In another article, wedding photographer Bernie Griffith mentioned how fortunate he was to have mentors like Ian Hawthorne. Bernie has an original copy of an article written by Ian framed on his office wall. “Ian was an AIPP legend and the first wedding portrait photographer to be recognised in America. I also had the pleasure of attending some of Ian’s seminars and was spellbound in being in the presence of such a great photographer. His spirit, and the professional spirit of what he stood for, is always with me in that article.” Sadly, Ian passed away last month, but I hope you enjoy reading his advice. Although written several decades ago, it is as relevant today as then.
‘Art’ is all very well, but it won’t pay the rent.
There is a general belief among many of the younger people coming into the profession that the secret of success is totally vested in the quality of their pictures.
They look at the photographs applauded at the National Print Awards and imagine their creators make a living from them. But those pictures are often ‘show’ rather than ‘dough’ images. They are made to impress judges, other photographers and those few clients who are visually sophisticated, and are not what the business of people photography is all about.
That business is predicated upon service.
The person who realises this – who organises his procedures, himself and his time, and conducts his business efficiently and with good humour – is the one who will survive. The product, provided it is reasonable and competitive in price, is largely irrelevant.
That does not mean those who choose to be professionals should not become proficient in all aspects of their chosen career, merely that they should also be aware of the importance of personality, organisational skills, salesmanship, promotion and financial planning.
If these skill are not already a natural part of your armoury, they will have to be acquired.
Professional, semi-professional and amateur photographers all compete in the marketplace for attention, profit and business. The successful ones are those who impose upon the market’s chaos some degree of control and understanding, and thereby catch its attention.
Those starting out always think it will be easy. They read books, attend seminars, imitate the work of the better professionals and put their work on display, hoping the public will recognise their genius and flock to their door.
Instead, many fail, either because of poor business marketing skills, lack of personality and energy, or simply because they are not ‘people’ people.
To practice within the domestic field of photography (portraits, weddings and public relations), you must like and enjoy meeting people. You must be able to talk to them. And also be a good listener.
A good salesperson does not sell, he establishes what people need and fulfils what they wish. If people like you, they will give you the opportunity of supplying their needs.
Somewhere within your customer’s budget is your living, overhead and profit. You should ask yourself the following questions:
What do my customers like?
What approximately will they spend?
What do they think they need?
How may I satisfy that need?
Finally and most importantly, ask yourself what the phrase “We would like a family portrait” or “We would like a nice picture of the kids”, means to the customer? Here you must interpret their values.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are in your studio for award-winning pictures.
Some years ago I judged a professional set of pictures for a colour lab. I looked for all the qualities valued by professional juries: impact, posing, lighting, colour quality, presentation and originality. The pictures were then hung in the foyer of a hotel centre for a convention and the public invited to select what they thought was the best picture. Their choice was a badly posed, badly lit and underexposed shot of a child. So there is an enormous difference between our and the public’s perception of good photography.
The public, bless them, will continue to buy expression, expression and more expression. Our job is to showcase those expressions in suitable surroundings, using simple and soft lighting, to flatter if possible and to sell those soft and flattering images in a way that builds goodwill and ensures us a profit.
Never forget that you are a paid servant, hired to fulfil the wishes of a paying customer. That customer will often have ideas of his own about what he wants. Explore those ideas, add some of your own and cooperate to produce the images with the client. Client involvement builds excitement and sometimes, without consciously striving, great selling images.
Usually we learn the basics of camera technique, posing and lighting from well known or highly respected members of the photographic profession, people whose images of business acumen have been recognised and applauded. Over the years, I have visited many of their studios. The body of their work is usually quite ordinary. These people recognise and exploit the difference between show and people pictures, between pictures made to impress and those made to satisfy a client’s need.
Don’t get me wrong. Saleable portraits also have rules and standards. They mustn’t have hard shadows, be too arty or too clever; the lighting must be simple and in character; the image must be soft rather than hard; the posing and figure placement must make a coherent pattern or design; and most importantly, the picture must flatter the subject.
If you care about your subjects, it will show in your images. If you care about your business, it will show in the manner in which your customers are treated.
Awards do not make successful businesses, people do. And great photographs do not necessarily make for marketplace success, while flattering ones will. Great and exciting lighting, and images with impact, will not necessarily excite your customers.
It’s worth remembering that as you progress through business, you will find that your greatest and most powerful portraits, the ones made to satisfy your creative urges, will remain unordered in your negative file. They are pictures made for show. Other professionals may admire them, but as a businessman you must never forget the adage: ‘Shoot some pictures for show and others for dough’.
