Thursday, August 20, 2009

No, You're Not Entitled To Anything

As my mother used to say, there are no guarantees in life, except death and taxes .A subset of those non-guarantees, is "nobody owes you anything, and you're not entitled to anything either."

Generally speaking, I think the last generation that thought they had to actually earn something is generation X. Generation Y, The millennials, and the youth of today, believe that everybody should get a ribbon, there are no winners and no losers, and you're owed a job once you graduate.

There are a few universal truths, so let's enumerate a few:

1) There will always be winners and losers. Period

2) Graduation from school prooves one thing - you can finish something you started. Beyond that, you'll have to demonstrate hard work, commitment, and a willingness to pay your dues.

(Continued after the Jump)

I don't care if you're God's gift to landscape artistry, sports, fashion, or news photography, or somehow have a perspective no one has ever seen before. You still must pay your dues. You still must do hard work.

If you somehow have a reflex that puts you next in line to take Nemo's place in the Matrix, and you apply that to your trigger finger and focus ring to minimize lag time to take the best ball-on-bat/puck-in-frame/etc images, you don't just get called up to the majors right away. You have to prove you can do all of the other things related to it, like writing a solid caption, knowing the game and all the players, and being able to transmit on deadlines that are often unreasonable. That means starting in the bush league, youth sports, and so on.

If you have a nose for news, and somehow put yourself where the news is about to happen (no arsonists need apply) you might get some attention if you always have the flames licking up the side of a building when the rest of the photo dogs turn up and capture just the smouldering embers. If you can listen to a police scanner and know what's happening in real time, and not have any other assignments to get to before the perp walk, you might make a few good images. That said, even if the paper publishes your work from these spot news "gets", they don't owe you a staff job, or anything other than fair compensation for your images. They have no idea how you'd work on other assignments, or if you can be the generalist they need in addition to being Johnny-on-the-spot.

Fashion is it's own world, and to quote Heidi Klum, "you're either in, or you're out." Fashion is a fickle bird, and not even the best designers survive year to year. One year your work is all over Saks Fifth Avenue, the next, it's crowding the floors at Off Saks. Same for fashion photography. Everyone thinks it's glamorous, and everyone wants to photograph the pretty girls. However, who's photographing the handsome men? There's about a 50/50 split in the population, but you don't see any "will do trade-for-print with male models" ads. All of the ads for products I saw when I just read the latest issue of a photo trade magazine showed women as models - faces painted sliver/gold/bright colors. Yes, I know that sells cars, tools, and (atleast for men) makes the world go 'round and has started more than one war. However, you should not only be able to demonstrate good female model photography, but also male model photography. More importantly, though, is your ability to actually handle a shoot where models are present and being paid. (Models getting paid for modeling, is, after all, their ultimate goal - then you can call yourself a professional model.) Managing the catering, wardrobe, lighting assistants, props, and so on (not to mention the on-set client) takes time and a completely different skill set than knowing how a model (male or female) looks their sexiest. Annie Liebovitz, interviewed recently for Time (here) said "if something goes wrong with a photo shoot, it's my fault. It's up to me, it's my responsibility...if I don't get a good picture, I don't blame my subject, I blame me." Don't look at fashion photographs and in a smart-alecy way suggest that somehow you could do it better. Yes, I know that the proof is in the photograph, but managing everything that it takes to get to the point of that photograph as a final result is almost always a bigger part than closing the shutter at the right time.

It was once wisely said "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

Even the Declaration of Independence did not say you were entitled to happiness. It said it would protect your "pursuit of happiness".

One of the challenges that face "The Greatest Generation" and the Baby-Boomers is their belief that they are (or were, as it now known in most cases) entitled to a lifelong job. It was (mistakenly) assumed that, for example, if you went to work for IBM or the big bank on the corner, that you had a job for life. You'd work for a few decades, your commitment to them was reciprocated by their commitment to you, and you'd not get fired or laid off, save for gross incompetence. Today though, those companies are laying off the aging (and expensive) knowledgebase for cheaper workers. The problem is, those cheaper workers are coming with the baggage of an expectation of entitlement. They expect to be coddled and fawned over during their annual review, and told how great they are even when they're not.

