Selecting a Style: Part 3 The Beginning
For the last two blog posts I talked about how everything builds toward your brand — and once you find your core values, stick to them. Build your company around those values: continually polish image but remain focused on those key, bedrock elements.
For example, US Event Photos, the company I co-own with my mother, is a high-profile international event photography firm, specializing in corporate events and big shindigs worldwide. We decided on that core value from the beginning; and as a result, I have never photographed a wedding or a bar mitzvah.
How do you decide on your core values? How do you determine what you want to do? When first starting out, where do you find your solid ground?
What lights your fire?
The Wicomico County Arts Council (WCAC) is a local art venue nestled in the struggling downtown of Salisbury, MD. One of those local groups whose tireless volunteers host art receptions, sell local work, and sponsor low cost educational classes for those in the community who want to broaden their horizons.
WCAC is an incubator of talent. Like Tootie’s in Nashville, you start there, and hope to be recognized; maybe discovered. Every month, they host a new exhibit opening: complete with wine and cheese, the local all-star artists, and a few visitors.
My first exhibit was called Whispers From the Backwater, and featured photos of local wildlife: herons fishing from the banks of the Wicomico River, an Assateague Island foal with his mother, osprey just hatched in a nest. I constructed my own walls, hooked them together in a free standing display, and perched two computer monitors on white painted cubes to play a slide show of the images in a loop with music and prose. I even provided my own track lighting.
I decided I wanted my art exhibit to be an experience. Sound, prose, images blending together to hammer the viewer over the head with my central theme:
We Live In God’s Country.
An odd theme for an agnostic guy, I admit — but there it was. When mom questioned me about my choice, I said two words. Words that have lived in family history ever since:
I don’t think anyone had ever constructed their own walls at WCAC to display their work. My concept was simple: construct a unit that could travel — and be displayed anywhere I was invited. No matter what the venue, it would always look the same. That’s not that far from how I execute green screen photo experiences today. Hell, I even bring my own counters. Maybe I’ve always been a control freak.
Back to my story. The juror (read: judge) approached my exhibit, eyeballing the photos with an expression somewhere between contempt and haughtiness.
“Well,” she sneered, “they certainly are…
c o m m e r c i a l.”
Needless to say, I did not place in the competition. I did, however, sell both prints and greeting cards. I also booked the exhibit to display at other galleries around the area — including the mall — my real goal in participating in the contest.
Did I mention who the juror was?
She was a professor of Photography at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She also exhibited at the show — a half dozen very large prints (maybe 3′ by 6′) yes — FEET — of local area…
wait for it…
Have you ever seen a dead deer blown up to 3′ x 6′? It ain’t pretty.
And thus ended my participation in my first — and only — juried photo competition. I did discover one very important thing, however, about what would become my brand.
My work is commercial.
And, as it turns out, being a commercial photographer has it’s perks. I have great equipment. I can afford to do the things I want to do in life. I love working commercially — my creativity is always turned to overdrive, I work with thousands of people, and, in some ways, I’m more well known than I ever thought I would be.
I’m infamous, in a crazy sort of way.
From that early (and rocky) start a commercial photography brand was born. While I gave up shooting (and selling) nature prints — I did discover something important about myself. I liked the business of photography. I liked letting something I was passionate about pay my bills. I liked being commercial. I wanted to be more commercial, not less. My brand came into focus.
During this same time, my mom was working as a US Senate Gallery Press Photographer, capturing news photos for trade publications on Capitol Hill. Her business began to struggle — she was film based — and she turned to her geeky son for advice on “going digital”.
I’ve told this story before, so I won’t go into it. Suffice it to say, mom’s business became my business. Journalism blended with commercial, technology combined with her savvy with film, and DC Event Photos was born. Some time later, as we refined the brand and took a more national approach, DC Event Photos was rebranded to US Event Photos. But that mix of commercial and journalism became a core value. It remains a big part of our brand. And, the convention side of the business, reflects that union. My mom heads up our convention photography business, bringing journalistic style to covering executive conferences. A skill in very high demand.
Later, my interest grew another direction — focusing on green screen. Three reasons: 1) there was a commercial demand and 2) I could express my creativity in a unique niche market. Last, I can leverage my love of technology. That little piece of the puzzle, once it fell into place, filled out the rest of our brand. To this day, that’s what we do: green screen photo executions. The only difference between what we do now, and what we did 8 years ago, is scale. And maybe a little bit of polish. But from our very first green screen event, I remember telling the client, “if the participant doesn’t have fun, why do it?”
I just got off the phone with a new potential client. That very line was part of our conversation. As it should be. It’s a philosophy that defines us. It’s who we are. It’s part of our style. It is our brand.
The rant will continue.