Photography should be a business conducted by those who want to make pictures which delight and satisfy their customers.
That commitment will lead to other areas of concern, such as: how to get the business; how to keep the business; how to create a selling environment; how to impress yourself upon your community; how to be profitable in a small business; how to fund that business; and, most importantly, how to organise yourself.
But be warned. H. L. Menken once said that for every problem there was a solution that was simple, plausible and wrong. We have to be careful that our simple problems are not solved by seemingly simple, plausible, but wrong solutions.
Obituary by Ian Howell, M. Photog.
On 6 March Ian George Hawthorne lost his fight with cancer and we lost a great mentor to our industry. Photographer, artist and author, Ian Hawthorne was a self-made man, highly disciplined and articulate.
Ian left school the day he turned 14 and despite the lack of a formal education, he went on to become one of Australia’s most prestigious post-war photographers and a leading pioneer in colour photography.
As a youth Ian toyed with photography, taking pictures with a little Coronet Box camera. He completed a sailmaking apprenticeship, sold cordial off the back of a truck, then became a driver for Allen’s confectionary.
He married Marlene, had two children and then, at the age of 31, he set his sights on photography as a new career. In 1956 Ian went to see the owner of the newly opened Aberdeen House reception centre with a proposition for him to consider. The owner asked Ian what he knew about photography and Ian replied “Not a bloody thing”.
“Well, that puts you on a par with most other photographers”, was Jack’s response and because of Ian’s honesty, he was able to put to Jack the proposition that, at Ian’s own expense, he build a photographic studio on the side of Aberdeen House which Ian would occupy for three years, then vacate, thus leaving Jack with this ‘fully paid, no cost to Jack’ extension.
Jack agreed and from then on Ian worked constantly, day and night, driving for Allen’s during the day and doing photography in the evenings and on weekends.
Ian says gradually he learnt how to take pictures, but he could never have done it without his wife Marlene. The two of them worked most nights till 3 or 4 in the morning, pushing work through their lab with the two children in Moses baskets at their feet. Within six months they had an established business and for the next 20 years, Ian Hawthorne would be the premier photographer in Geelong.
Late in 1956, Ian received an invitation from Kodak to attend a demonstration on colour photography. Most who attended commented on how hard it would be and how colour photography would never work. Ian, however, decided to give it a go. In this way Ian, along with a few others, started the first colour studios in Australia. Gradually he learnt about colour and before long Kodak invited him back to share his knowledge and expertise with others. This was the beginning of Ian Hawthorne’s mentoring activities which were to continue over the next 28 years.
The quality and vitality of Ian’s work was noticed by two major American mentors, Bill Stockwell and Jack Curtis. In a letter to Ian, Stockwell said, “I was told 30 Australians flew to Winona for somebody’s advanced portrait class. What a waste when Hawthorne, the giant, beckons in their own country”.
Through Stockwell and Curtis, it could be said that Ian Hawthorne helped set the foundations for the success enjoyed in later years by David Williams, Yervant, Gerry and the other Aussie photographers as they plied their expertise overseas, especially in America and the UK.
Ian Hawthorne joined the AIPP in August 1961 and he believed in what the AIPP stood for, the fellowship it could provide, and at every opportunity he put in and gave back to the organisation and its members.
We will never know how many seminars Ian conducted over the years, but he presented more than 22 programs around the country in each of the two years after he sold his business in 1986. He would have done more if it were not for a late night accident which almost took his life whilst driving home from an interstate program.
Ian believed in the APPA print competition and first entered APPA in 1977, gaining three silvers at his first attempt.
Within another three years he became a Master of Photography, then he became a member of the APPA committee, eventually taking over from Peter Foeden as the second Chairman of APPA. In the early years of an APPA judging, members could request a critique of their prints which would be provided by the judges whilst the print was before them. As the number of entries grew, it was not possible to offer print critiquing this way, so Ian took it upon himself in his own time with no thought of compensation for the time spent doing so, to personally critique prints where such a request was made.
Ian Hawthorne was a proud and very humble man. One of his final requests was that we do not make a fuss on his passing and to this end he requested a private funeral with only family and a select group of friends to say thank you and goodbye.
This is the image I want to leave you with of Ian George Hawthorne. A self-taught master of his craft, a man honoured by his peers, a man willing to freely give his time and knowledge for the benefit and training of others, and a man not expecting or asking for thanks for all that he has done.