Often times, working in the arts can mean working for free for a period of time.
It could be that people think they can take advantage of emerging talent by providing "exposure". It also could be a lack of confidence on the part of the young artist to ask for compensation. Thank goodness that meekness lessens with age. However, starting out in a field of your passion can mean doing demeaning and vastly underpaid work for longer than you might like. It feels as though, if you don't put in your dues and earn credibility by work for or with someone, you wouldn't be taken as seriously by the community at large.
Doing grunt work is supposed to pay off in exposure and connections later, right?
My first internship was brief but I learned so much. I was paid fairly well and compensated for my time by a photographer who specialized in wedding and portrait work. He was fun to be around, showed me how he runs his business, gave advice freely, and let me tag along. He handed over the images I took and said I could use what I had created for my website or portfolio. Not every experience I have had in an internship or residency has been so generous and positive, so I am really grateful for his guiding hand and gentle nature, in my first internship.
I then worked for and with friends to help them build their portfolios. I think I was still in a beginning learning phase and not quite as assure as my colleagues. I would shoot obsessively but wasn't quite sure of my artistic voice or direction I was heading with my work. Often times, I would think an internship or shoot would work out positively only to find that, even among my female photographer contemporaries, our working relationship and friendship would quickly devolve after the shoot was over.
Some of my beginning internship fashion shoots were the worst. Everyone seemed really sweet and excited during the shoot and almost immediately after you hand over your documenting work (for free) it was as if nothing that was created ever happened. It felt very confectionary from the initial interactions until the disappointing end. I am not sure what I was expecting but I am (even to this day) hesitant to even put those shoots as a line on my resume, because it felt as though it never even really happened. I was not permitted to use the images for furthering my career, which was agreed upon, however I feel like there should be some sort of compensation for time, even if it is just free pizza.
Maybe it devolved, possibly, due to something I did or said, and I would gladly take credit for that and try to rectify the situation, however more likely is the possibility of mirroring our current throw-away culture. "Interns are not people."
"They are disposable and will be easily replaced."
Remember, however, interns talk to other interns and word will get out about how you treat people.
Within my company, I chose to push against the zeitgeist. I treat my interns with respect and try to have an open dialogue about expectations and commitments. I have been used and used up by too many people to continue to allow the same cycle to happen to those just starting out in the field.
What I am wishing for, I think in the intent of this blog post, is that I wish it was more possible for other creative types to work in conjunction with each other and not in opposition (or as being perceived as a threat).
I wish we could help each other out more (especially those just starting out) and help support arts in the community.
What I am really saying, is be kind as possible to those around you.
Cultivate creative communities and encourage each other to succeed!
"Just Starting Out", Photographer Portrait, captured by Justin Laird at Valley Forge, PA ©2009