Can’t Even Give It Away

So let me begin, by way of introduction, with a bit of a personal tidbit.  I am that sort of person who hates to not be constantly doing something.  During the summer I go out and walk about and photograph things.  During the winter I sit home and randomly blather on, writing about whatever comes to my mind, waiting rather impatiently for the weather to turn.  It’s an epic and constant struggle in my head to figure out how to keep it properly entertained.  When I read I prefer to read things that allow me to then write in response.  I have to do, do, do, do do.  And please don’t take that scatologically.

The only problem with this, however, is that I tend to do, do, do, do, do the same, same, same, same, same shit over and over and over again.  I end up in the same places taking much the same photos (though hopefully better than before) every time.  My writing about any topic, I hope, is more varied but even with the input of an entire book, I tend to focus on the same things and therefore write much the same thing each time.  Read and response is just far too passive.  I’ve felt that I needed input of a more interactive sort.

My response to this, in my typically naïve way, was to advertise for the desired inputs.  I’ve offered my photographic services online, in the classifieds and repeatedly to anyone who would listen, for what seems like forever.  Since I refuse payment, the price certainly isn’t prohibitive.  Even with that, in two years of offering my time for free I’ve been taken up on the offer exactly three times.  Somewhat desperate for results, I’ve recently started offering my writing services on the same terms and with similarly unspectacular results.  Even the unphotogenic, I posit, may have a story to tell that they are disinclined to write themselves.  Rather than choosing to be insulted by the impenetrable wall of cricket noises that has greeted my attempts, I’ve tried to ponder why on Earth anyone might not want something for free.

The first and most psychological theory I have on the topic is that of simple price perception.  If something is free, the human brain reckons, it must be garbage.  Since my services are offered free of charge, they must, ipso facto, be garbage.  Alternatively, humans are a rather suspicious lot so it’s just possible that they believe that there must be some string attached. Perhaps my offer is simply an incredibly complex ruse by which I will capture my next victim.  You cannot get something for nothing, my unwitting victim…er, customer, reasons and therefore declines the offer.  I could, I suppose, start charging for my services but tear up the checks on the way home.

Following directly from the first proposition is the distinct possibility that my work actually IS garbage.  I’m personally not a great fan of this particular position but it’s one that cannot be entirely ignored.  I’m fairly well acquainted with what my work is and what it is not but I would argue that it is very nearly impossible to improve upon any craft without its repeated exercise.  Therefore the recalcitrant masses who do not email me for photo sessions are only making the problem of my photographic mediocrity worse.  Related to this is the distinct sense I’ve gotten of late that everybody already seems to BE a photographer so what possible need could they have for anyone else’s photography?  This ubiquity of adherents to the great Muse Daguerre does give one the distinct desire to take up oil painting or some other hobby a bit less prevalent among the American leisure class.

The third potentiality that occurs to me is that people just don’t think their everyday world worth photographic examination.  People revolve in their own well-worn ruts day in and day out and don’t tend to notice the visual beauty of the things around them that they see and use every day.  To me that’s just epically tragic.  Art and beauty surround us and sometimes it takes an outside eye to see what we’ve taken for granted.  I do acknowledge too though that the request is rather an invasion of privacy.  Perhaps we’ve all become so protective of our internal spaces that we just don’t want to share them with anyone.

After several hundred words I’m really no closer to an answer.  Perhaps the offer is one that’s impossible to accept for all the reasons above?  Perhaps the world is just too busy a place and nobody really cares about art in any form?  Perhaps the offer is just too damn creepy.  Who knows?  Luckily the natural world teems with critters with no appointment necessary.  If only the spring would hurry on its merry way.


Filed under blogging, personal, photography

37 responses to “Can’t Even Give It Away

  1. Interesting. I’m not much of a “photo guy”. I bought a nice camera about 15 years ago. Took a ton of pics for 3-4 years and now I don’t ever go back and look at them. I like to think I had a pretty good eye, but the activity just didn’t do it for me.

    Now that I read this post, I still don’t think I could use a free photo-service. But I’m also several states away, so options are limited anyway.

    Is it possible the sheer ubiquity of digital cameras have devalued the photographic eye?

