Mobile Photographers Make Great Salesmen

dont limit yourself with labels

Posted by James Campbell on Tue, Sep 11, 2012
In Essays, Photography,
Tags writing mobile photography

For 3 months when I was 19 years old, I worked as a car salesman. I was probably one of the worst in Pennsylvania, if not the entire United States. I was one of three hires, and I didn’t know it then but the dealership was only going to keep one of us. This was all by design.

I naively thought that it would be easy, and that people would just say yes to me because I was a likeable guy. I offered everything to my customers, I threw in extras that my bosses would never agree to, losing many sales in the process. I over-sold the deal. When they let me go, I learned a valuable lesson: under-promise and over-deliver.

The best way to make your clients happy is to follow this philosophy. For example, if you think a project will take a week, double the time period. Then when you finish early, everyone wins.

So getting back to the title of this post, in my mind, this is what mobile photography has become, a giant game of lowering expectations to deliver something better than expected.

I will try to explain:

When you visit a person’s exhibit (virtual or otherwise) who claims to be an ‘iphoneographer’ or ‘mobile photographer’, your expectations are lowered. After all, how good could photographs be from a mobile device? Thus, in your mind, the trap is set, the bar is lowered and you are ready to be dazzled. When you see the inevitable array of decent photographs, you will exclaim ‘Wow! I can’t believe these were taken with a mobile phone. These are really great, for an iPhone!”. The artist will feel good about the praise, but you probably won’t buy any of their works, because you realize what has happened and you can’t really take them seriously because you are thinking to yourself, ‘hmmm, I can probably do the same thing with my phone…’. ​

If you are seriously trying to be an artist, be careful with the labels you choose. You may be setting the bar too low, and that ‘jaw drop’ effect will be far too easy to achieve. As an alternative, you can try setting the bar higher and really challenge yourself and your audience. Try not even labeling your works at all. Try focusing merely on the composition, the work itself. If you can achieve that same ‘WOW’ and ‘jaw-drop’ effect without the qualifier ‘for a mobile phone’ or ‘for a digital painting’ or ‘for an animated gif’ or any of the other phrases that qualify and undermine your creations, then you really have succeeded as an artist showcasing your art.

It should not be about the tool used, this is logically self-evident. So why would you choose to label yourself and associate yourself with the tool you use? If I take photos with only Nikon equipment, am I a Nikonographer? Or DSLRographer? Or filmographer? You can see how ridiculous this sounds. Unless I was sponsored by Nikon, I would never ever consider this as a proper label. Labels and logical taxonomies are only useful for specific instances, like contests and juried exhibitions, where the stakeholders want an even playing field and the sponsors want to push their products to the proper audience. The limitations that are set for certain exhibitions even help artists use their creativity within the constraints. This is all well and good, but outside of these specific instances, why would you constrain yourself and reduce your work to a specific category?

Of course, I am expecting this to be misread as an affront to mobile photography, but I assure you, that was not my intent, I am only trying to communicate a complicated concept that has been floating around in my head, and this is hard to distill in a way that is easily understood by all.

When I travel back to PA, I smile when I pass the old dealership, long since shutdown and left dilapidated on the side of the highway. I feel like somehow even though it was terrible at the time to be let go, if I would have stayed on as a car salesman at that place that would have been my fate.