota, he might have made a few sales but his market would have redefined "niche." It also helps that he's got a great eye, without which the greatest urban environment on the planet would have been of little assistance.
Dave turned his hand to many jobs before settling on photography. His own biography lists screenplay writer, taxi-cab driver, bus-boy, can-carrier in a movie lab, custom color lab printer, programmer, and lighting director on feature films. There are other jobs too boring to own up to. Of his journey to online print sales, he says, "After working as a programmer in the corporate world for ten years—I was propelled one day—or compelled—to try and make a living at photography. Part of what propelled me back into photography (after my programming stint) was the sudden realization that a properly mounted and framed photograph was a finished product; and that there was a good chance that I would get more satisfaction from this bit of art than weeks or years of managing programmers.
"Art existed whether anyone liked it or not. Whether anyone bought it. Whether anyone saw it. No matter. It existed. It was complete. Photographs don't need a committee of producers or vice-presidents to give them the okay. In the beginning, I was very happy to simply show my work to friends, and not try to make a business of it." He's been selling prints on the web since, as he puts it, last century (1999) but, even if he weren't, he'd still be roaming the streets of New York with his Canon DSLR in hand capturing the vagaries of life in the Big Apple and producing his "finished product."
His philosophy about photography is straight to the point: "I don't believe that you need to go to school to learn photography. It is more important to have something interesting to say about life, or if not interesting, funny. When people ask me about where to study photography, I tell them to study literature or music instead."
The photograph above is called "Taste of Snow." I love the timing here. Not only has Dave caught the decisive moment in the girl's attempt to land a snowflake on her tongue but he's also snapped her against the dark hood of the boy in the background. Had this supporting character not been there, the girl's action would have been lost against the light-color taxi in the background. Some might put that down to luck but I know from my own experience that when you're in the zone, photographically speaking, these are the little details you are actually conscious of at the moment of releasing the shutter.