    After all, you no longer have to wait a few hours (or days) for that creepy guy in the booth to give you your photo affirmations. You just flip through the menu screen and check out the preview. The result is a photo-eye is just less important, and “everyone can do it”.

    Anyway, hope someone finds this and keeps you busy. 😉

  2. This is indeed so bloody true. Perhaps people are just too busy running from one place to another to give your offer more than a passing though. Thanks for visiting my blog !

  3. great post! 🙂 thanks for visiting mine.

  4. I think that people assume that if something doesn’t cost anything, it must not be worth anything. I discovered this in my own business years ago, when I gave away a free month of services to six of my most loyal and regular customers as a thank you gift. Only one of them used it! People are funny. Frankly, I’m glad to be out of business and just living my life.
    Love your post!

  5. I find that the more you charge for a service or product, the more interest there is in what you are trying to sell. That doesn’t always translate to more sales, just more interest, human nature, if it is expensive, we want it, even though we can’t afford it.

    As far as photography, every one has a cell phone, and every one of those cell phones has a camera, you may as well be trying to give sand away in the desert.

  6. I agree with the theory that if you sell cheap, people will thing it is cheap. My daughter is an artist and when she started promoting her art, nobody paid attention. She noticed that the other artist in the shows and mags she was displaying in priced their work much higher than hers and she felt her pieces were just as good. So she priced her art in the same range as the others. Now she is selling them sometimes five-hundred dollars a piece. Now suddenly everyone wanted it. When they could’ve gotten it for almost nothing just weeks before lol.

  7. Hi Rob, free is difficult. The way we’ve managed it is to charge seriously for some of our work. And then choose where to offer to work for free, by picking particular situations and places, that we think could benefit from our skills, but where we know they’d never be able to pay us. People knowing that we are actually quite expensive does seem to make them appreciate us when we work for free!

    And thanks for looking our post too.

  8. …there is the anecdotal story of the man who stood on London Bridge for 8 hours trying to sell passers-by £1 notes for 1 penny each. He didn’t sell a single one…………Mmnn….very interesting.

  9. Jojo

    Good Read, a Food for the Brain. thanks Man

  10. Indeed, free things are usually devalued. I perform some pro bono publico services through two organizations and few clients understand the value of the service. Instead of paying an hourly fee they don’t understand that the free service I can provide for them has value and my time is not limitless. If they paid for it you can be certain they’d use it more wisely. I do provide free consultations, but they are limited to 60 minutes which is enough time to find out if one needs legal services, and if so, if we want to work together.


  12. Andy Hay

    have you tried the local volunteer bureau or centre who pair up prospective volunteers with organisations that need their skills?

  13. blackwatertown

    I think you’ve nailed it – if it’s free, people are suspicious and suspect it may be worthless rather than priceless. Hyping the price sometimes does gull people into paying lots for the same thing they would have turned their noses up at had it been free.
    You could consider a temporary (but really permanent) special offer. Normal price x – but introductory offer of something far less, or free. Then potential users may feel that they are the sneaky ones taking advantage of your introductory offer, with no intention of paying for later installments – which would suit you fine.

  14. Pingback: Ejector Seats: The Joy of Giving… a Boost | Blackwatertown

  15. Ok, brace yourself for honest feedback! 🙂 You already have the answers, all written in your post. All comments so far seem to be saying the same I’m about to, but what the heck, I’ll give it my own spin anyway.

    First, your work is far from garbage. Your work is very good. You can safely dismiss that ‘possibility’. Take it from me, or any other of your thousands of fans. See, most people don’t know how to really evaluate creative work, imo. So they fall back on the dogmatic formulas our culture provides. Failing that, they believe that what critics say is good, must be, and what they say is bad must also be. Back to pricing, “free” is more likely to inspire suspicion first, and the thought that it must not be very good a distant second imo. Again, from not really being able to independently evaluate what is good and what isn’t. So yeah, people wonder what the catch is, or suspect some kind of con or worse, or yes, just think it’s creepy.

    “people just don’t think their everyday world worth photographic examination.” yes, this is definitely the case imo.