Just because you read your the manual of your camera and know all its features and have all sorts of custom functions preset, or can follow-focus in manual down the playing field or up the catwalk, or even can light a subject like Rembrant, you're not entitled to have your images grace the covers of the world's greatest magazines. Heck, you're not even owed a drop of ink on the inside pages, or even guaranteed traffic to your online postings of said photos. Hey, you might get some "atta-boys" from the rest of the entitlement crowd that you convince to visit your corner of the internet, but then you're expected to go and hand out the same "awesome photo!" accolades to those, like a moebius strip of kudos, never ending, and never getting anywhere.

There are three podiums at the Olympics for each contest, and only one winner. Second and third are the runners-up, incase the first place winner cheated. The rest of the competitors don't get ribbons, and the only people who say they did a good job are their friends, family, and those that get paid to pay those type of compliments, lest they lose their job. These competitors know they must go back, and try again and try harder if they want to succeed.

From year to year, almost nobody remembers who won which Oscar, let alone who the losers were. Heck, even the presenters, admonished to say "and the Oscar goes to..." but more often than not say "and the winner is..." (belying how they really know things are) can't remember who won from year to year. Each year, the actors and actresses vying for the Oscar slog it out hoping to win once again, knowing that it's hard work acting, and if they want to keep doing it in the fickleness of Hollywood they better work at it.

The landscape is littered with the roadkill of those who think they are entitled or owed success in their chosen field. The sooner those with that attitude change, and really buckle down and do the hard work necessary to achieve success, the sooner they will achieve that success.

Success, real success, long-term sustainable success, is achieved by hard work day in, and day out. Don't rest on your laurels, lest they become the laurels of someone else. Sports legend Pat Riley once said "When a milestone is conquered, the subtle erosion called entitlement begins its consuming grind. The team regards its greatness as a trait and a right. Half hearted effort becomes habit and saps a champion.” What have you done today on your own personal road to become a champion in your field?

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Edward said...

I've come to the conclusion that a lot of Gen Y are so used to being served life on a plate (or at least, expecting it) that they can't see the value in gaining something through hard work. It's like playing a computer game and activating god mode...attaining the end of the level then has no meaning.

The other thing is the over belief in their knowledge to the point that they are blind to the knowledge they don't have and thus some will consider themselves experts in their field. The photographic example here is the person that buys a 450D, takes some shots for a friend and whammo, they consider themselves a pro. The overuse of 'attaboys' and lack of proper constructive criticism from friends and on sites like flickr only perpetuate their belief and thus they expect to treated as a pro and treat their opinions as such.

Without knowing what you have failed at, one cannot grow.

Having said that, it all sounds like the age old cliche of the older generation complaining about the kids of today...I'm sure my grandfather had some choice words to say about my dad back in the 60's much to the same effect.

Jonathan Levin said...


Interesting read. I would switch Gen Y with Gen X though.

Having been around the biz almost as long as rust, I've found that the sense of entitlement has never reared it's ugly head as much as it has with the Gen-x-ers. Not all, but a lot.

I've never had so many arrogant people behind the camera before pretending to know what they are doing, making decisions just for the sake of self importance. I work as more of a rental operation with these people. And never mind that they don't want to work for any less than $80K US per year.

My Gen-Y clients are a whole different crew. Most actually look for my professional opinion (I give that whether or not anyone wants it or not), and are most open to my ideas and rely on my experience and creative input. I'm sort of looked at like a crazy uncle with decent advice. Most seem to have a good sense of work ethic and realize that the in a world full of crap, everyone has to pitch in to make things right.

Am I showing my age? Over and out for this curmudgeon.

Uncle Jonathan

bob said...

Nemo is a fish, not a character in The Matrix. You mean Neo.

Anonymous said...

Excellently written! I agree 100%. I unfortunately work with a bunch of the younger prima donna's who think they are owed everything. I've worked for this company for thirteen years and earned everything I have received unlike these stupid young un's who come in with great ideas that implode daily.
Thank you

Levi said...

As a young X myself, I have recently become aware of my own know-it-all-ishness. DSLR's make learning so fast that one can quickly become a camera master, but, as said above, that doesn't mean that one is owed any particular recognition. Mastering the camera makes you a Master Button Pusher. Have you heard that song at camp, "Hi, my name is Joe, I work in a button factory..."?

Anyway, I think that one thing many of the young generations is lacking is mentorship. It's true that everybody's pinned as a winner these days. Young photogs may benefit greatly from a guiding hand. We upstarts are reading the blogs and books of Experienced Photogs and learning techniques, as said above, but the personal interaction is lacking.

