Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making Meaning

During Sarah Petty's Joy of Marketing Telesummit yesterday, Kevin Kubota made the comment that we need to approach photography with more of a focus on (paraphrasing) "...making meaning, not making money." The money supports our business and growth, but a focus on doing things for the money may be overly detrimental and be a disincentive for friends and community to want to use our services.

I had been thinking alot recently about one aspect of my business which I have used to be out in the community to, yes, get some visibility, but it goes farther than that, and I'm refering to high school sports photography. I do this mostly "on spec" meaning I go and shoot games I think will be fun to watch with alot of action, and perhaps I get to sell prints of photos from the games I shoot. I don't charge much money for my sports prints, but it covers gas and is fun to do when I'm caught up on other business. Perhaps I get some visibility from it for my seniors or portrait business, but I'm not sure I can quantify that with any hard numbers.

Now, I don't shoot with this in mind, but given the numbers of games and schools I shoot at any given season that it happens about 4 or 5 times a season where I'll get an email or a call from a parent who will say something like one who called a couple weeks ago: "thanks so much for getting those photos of our son... he was seriously injured in the next game he played. he'll be ok in about 4-6 months after the cast comes off and physical therapy, but he's out for the season - and your photos are the only things we have to show what a great season he was having."

When it's a high school senior and their high school career is effectively over, I feel sorry for the kid, but glad that I was able to be there and get photos for the family which were probably much better than a parent would get from the sidelines or stands. If I learn that a kid was injured (either during a game or in a following game) I simply give a web link to any photos I have to the family (or athletic director at the school to forward to the family). Sometimes I hear about it later after the family has bought photos. Maybe not too smart from a business standpoint, but it just seems like it's the right thing to do, and I'm more than happy to do it.

But it's still a bitter sweet situation. For example, there was one girl I always looked for whenever I was at a game her soccer team was at because she was a great player, very fast, agile, and almost always had a smile on her face, she loved playing so much. She was animated and agressive in her play, so I always got some killer photos from games when she played. During the last chance I got to see her play, she sustained a fairly serious injury which took her out for the remainder of season and I was able to get photos to the family who were beyond appreciative. I was happy I had some awesome shots of her, but sorry for her situation and personally sorry I probably wouldn't ever see her play again.

I was saddened to just learn of the passing over the weekend of one local high school soccer competitor who was "one of those players" my camera swung to repeatedly when he was playing. An awesome athlete, I had photographed him in a game just a few days before.

While he had made "meaning" to the teams he played with, it gave me pause to appreciate the profession of photography where it may be just a moment in time that we make an image of, but that moment can be shared and valued forever regardless of later circumstances.

Whether it's from a sports photograph of an outstanding play, a journalism or other editorial photograph, a portrait, or a candid from an event like a wedding, a graduation, or a funeral, like the philosopher Cesare Pavese said, "We do not remember days, we remember moments." Video may give context, but a good photograph has the ability to transcend time like nothing else except perhaps, prayer and meditation.

The profession of photography needs to always maintain it's focus on "making meaning" and being relevent, otherwise, there's no point.

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