    “…the request is rather an invasion of privacy. Perhaps we’ve all become so protective of our internal spaces…” yes, this is also very much the case.

    Ok, painting. Let me tell you about painting. In my opinion what I am painting now is only slightly more developed than the art I used to make with my computer. But remember what I said about people falling back on dogmatic formulas that come with our culture about what is good? Art made with a computer is greeted mostly with silence because people don’t know what to make of it. It’s so new there are no formulas to use, and again few have any ability to independently evaluate this stuff. Probably a failure of the educational system, that. But smear a little paint on a canvas and wow! You could accidentally drop a loaded brush onto a canvas, frame it, and some would be ga-ga over it. Paintings, even abstract paintings, have been around long enough that there are cultural dogmatic formulas to ease the appreciation of them. Photography, on the third hand, as an artform is somewhere between painting and computer art. And *a lot* of people do it — more competition, less demand. But people can understand and appreciate it. Btw, my notions about people’s inability to independently evaluate art, do not apply when it comes to the beauty of nature. Evolution is responsible for that. Anyway, with how price effects the perception of value… let me just point at Rhein II again.

    I think you should take up painting. It’s a great creative outlet, and to the point you started this post with, it is time consuming. 🙂 But because a) people get it, and b) there are fewer people painting — paint and blog about it and you will get lots of great feedback!

    Ok, so there’s my ‘guest post’ on your blog, jeezthatwaslong. 🙂

    • Rob Slaven

      ha! Guest post! Well you’re welcome any time. 🙂

      I hear what you’re saying. Heck, you know that I’ve considered painting for ages so it’s not really a new idea for me. Part of the arguments almost seem to boil down to, “so many people do photography, so go paint!” It almost seems like giving up. It’s almost like saying, “well, if you decide to take up spitwad architecture of 17th century Japanese buildings you’d be a leader in your field!” Yeah, I’m exaggerating but I’m somewhat put off by the idea that in order to do well I have to go find a field with fewer people in it. Still pondering, but I hear your point because I’ve long thought the same thing!

      • “spitwad architecture of 17th century Japanese buildings…” — wow, that sounds like an awesome art project! That would be great! Seriously!

        No, “to do well you have to go find a field with fewer people in it” is not what I am saying at all. That is off-putting. You are doing well with photography. What I’m saying is that so many other people also are. What I’m saying is that if you do something fewer people are, and if it’s something people ‘get’, you’ll get more feedback on, and appreciation of, your work. I am talking about getting feedback, not about doing something well. I am not saying anything about how to do well with any of these arts. And I’m certainly not saying that if you take up painting, you have to stop photography — certainly not! I find I’m messing around more with photography than I have for a while, since I started painting and blogging. And I’m seeing more convergence between the two. I’m seeing how they can go hand in hand. For you to paint would not be giving up on photography at all. It would be expanding your artistic endeavors. Personally I would love to see what you’d paint!

  16. I’m going to second (sixteenth?) what everyone else has said — yes, the human brain tends to dismiss free offers out of hand (even though we all think we want free stuff).

    Also, I just started looking at your work today, but I think you’re a pretty impressive ‘photog.’

    I do think most people find their day-to-day lives … well … too day-to-day to merit photographic examination. That’s too bad — some of the best photojournalism I’ve seen has come in the form of day-in-the-life stories. I would happily be a subject for just such a project (then again, I am also far from camera-shy).

    Perhaps if you posted an ad that said you were looking for subjects for a photojournalism project documenting ‘a day in the life of x’ where ‘x’ equals your hometown, or a specific group of people who interest you, or workers in a given career, or whatever, you might have more luck?

    You might even be able to expand your horizons in this particular arena by grabbing a list of potential photographic subjects, from ‘arc welders’ to ‘zoologists’ (or something like that), throwing a dart, and creating a project documenting the lives of people in whichever category the dart hits.