It's the interaction which I believe will really make a difference. Seeing not only the settings/lighting/posing/editing process of a pro, but also the charisma, humility, integrity, and occasionally appropriate righteous indignation of a real pro would truly provide that experience that established pros got from the lifetimers (ya know, the ones who are now laid off). Apprenticeship is hard to come by these days, and it's not really appreciated, I think.

So, I'd make an invitation to Pros, or any body older than the new guy: invite them to shoot with you; invite them to have lunch with you; invite them to visit your old mentor with you. I suggest that you can make a large impact in that young photg;s life and affect his/her career for the better. Just be yourself and spend time--it'a valuable way to serve/give back. My two bits toward solving the problem.

This is my first visit, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Thank you.

Levi Sim

Mark Perlstein said...

John, you are right on the money, as always.

Amelia said...

It can be discouraging to see so much "entitlement". I don't know if it can be totally put upon the younger generations as I see plenty in Baby Boomers on down. (I'm a 30 something GenXer, I guess - I'm not much on labels. They are good for stat classes but sort of worthless for real human relationships). Some things can be self correcting . . . (see current economic situation) albeit somewhat painful. In any case, work hard, don't brag and be humble when serendipity happens upon you!

Andre Friedmann said...

I was gonna exclaim "kids these days," but the news has been better than that, at least in my experience: modest, intelligent, disciplined, hard-working young photographers are my norm. It's only a handful, but they all seem great, and they work hard in the teeth of difficult conditions. The handful I know seem no worse than the boomers. And, if anything, they cope with bad business practices that are *the* boomer legacy.

And don't get me going on the pre-boomers in our industry who played a useful role model when they publicly insisted on the importance and value of their copyrights, and then privately and cheaply sold them whenever they needed even the smallest amounts of money.

retouching said...

Too true! So many times I hear the words "life is just not fair!". Well it is a fact, get over it!

Andy Gray said...

When the Baby Boomers were young, wasn't love free? Couldn't you run around stoned for years and live off the land (i.e., other people)? But they were converted by society into hard working components in the machine and a crucial part of George Bush's electorate. I'm Gen X. Perhaps the main difference with my generation compared to more recent ones is that we're older and, therefore, have learned that you get what you pay for. Give Y and Z time, and they'll make the same conclusion. The big difference may simply be that each generation is reaching "adulthood" at a later age.

Brandon D. said...

Thanks for the rant. I wish more people near my generation heeded this advice. Many of us are spoiled, though.

MarkieG said...

@Levi Sim

I hear what you are saying Levi however, it sounds a bit like "hey mister take me under your wing, teach me everything you know, because this is what I want to do. And no, I don't expect to pay you for your time or your knowledge, I want you to give it to me for free, and we can call it...Mentoring!
Try this. Go into your local corner shop, tell the owner you intend to open a similar kind of shop and would he mind giving you a selection of his groceries, so you can see which you will have to stock when you open your shop!

Levi said...

What I'm, not entitled to that? Kidding!

I understand what you mean. Established pros may feel like their mentoring themselves out of a job. But isn't that the way it's always been? The master teaches the apprentice everything he knows, then the apprentice goes out does the same.

Sure, the Master is creating competition for himself, and some Masters may not like this, so they don't teach, or they don't teach everything. However, the ones who do teach everything become greater.

Glory/Honor/reputation comes to the Master through the student. The better a student is, the better a Master is seen as. People will say, "Wow, B. is really terrific" and B. will say, "Thank you, I learned it all from A." The Master has several students running around, and pretty soon the Master is quite famous. He now takes on only the clients he wants to/who can afford him. He really has taught himself out of a job--and into a higher level. His students are no longer his competition (read: price point)--until they complete the cycle, and are welcomed into the higher level, starting a new cycle!

Plus, the whole time you teach, you're learning, and if you're actually employing the noobie, then you can also lay claim to his work for your 'studio', as masters have done for ages.

Occasionally one may be burned by a selfish student, but in the end the karmic cycle will prevail and things will be better for the master who gives. Seriously.


Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Every week I get a raft of phone calls from people who have gone to photo school, who would like to enter the business and who want to assist for me. I tell them that when I hire assistants I'm looking for someone to carry a bunch of stuff, get me coffee, clean things and run errands.

They are deeply offended. They seem to assume that I'll pay them a living wage to sit in a comfy chair, drink a latte and take notes on everything I do. Maybe I should just give them my address book and be done with it.


