EL: There is so much space for it, endless space. And like I said, there are certainly ways to make money in photography, but maybe that shouldn’t be the drive. If that is the drive, I guess you could go into advertising or commercial photography—
ML: And even then, I would like to think that if Apple or some corporation is going to pay someone a billion dollars to do their photos it should be an artist who could use that to sustain their practice. I’ve actually never met any of these people who are just commercial photographers who only have only technical or marketing concerns and are not harboring some kind of artistic other ambition, and I don’t want to. If I am being honest, I hate the idea that they even exist.
EL: I don’t know, everyone wants something different out of photography. But in terms of money, it’s important to try not to approach every situation as a money situation. What you get out of editorial work is not necessarily a lot of money, but relevance and visibility to push your boundaries on assignment. Or access, and being in a cool situation that you might not have thought you would be in. I love seeing when a photo I commissioned leads to a job with Apple or something like that for a photographer, or someone repurchases that photo for a high rate and the photographer gets to make some extra cash. In many cases, these experiences lead to other opportunities, and it is all part of the story you’re building. So, if you’re only making $450 for a two hour shoot, but it’s a portrait of Rihanna, that will likely be beneficial for the artist’s career. That is an extreme example.
ML: As a photographer, I just enjoy the process of going into a new situation and trying to make interesting pictures. I think that if it’s the right kind of an assignment there is always something the photographer can get for themselves while working within the constraints of the assignment, budgetary or otherwise. But as an artist, I feel like there are a certain amount of things I would like to express before I die. And so increasingly, I feel there isn’t time to be doing things that are completely outside my particular set of interests. But still, I feel that a curious person with their own vision should be able to find something interesting, at least to themselves, in most any situation.
EL: We live in a city that’s crazy expensive, and in a time when it’s not easy to live on rice and beans. When I hear my grandparents talk about photography in the 1960s and 70s in Rochester, nothing was for money, there was no money to be had. That wasn’t ever part of the narrative of photography at all in their circle.
ML: It just wasn’t a prospect, there wasn’t a market.
EL: They were people who just loved this academic photography talk and sharing ideas about photography, people who loved and drew energy from photography. It’s not realistic to say that’s the time we live in, and we live in New York. And since most of us don’t come from trust funds we have to pay our rent and pay our bills. But I think it’s important to have a balance, because it’s easy to let that struggle run your intentions and your goals. This is a hard conversation because on one hand, you shouldn’t get into photography for the money, but on the other hand, people have to live.
ML: Yes, and we also don’t have children or other obligations like that. I see a lot of artists who have to start making compromises to support a family or a lifestyle or even a relationship, which I totally respect. But I actually put my art practice before almost everything in my life. Like my health or personal relationships for example. And if it really came down to it, I think I would rather move to Boise or Topeka or wherever and live above a strip mall and work some stupid job just to be able to keep making my own photographs. I would rather do that than do a lot of things I didn’t care about to have a nicer apartment or live in New York or make another human being or whatever it may be. I am just trying to make a masterpiece. This is sounding really self-righteous! But I think it’s true that I would rather blow up my life and go live in a trash can than stop making the art I want to make.
EL: The other concept we haven’t really touched on, in terms of the future of photography, is that a lot of inventions or creations are going to come into the conversation that we don’t know about yet. For example, Instagram or digital cameras, I’m not sure we initially realized how drastically they’d change the landscape of photography. And I guess the common theme between both of these examples is accessibility. Will photography become more and more accessible? And what will that look like? It’s hard to predict what will come next, but there will certainly be more unknowns that will completely change the game and not just how we shoot images but also how we absorb them.