    Also, I will second zorgor’s suggestion that you try painting (perhaps as well as, rather than instead of, photography), but I paint (I’m particularly fond of watercolors, which are both accessible and exceptionally challenging to do really well) and therefore I might be biased 🙂

    • Rob Slaven

      Ooo. I like it. OK, well, specifically I like the idea of an advert that specifies exactly what I’m looking for. People think themselves too mundane so remove that preconception by seeking them out *specifically*. I like it! Arc welders it is! And yeah… painting… every time I pass an art supply store now I’ll be DOUBLY tempted. Jeeze! 🙂

  17. You mentioned writing, if I read it right. You can always proof my novel when I get it written. 😛

    • Rob Slaven

      Sure thing; send it along!

      • Wow, Ok ;D It’s not done yet but soon, I hoppee.

      • Rob Slaven

        Heh. OK. You’ll want to specify a level of “pickiness”. I can edit for typos I can just be one incredibly picky person. I’m really looking forward to it. No pressure though. 😉

      • Haha, just a general “Oh look here, you need to fix this and this, this character is inconsistent” yadda yadda.

        It will be the first edit that isn’t by me. Which is no pressure on you 😉 I think being harsh to be nice would be good though.

        They say you shouldn’t let anyone see it till you work through it umpteen times but meh. I already got your hopes up. 😛

      • Rob Slaven

        well, THAT I can do. I’ll just sit here tapping my foot impatiently as I await your first draft. 🙂

      • Well MYYYYY goodness. I will get working on it again right now! (I actually will, that’s a really good kick in the pants.)

      • Rob Slaven

        LOL. Well, I’m glad to have been of assistance. 🙂 In whatever small way.

  18. catherine333

    If I were anywhere near where you are, I would totally take you up on your offer of free photography, I would be so interested in seeing what you come up with. I bet I would see things from my life in whole new ways and perspectives! I think it is sad that nobody takes you up on it. They are missing out on a great opportunity!

  19. You forgot the other possibility – you are too brilliant for any of them to recognize. Personally, my favorite possibility, but I haven’t quite gotten so full of myself to reach that conclusion in regards to my own work. Not … quite … yet. Thank you for visiting my Textures blog. I have now linked to you (both of “you” …) from my photo blog (where my blog roll resides, just tempting folks to click on thru to the other side). LOVE your writing LOVE your pix …

  20. Val

    It’s much more likely to be a combination of apathy and distraction. People get distracted or they intend to do something and then don’t. So there might be and have been a load of people interested in taking you up on these offers, but they just haven’t done so. I have the same problem with – sorry about this as I’ve now read your point of view on selling art – selling my art. (I am a working artist. I presume that whatever it is that you do for a living*, you do because you need to eat. I sell my art because it’s what I do well and because I need to eat, too. It doesn’t detract from anything, at least not for me. It used to, but it no longer does.)

    However, a suggestion: as you like to do things on a voluntary basis, why not choose a charity of some sort that you feel strongly about and offer your services to them? I don’t mean a huge organization, but some small grass roots sort of thing. Just a thought.

    *I’ve not yet read enough of your blog to know what your work is.

    • Rob Slaven

      See, the phrase ‘working artist’ just makes me shudder. I love that you can make a living doing that but when I think about he pressure of needing to create on a sufficient schedule to not starve, it just makes my mind boggle.

      As for a charity, yeah, I’ve pondered that. I’m a bit of an odd duck artistically (really picky about place and time and manner) so it’s really hard to wrap my mind around doing that on someone elses schedule…

      • Val

        Well, you see, I don’t work to any schedule. I’m quite prolific so all I do is when I find something that I think someone might buy, I put it out for sale. I’ve a lot of work (I call even the stuff I don’t sell ‘work’ as my perception of ‘work’ includes the unpaid, it’s just what I call my creative output) – so I don’t feel any sense of pressure. Like you, I can’t work to a schedule and I hate being pressured, even by myself!

        Nothing wrong with being picky.

      • Rob Slaven

        Hrm. You bring up a good point. If you’re making something TODAY to eat TOMORROW it’s a lot different. You seem to be saying you have some buffer which… changes everything. Good point. Almost makes me want to start dabbling in the whole commercial side of this a bit. Perhaps I can get my fiancee to be my artistic marketing department. 🙂

  21. Amy Pirt

    You snd me sound do alike…thanks for the visit!

  22. Pingback: Say Cheese on the Cheap | Rob Slaven Photography

Please let us know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s