Tuesday, September 17, 2013

If you are called to be a visual storyteller, then you must do it. But how?

Stanley on top of Grandfather Mountain [photo by Knolan Benfield]

Say goodbye to full-time jobs with benefits” was the headline on CNN website June 5, 2010.

The writer, Chris Isidore, went on to say, “Doug Arms, senior vice president of Ajilon, a staffing firm, says about 90% of the positions his company is helping clients fill right now are on a contract basis.”

Not all staff jobs will disappear, but the clear indication is that contractors are growing in percentage of the job market.

Couple years ago the local WSB-TV reporter Jim Strickland interviewed me about being a freelancer. They were doing a story on the rise of contractors verses staff jobs.

May 30, 2013 The Chicago Sun-Times shocked everyone when they laid off their entire photo department. Two weeks after the Chicago tabloid laid off its photo staff, the Southern Community Newspapers Inc. chain in Georgia closed its photo department.

Change has happened

When I got out of college my career plan was to work for a newspaper for a couple of years and then work for a missionary agency as a staff photographer telling stories of the missionaries around the world.

Just shy of the two years at a newspaper I got a call to come and work for the missionary agency for the Baptists in Richmond, VA. The Commission Magazine was their flagship communications piece that won 3rd place from the Pictures of the Year award while I was on staff as best use of photos by a magazine. Right behind National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.

Five years later it was then end of 1989 and there was a small recession and I was laid off. My plans had no contingency for this situation.

Looking at what seemed to be a weakness of not being a seminary graduate in the missionary agency, I went on to seminary. Three years later the landscape had changed by 1993.

Stanley and his daughter Chelle making monkey faces. You gotta laugh. [photo by Dorie Griggs]

Loyalty to Profession not a Company

The years of lay offs and downsizing has changed how people think of their jobs. For example it is more common today for people to feel loyalty to their profession than to their employer. They are working on advancing in their career, but no longer see doing this with one company.

Many of my colleagues feel called to photography and more specifically to visual storytelling of nonprofit or faith based organizations. While twenty years ago they could find a staff job doing this type of work, those jobs are scarcer than ever and sadly those salaries haven’t changed in more than twenty years.


The most famous missionary in the Bible was the Apostle Paul. What many do not know that for most of his career as a missionary he was also a tentmaker. He was bi-vocational minister.

Today for people to follow their calling and use their talents the best path for them may just be that of a tentmaker.

One of my friends, Greg Thompson, sees himself in this role as a tentmaker. Read about him and follow some of his blogs posts here http://tentmakercommunications.com.

The advantage of this bi-vocational/tentmaker is the ability to pay your bills and still fulfill your call.

Balance of Lifestyle and Vocation

Too many times I am talking to young photographers who want to pursue something that for most of them would be a very lonely life.

A few have wanted to be a war photographer. After getting them to refocus and tell me what type of lifestyle they wanted when not photographing around the world, it was only then that I could help them see pursuing war photography would require sacrificing some of their lifestyle.

My advice to anyone wanting to be a professional photographer is to determine what lifestyle you want and then look at what type of photography can sustain this lifestyle. The other way is to look at what you feel called to do in photography, then come to terms with the lifestyle needed to lead to pursue it.

Due to the shift from staff positions to contractors for most organizations today, you need to be an entrepreneur. This means you must learn how to run a business first.

Entrepreneur verses Staff Specialist

Many of my friends who went to seminary to be missionaries were trained how to study scripture and preach. Most none of them learned anything on how to run a business and marketing.  This is because missionaries were sent out by organizations for many years.

Today missionaries may have an organization that endorses them, but most missionaries today are no longer staff missionaries, rather they are in an even worse position than most freelance photographers. They must raise all their support for the ministry and paying their bills. In addition a portion of their funds raised must go to the organization that endorsed them.

Sadly many great missionaries and photographers are having a similar problem, the lack of entrepreneur skills of running a business has them leaving their professions to just find a job to support themselves.

Youth With A Mission: School of Photography 1 class that I helped teach a segment on lighting and business in Kona, Hawaii.

Take a Leap of Faith

Soren Kierkegaard encouraged Christians to stop just turning inward and just contemplating their faith and to take action. This called on them to take a leap of faith.

If you focus on just paying the bills and security then I think you have turned your back on using the gifts that you have been given. To use those gifts is not something that will be easy.

I leave you with this scripture, which I hold dearly to my heart, because there are many days when life throws so much at me that if not careful I too will just focus on my security and not focus on doing what I was created to do.
Hebrews 12:2
  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

1 comment:

gary s chapman said...

Well said...may we all stay focused on the right things.