This a guest post by Ken Jarecke, a world-renowned photojournalist and founding member of Contact Press Images, an illustrious photo agency based in New York. Please also visit and read his blog, Mostly True.
The past few years it’s been hard for me to pick up a camera. We all know that the industry, at least the editorial side of it, has been at an all time low. Sure, I’ve worked to put a good face on it, like in this piece on the New York Times Lens blog, but more often than not, my desire to make wonderful images has been absent. My heart has just not been there.
It’s not the creative side. I’ve rarely cared about the choices editors make about my work. That’s never been my motivation. Besides, I figured if I made great images, they’d get published. Somewhere. Sometime.
For example, here’s a take from the Beijing Olympics. After nine Olympics, I felt this was the best job I’d ever done. Normally, the Olympics will generate tons of tear-sheets, but outside of China, where my agency had a deal with the local English language newspaper, I managed to get only a single image published (in a French newspaper).
Frustrating to be sure, but still, not something that would stop me from making pictures.
No, I’m sad and ashamed to report that my lack of desire stemmed from nothing more than a lack of money. More specifically, the constant worry, and the ongoing struggle to pay the bills had taken its toll.
It’s sad, because I didn’t become a photojournalist to get rich (I was never that crazy or misguided). I’m ashamed because much of my money problems were the direct result of poor or stubborn decisions that are completely my fault.
In the past, I hesitated to book weddings. I made the excuse that I couldn’t book something that far in advance. What if an editorial job came up? In reality, I felt this type of work was beneath me. I felt the same about the portrait market (Yes, I know where this is being read). It’s easy to say now, but what’s more important than a wedding, or capturing a child’s life? Oh well, live and learn.
I didn’t let the magazines determine if a picture was good or not, but I sure put them in charge of what was important enough for me to photograph!
Pride and arrogance, a nasty couple of vices. As you can imagine, the only people to suffer from the choices I made was my family. Over the past few years, we’ve cut expenses, and eliminated most of the extras that come with family life, in my vain attempt to reinvent the editorial market and make things right (vanity, there’s another one).
Although I never stopped loving being a dad or a husband, the only thing I accomplished was to give my family a grouchy dad who hated making pictures.
As a photojournalist, I always try to have a backup plan. I would look at every situation with the perspective of a worse possible case scenario. Like, what would happen if I got a two flat tires in a post-Katrina New Orleans?
Practical to be sure, but it also gave me a sense of being in control. Maybe we all do this. It would explain tings like always having a pocket bulging with extra batteries.
Well, about three weeks ago, I ran into a situation that I couldn’t control. One of our children came home from camp very sick. It took twelve days for the doctors to figure out what was wrong. Plenty of uncertainty. Lots of prayers. Scary times. I don’t want to put too fine of a point on it. She spent four nights in the hospital and has been home for about a week now. She’s getting better everyday and is on her way to a full recovery.
Ironically, being in this powerless situation has seemed to heal me also. I have no cares about my reputation, or my standing in the photography world. I should be totally freaked about the medical bills (on top of everything else), but instead they just don’t seem important. I just want to be a better dad and husband (I thought I always was, but I didn’t give any thought to the huge burden I had placed on my family).
Strangest of all, I also want to make some really good pictures. Go figure.
I’m working on getting some portrait jobs… I booked one yesterday! I did my first wedding back in June. I gotta say, I really enjoyed it. The pictures were good too! I hope I have the chance to do some more.
The medical bills? Well, I hope to pay for some of them with a special print sale. I’m going to offer eight or ten prints at a special price for seven days only. They’re signed, archival pigment prints made by me.
You can see a preview here. I don’t know what the final selection will be, but I’m open to suggestions. Please check the above site on Monday to find out. The 17” x 22”s will be $300 and the 8.5” x 11”s will be $97 (plus shipping).
The two black & whites shown here are from an essay I did for Time magazine in 1990 called, “The Rotting of the Big Apple”. They’ve been very popular with collectors over the years.
The image from the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989, shows a lone hunger striker sitting in front of Chinese soldiers. It has also been popular with collectors. At some point it was named “The Rose”. The Beijing Opera performer was made in May of 2007. It’s one that I like. I think it works well.
If you have ever considered creating a photography collection for yourself, Ken’s offering here would be a terrific start. In fact, I have already told Ken that I will be buying one of his prints! Supporting each other through the valleys and peaks of life is what will make us stronger. Give it some thought, but don’t wait too long because these prints are very likely to be gone soon.
UPDATE: Ken sent me this slideshow that you see below. It has all the images he has on sale through this Friday (September 10, 2010). I hope this inspires you to invest in one of his images.