From the beginning of the third year of my media production course I knew that photography was my thing. After another summer of working long hours in various bars and restaurants, I was well and truly ready to leave all that behind. I was determined that the following summer would be different.
My family was based in the Suffolk countryside, and as lovely as that is, it didn’t look great for job prospects in the media industry. With this in mind, I began my hunt for photography jobs early. I know this sounds like something a lecturer or a parent would tell you, but this tip is actually worth some attention! Get in the mind frame in the run up to Christmas that you’ll be looking for jobs after your break.
A few weeks in to the second semester I had drafted CVs and covering letters and asked my favourite lecturers to have a look and point me in the direction of some good job websites. You’ve got nothing to lose at this stage, and it’s purely a numbers game; the more CVs you email out, the more chance of a response you have.
After sending out about 10 a week for a month, I eventually got a reply in the form of a photographer position. It was based in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, at a national franchise chain of portrait studios called Venture. I knew very little of the Buckinghamshire area but jumped at the opportunity of an interview. Two weeks later I had a call offering me the job. So I found myself with 6 weeks left of the course with a job all ready lined up at the end of it. This is when it pays to look early, because this was about the point when the tens of thousands of other students start looking for exactly the same job as you.
At this point I was feeling pretty smug with myself. What I didn’t know about was how hard the next few years were going to be. I worked for two months at the protrait studio in Marlow before being made redundant. I couldn’t meet sales targets. I felt like the world had crumbled in on me. I hated the amount of sales involved, and ultimate struggled with working with the lack of creativity. I was desperate not to have to go back living with the parents and working in a bar. As the Venture is nationwide I asked my boss if there were any other vacancies which would better suit me within the franchise. I was nudged in the direction of a ‘Retouching’ position in the Arundel, West Sussex, branch. After another successful interview I was on the move again, and settled on the south coast with a new position within the company.
I instantly felt considerably more at ease with this role, working with creatively with photoshop all day, without a single crying baby or sales target in sight. Unfortunately I found that I had learnt the job within a couple of months and found it frustratingly mundane after a year. Sales dropped nationally and budgets were cut. Redundancies were made and once again I found myself on the end of the ‘first one in, first one out’ rule.
I found my self back to square one. I was determined not to return home to bar work so I picked myself up and began sending CVs and portfolio images to any and every company involved in retouch. Within a week I had a couple of interviews in London, which were both successful. I chose to work in a small image production team partnered with a large stock image company named Photolibrary. I moved to London within a week and settled into the next step in a jittery start to my career. My role was a step up from my previous one, and I found myself much more included in every aspect of photography production. As well as retouching all the images the company produced, I was also encouraged to do various roles from assisting photographers, to editing shoots and even interviewing models.
I was learning a huge variety of skills and continued to hone my retouching techniques. But once again, it wasn’t to last. The company directors fell out, and after a take-over, the company was dissolved. We were all made redundant and I found myself searching for a job again, 9 months after my last move.
As you can imagine I was getting quite practiced at writing covering letters and going to interviews by this point.
The first interview I had was through a contact who knew of a retouching position available in London. After taking one look at their website, and reading their client list, I knew it was a long shot. So far I felt as though, despite all the setbacks, each step I had made in my career was a move up. This wasn’t just a move up, this was the potential to leap up to the top of my industry. They saw enough potential in me, and within a week I was working with some of the very best retouchers in the country. I couldn’t quite believe it, and two years in to my job I’m only just beginning to believe it.
I now work with some of the biggest photographers, working on some of the biggest international advertising campaigns, with some of the biggest models. Examples of some past work include advertising campaigns for Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Nike and Tom Ford; working directly with photographers such as Sølve Sundsbø and Vincent Peters. Also we have produced Album artwork for bands such as Coldplay, The Feeling and Grace Jones.
I love my job. I also love the stability and security it has given me, knowing that I haven’t just got my foot in the door any more, I’ve bashed my way through it. I know some say luck plays a large part in careers, but I don’t agree. It’s persistence and hard graft when you get set backs that get you places. You create your own luck, and as soon as you start questioning whether you’ve been unlucky about something, pick yourself back up, brush yourself down and go in search for the next positive step in your career.
It’s like a game of snakes and ladders. As long as you’re always progressing forward around the board you’ll get there in the end. Sometimes you get a handy ladder up, sometimes a snake knocks you down, but you’re always moving forward. The first few years outside of education are the hardest you’ll ever have. But the rewards are exactly what you think you deserve.
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