2015: A photographer’s survival guide

What a day for the region. Thank the lord for the rain, its pretty much under control now. #news #bushfire @bordermail

A photo posted by Jimmy Wiltshire (@jimmy_wilt) on


2015 was going to crush the photography industry.

It was going to steamroll photojournalism especially, as Fairfax Media cut the vast majority of its photographic work force.
It wasn’t just photography. All the departments were cut heavily. But as I’d spent the majority of my time at Fairfax making news pictures, that’s where the cut personally stung deepest for me. I’d covered news for 10 years and made friends with hundreds of other photographers, in person and online — and sometime in 2014-15 the hammer was going to drop.
Some would survive but the vast majority would be out.
There was no money in pictures, according to Fairfax.
Speculation was that News Corp would follow, and as cameras got smarter, demand for pro photographers would dwindle, and that negativity would spread throughout the industry leaving brides to photograph marriages with selfie sticks and GoPros.
Some of us, myself included, gambled and left early. Others, maybe the toughest of us, stayed until the grim announcements hit newsrooms everywhere.

In March, the local Border Mail newspaper announced it would cut its eight full time photographers to two-and-a-half.
(Don’t ask me “which half?” I don’t know.)
None of those eight ended up staying with Fairfax, although a couple were given the chance to keep working.

It was a hellish time that rippled fear through the whole imaging industry, and I wasn’t even directly threatened.
Every lunch or evening seemed to bring a troubled photographer to a couch near Laura and I for a hopefully comforting chat or FaceTime. Seasoned photographers and newbies were worried. We had no answers, only tea and biscuits.
“Bet you’re glad you’re out,” was something I heard a lot.
I never knew how to answer that. Sure, teaching is THE BEST. The classroom is a rush, and you get paid, too, which is nice.
Alternately there’s the whole thing of having to build a part-time 12-month teaching gig and social photo jobs into something more substantial and sustainable versus working full-time for a century-old institution. Then there’s that seat-of-your-pants newspaper action and us-against-the-deadline camaraderie you don’t get in a 9-to-5. If you aren’t working news, it’s hard to hang out with the crew because they’re always on the job.
All in all, yes, I was thrilled to be teaching, but, the hustle was very real for us.
And that ended up being the main aim of 2015 for most photographers I knew — hustling.

Except this week. Local photojournalism didn’t hustle this week. It wasn’t crushed — it absolutely thrived.
The Border Mail’s coverage of nearby bushfires was exceptional.

New photographers Elenor Tedenborg, James Wiltshire and Mark Jesser, along with the rest of the editorial staff, produced brilliant, comprehensive coverage. People were informed, moved, inspired, and safer thanks to those involved.
That wasn’t a newspaper with its heart cut out, that was an all-star crew that, on that day, couldn’t be bested by any past or future staff line-up.

Don’t believe me? That’s fine. But you can’t ignore this guy:

The future isn’t perfect for news organisations, but it’s bright for these photojournalists and journalists.

As for the rest of the industry? Well, enrolments in our photography courses are going great and I’m hearing reports everyday that our graduates are indeed working hard and getting paid. My buddies shooting weddings have already mostly filled their 2016 work calendars, the camera store gang seem happy, the camera clubs are full and the demand for images is up on last year. I even heard instances of News Corp and Fairfax hiring photographers.

The trick to surviving 2015 appears to be keep moving.


Ben


PS — as for our personal hustle? Well, for me, it’s been a hard but incredibly rewarding 2014-15, and it’s totally paid off. Thank you and merry Christmas to everyone, especially those who were a part of that. I’m really grateful. And lots of love to Laura, whose patience for photography far outweighs her passion.

PPS — Did I mention that Mr Jesser and Mr Wiltshire are Wodonga TAFE alumni? We’re damn proud of them.