In 1962, a retrospective of the work of Ernst Haas was the first color photography exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A correspondent who's an accomplished photographer but prefers to remain anonymous (you've never heard his name here) said this to me a while back, about Haas:
"I have friends who knew him. In his latter days he suffered from a lack of work. One friend asked one of his graphic design clients why they didn't approach Haas for a project. The reply was 'we didn't think he would work for someone as small as us.' When Haas heard about this he was astonished. He said 'I'll work for anyone. I'm having trouble with my bills and these people think I'm too good for them?' Something to that effect."
Lewis Hine, who is in all the history books (at least in America) said more or less the same. He desperately wanted to join the Farm Security Administration photographers but was turned down because it was thought he'd be too set in his own approach. Hine felt (very justifiably) that he'd paid his dues and could hold his own with the best of them. And he was serious when he said he'd work hard to give them whatever they wanted; he needed the work.
I got a taste of this when I was desperately searching for a job, any job, in the lean years before I started TOP. I needed a job that paid about $28k, and I got tantalizingly close to one that would have been perfect. But at the last minute, the HR person doing the hiring learned I'd earned twice that at my last corporate job, so she refused to hire me, saying I'd never be happy with their salary. This was after about the third time that WE Energies had cut off my electricity. That job—and its salary—would have been a godsend.
Of course, if I'd gotten that job, I never would have started The Online Photographer, so all's well that ends better.
I guess this is the flip side, though, of establishing your value and keeping your prices up—you might one day find you've inadvertently priced yourself beyond what you'd actually be willing to take!
"Morning Coffee" is published at 6:30 a.m. CT every morning except Saturday. It's a month-long experiment to give people something to check in with while I'm busy moving. This is not permanent. Want to suggest a topic or ask a question? Leave it as a comment.
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Featured Comments from:
Malcolm Leader: "On the other hand, there is the notion of perceived value. An example is given two identical bottles of wine and being told one is a $10 bottle and the other a $40 bottle, most tasters will say the higher priced wine is much better! I've been a self-employed engineer for almost 30 years. I keep raising my rates and the demand for my time has only gone up."
Mike replies: I had a small taste of that phenomenon too. I quit photography in late 1991 I think it was, feeling burned out. At the time I thought I was always one job from disaster; I never knew where my next job was coming from and I thought my existence was very tenuous. To my surprise, however, the phone kept ringing. It turned out I had developed some relationships with clients, and they liked me and wanted me. So I continued doing some work as a favor. In several cases people wouldn't take no for an answer, and in one memorable-for-me case even offered me twice my old rate to take a job! (I took it.) It was more or less an entire year before the phone actually stopped ringing—but then I left the area not long thereafter, so who knows? The point is that I actually had more stability than I thought I had, and that some clients at least thought I was fully worth my rate and even more. Wish I'd realized; I would have relaxed more. [g]
Dave Jenkins: "I think this has been (and is) true for a number of top photographers. In spite of inflation, I have not been able to raise my rates since 2000. And the best photographer in our mid-size market told me recently that he only gets about three days work a month."
Joe Holmes: "What Malcolm Leader says is true and strange. I've experienced it most acutely when I've been in the position of bidding on a job that I really didn't want to take, and so I'd bid a ridiculously high price, on the theory that, okay, here's a price so high that I'll be laughed out of the competition and I can go on with my easy life, but if it is accepted, I'll be happy to pocket the money in exchange for unpleasant work. And of course each time I've done that they've accepted my bid. You'd think I'd learn and just up my prices permanently but nothing is so simple."