The Life Escalator

I started on the escalator as a naive 18 year-old-student within the world of glossy magazines, my eyes wide open. Surrounded by confident, successful, experienced, stylish and sophisticated people I listened, watched and learnt. I was intimidated by many of these people but I was respectful towards everyone I met. I recognised their status within the magazine’s hierarchy and the wider creative, fashion, and journalistic world that existed in London in the mid 1980s.

I found myself at parties amongst the leading lights of the cultural scene of the time. I learnt to respect great writing and journalism and how to lay out photographs with the work of Toscani, Bailey, Ritts, McCullin, and so many of the photographers staring out in that decade of big budgets and big fees. In a time before computers I mastered the scalpel and the glue spatula, resizing images on a photocopier centimetre by centimetre.

Time passed quickly and I was soon battle scarred, apprenticeship completed and ready to take my role on the magazine masthead. I continued to look up to those who were older and more experienced than me despite them now being my colleagues. The young guns of the time were taking over the playground and as they did so, those in positions of power continued their career journeys to the top of the escalator.

Meanwhile, I continued to ride up the same escalator on a different magazine. I was in the position to commission and give early career breaks to photographers. Young journalists and work placements joined the magazine, many going on to become leading television presenters, as staff editors have gone on to write novels, establish multinational fashion brands and edit and staff Fleet Street newspapers and magazines.

I could not possibly remember all of the people I met and worked with during this time, let alone list them all, suffice to say it was a lot.

I got to the top of the magazine escalator and decided to step off and change escalators. However, I continued to meet and continue to meet people at different stages of their own journeys.

Why am I telling you this? Because we are all travelling on the same escalator system. Let me explain.

We all work hard to get to where we want to get to and hopefully we have a moment in the sun. On our way we will meet many people who will surpass our level of fame, recognition and wealth. We will also meet people at the beginning and end of their careers.

Imagine, two escalators running next to each other, one going up, the other going down. Whichever one we are on we will pass people travelling in the opposite direction. We then have a choice to acknowledge and smile at that person or refuse to catch their eye.

The truth is that there are no set rules for how to build a photographic career. It is not a job, it goes deeper than that to those who dedicate their lives to photography as a profession. However, there are a number of truisms that can be applied to life and photography, one of which is to be kind to those you meet on the way up as you may well meet them on the way down.

I have never had a sense of going down, I am always stoic in relation to my career success, the highs and the lows, but I recognise the importance of recognising the success of others. I am happy to praise those who are on the up escalator. I feel no sense of resentment or insecurity in their success. Why is this important? Because those involved in photography are in it for the long game.

You don’t retire from photography or resign from being a photographer. It’s a ‘to the death’ kind of deal. The photographer Steve Pyke has spoken to me about the fact that one project he has worked on through his life will end with his final photograph taken as close to his end as possible. Just as the bed stricken Matisse created collages with the aid of a stick until his death, the need to create is strong in those fully committed to the photographic medium.

Friendships and relationships within the photographic community can be long and go deep. They inform our work and our understanding of the medium, they offer support and comradery. They are to be cherished and cultured.

We are all on the same escalators and we are all heading in the same direction, so what ever stage we have reached in that journey I believe it is essential to catch the eye of your fellow traveller and give them a smile. To show some respect, to engage and to reach out a hand. That is the true sense of community.

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 (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). 

His book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99

© Grant Scott 2020

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: