Let’s get a little controversial and talk about money. Yes, that crude topic that makes people wince with embarrassment. Specifically, I want to talk about whether or not people should be charged for their creativity. And in short, it seems a little obvious because yes they should be remunerated for their work. But here’s the big and most common exception- it depends who they’ve created it for.
I’ll take you guys back to when I first moved to Singapore. I was enthusiastic about looking for photographers to shoot with and I came across a few but since I didn’t know many people here, photographers who I’d met through mutual friends wanted to charge me around $200 SGD (that’s £100) to take a few pictures. I think bloggers who read this will realise that that’s an absurd amount considering it only takes half an hour to a hour tops to get a good content. So let me pose this question, couldn’t I charge the photographer for my time too? I know that equipment can cost around as much as $10,000 upwards, so I see how they feel that they need to find a way to offset that cost. However, it’s simple logic that an expensive camera and lens doesn’t equal to an amazing photograph and it definitely does not show that you’re talented.
Some of the most dynamic and innovative photographers I know shoot for free and it’s out of the drive to create something beautiful that they can be proud of. If they want to charge, it’s because someone has asked them to follow a particular vision that may not be entirely their own, for example when they shoot for clothing brands. They charge clients- brands, businesses, people that do make money from social media.
I was so uninspired by how calculative and unmotivated people are here that they become unable to do something simply because they enjoy it. To me it’s really an attitude problem that needs a change of perspective. There’s this quote: ‘If you’re good at something never do it for free’. You may have guessed, I mostly disagree with it. I believe that if you’re truly great at something, people won’t ask you to do it for free- unless it’s for charity, they’re a family member or a close friend.
So if you’re not good enough that people aren’t offering to pay you, don’t you need to have more experience and get more exposure? Therefore shouldn’t you do some things for free?
Here’s another story to illustrate my point about bad attitude: A while ago, a really close friend of mine started a food business from her own kitchen. The first time that she sold her produce, she sold out completely. With that money, she donated every bit of it to the effort to help the earthquake victims in Nepal. This girl was friends with a photography student and for that fundraising project they collaborated and took amazing photos together. The second time she was going to sell her products, her friend the photographer was offended, frustrated and aggressive about the fact that she was being asked to shoot without being paid.
My conclusion is that friends don’t ask friends for money if all it takes is an hour of their time, especially if she’s starting something brand new and hasn’t made a profit. It’s called a favour. That friend of mine wasn’t even allowed to let the charity publish the pictures because they hadn’t been ‘paid for’.
From my own experience, I’ve seen both sides of the issue as an illustrator and a writer. When friends ask me to paint something to give as a gift, or it was a piece that would take hours of labour and a lot of materials, they would offer to pay. I wouldn’t have to ask. It’s the kind of environment that creativity thrives in. And let’s not forget that not taking advantage is how you can be a good friend. Even if you don’t care about the ethics of that it’s also how you become better at your craft.
Photos by Mark, @markgohlie
The Fifth trousers