Levi said...

Believe it or not, I've never made coffee; but I excel at those other things!

I would expect to carry gear, hold lights, clean the toilet, answer phones and everything else to make your creative process the top of your mind. I can take the notes when I get home after work.

Of course, it would be nice to still be paid a wage for doing those things.


GGcadc said...

thanks andy and levi...

john this post has just a hint of bitterness, I dont think it reflects badly on newer generations that the older generations (I say that with all due respect) become upset with the different style with which they approach life, work, family etc...

These differences are normal, and in your post extremely generalized, I know i'm not your target demographic (believe me on that) but alienating and/or vilifying the up-and-coming photographers of the world doesn't seem the brightest idea for a blog.

the world is always in shift, get over it (with all due respect, which you did not afford us[latter gens] with this post).

Jonathan Levin said...

Kirk and Levi.

I had a full time assistant gig with a terrific photographer, Walter Raczynski in Chicago, who really had his shit together. A fantastic guy, great sense of humor, great clients. He was a teacher who taught me all the technique that I never learned in fine art school. He invented these really neat mono-block lights called Strob-lox, and if I had had the dough at the time, I would have bought about a half dozen of them. I really enjoyed being around him.

Sadly, I was the worst assistant he probably could ever have hoped to walk in his front door, but we hit it off, and the more I learned, the better it was for both of us.

I digress.

Here is the shortened list of duties that I was given, and EACH one I benefited in some way:

1) Lay a linoleum floor- learned: don't use to much mastic.

2) Make black and white prints using a point source enlarger (home-made) and fluid gate. Learned: patience.

3) Cleaned toilets, sinks, dishes, alleys soaked in piss, mopped floors, dusted, cleaned and fed pet doves- learned: A place is pretty comfy when it's all polished up, and doves sing with delight when fed.

4) Painted everything from office walls, to cycloramas, to Rembrandt backgrounds- learned: to stay within the lines.

5) Drive a stick shift car- Learned: clutches do have a life expectancy.

6) Make coffee- learned: how to make good coffee.

7) Build shelves out of 1x12 pine. Learned: How to use a radial-arm saw and dado cutter. I now have my own shop full of table saws, routers, band saws, drill press, etc. which I used to single handedly renovate a 110 year old building.

I could go on. But my point is that whatever you do now or have done in the past will have a great impact on your life at some point when you least expect it. You may not even realize it until hindsight.

So get out there, and clean some toilets, wash down tinkle, cut some lumber and remember that this is all part of learning.

You won't learn shit through entitlement, except how to be unreasonable, in-ept, and a misery for others to be around.

And if someone asks you to make coffee, get the paper, do the dishes, be sure to say thank you.

Jonathan Levin

Levi said...

It's a pleasure to read your response. You could save that as a commencement speech!

I also enjoyed looking at your website--it's my first exposure to medi-torial, and I am intrigued and excited to look more into it, or other niche markets.

I couldn't agree with you more that all experience is worth learning from. I'm 29 on Saturday, and have had more than 40 employers since I was 15 (I've never been fired, though there was that terrific learning experience in Canada...). I have certainly learned distinct lessons that I have used elsewhere in life at each of these endeavors. I wouldn't even trade the Canada fiasco--not for the world.

Right on about "thank you". Thanks again for your insightful, honest, and kind response. I have relearned some things pondering it.


Eric Fadden said...

As someone who has made my photographic pursuits a 2nd job (I work a day job to pay the bills) I focused more on the need for drive and ambition that this post spoke of rather than the sense of entitlement that you (so correctly) stated is so prevalent right now. I work a combined total of about 14-18 hours a day trying to make things happen for me and my family. When I see people taking every shortcut they can or shoot a few good lucky frames here and there and think they can simply stroll into the territory that I'm still hacking and slashing my way through it infuriates me.

I'm writing this to thank you for one line in particular though. It has become a favorite quote of mine and will be something I think about very frequently. Toward the middle of the post you write "Even the Declaration of Independence did not say you were entitled to happiness. It said it would protect your "pursuit of happiness"."

I know you wrote this in the same vain as the rest of the post (entitlement and such) but I've also adopted it to mean that if I want something bad bad I can taste it...that I can go after it. I can chase it as far as I want to. And in the end, if the pursuit is mine and I capture it, it's because I won the race - not because it was given to me.

Thank you for giving me something to think about this morning.

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