As any regular listener to the A Photographic Life podcast will be aware, each week we feature a contribution from a different photographer answering the question ‘What does photography mean to you?’. At the time of writing we have featured 74 photographers, of which I have met no more than a handful. The rest I have reached out to via email, ‘cold calls’ based upon my interest in their work and careers.
All of those who have featured have of course responded to my email politely and positively. Some have taken a while to respond, others have responded immediately. I am grateful to them all.
I have received very few rejections to my offer, but those I have received have been polite and positive concerning the podcast. However, over half of the emails I send out each week are ignored.
As a teacher I teach my students what I refer to as ‘best practice’ when it comes to contacting photographers and engaging with the photographic industry. This involves being polite, appropriate and professional, placing emphasis on personal contact over the email. In my reaching out I am ignoring one of my own rules by only relying on email but I am also aware that the people I am contacting will not be receiving a daily deluge of electronic mail.
I am also aware of how many photographers send out emails to market themselves and their work, how many assistants contact photographers directly and how they feel disappointed and frustrated when their emails are ignored.
The reason that is often given for not responding to email is that people are ‘too busy’. I accept this as a reality for many (although a polite negative response takes only a few minutes to compose and send, and is better than no response at all) but not for photographers who will always at some point in their week have time to respond if they choose to.
I suppose that what I am saying here is ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you’. To complain about not getting responses and then not to respond yourself lacks personal awareness at the very least. But it is not only photographers who seem to have adopted the silent treatment as a form of responding in the negative. Publishers, agents, galleries, agencies, and clients all seem to feel that it is now appropriate to ignore those who have taken time to connect with them.
Of course the most obvious reason for this is the rise of the email as a principle form of communication. It is easy to ignore an email, not so easy to ignore a phone call. Many seem to consider that it is better to ignore a request rather than provide a negative response. This is not the case. A negative response is understandable in many cases, it can inform and explain and we should all have thick enough skins to take a few knock-backs. This is an essential requirement of working within the creative industries, but silence provides no feedback.
So let’s make sure that silence does not become the new no! Let’s all find time to respond to emails, if they are polite and respectful. Let’s show some empathy and support for those who are interested enough in us to make that initial contact.
© Grant Scott 2019
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015). His next book New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019.
His documentary film, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay can now be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd47549knOU&t=3915s.