When I lived in California there was this one conversation I kept having with people when they asked me what I did for a living:
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a photographer.”
“Oh….. what does your husband do?”
It seems like a simple interaction on the surface but in my heart, time after time, it would feel like an insult to both myself as a female (you are probably a photographer because your significant other makes enough money to support you) and as an artist (photographer? ANOTHER one of those).
Coming to Denmark that line of questioning immediately stopped. The Danes and the people who live in Denmark know that women are self-supporting and that most women here have their own forms of income and bank assets… it’s just not common for a household to have one supporting spouse and a spouse that does their own thing or stays at home with the kids. Now the line of questioning goes like this:
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a photographer.”
“Really? That’s, like, your only job? How do you make enough money?”
The answer is… I don’t. And the reality is that a lot photographers here in Denmark have another source of support or are somewhat reliant on another type of income. This was a hard reality for me… especially coming from a place in my life where I was the sole breadwinner just being a photographer. Now I work in content which involves photo, video, writing, marketing and social media. I miss just being a photographer but that is not enough here. A person must have a broader range of skills so they can survive in this teeny tiny market. Wedding photos alone just can't pay the bills (at least not yet, hello southern Europe).
In Scandinavia there’s just not a market or a level of respect that is set up to sustain a job title like “photographer.” Good, bad, excellent, 40,000 instagram likes… There’s just not a way to work solely as an artist here without succumbing to the daily financial burden of life. And it’s not that I’m suggesting it’s impossible or that this is the case only in Scandinavia… but A) I’m not a Scandinavian and a lot of choices can be made easier by the simple fact of a person being from here instead of coming to here. And B) there are places all over the world where the arts are increasingly becoming more and more devalued, it’s not just here.
At first it was incredibly frustrating for me to find myself in a place where I felt my work was no longer being valued… it made me question myself a lot, “crap! Maybe I’m just not any good.” But sometimes “good” isn’t worth its weight when it comes to the value of artistic prowess. If the value is not there, it cannot be assessed… this is something I’ve learned a lot about in my time in art marketing. It all boils down to “value” not necessarily skill. I’m not sure I would consider many of today’s pop icons “skilled” or “talented” in their song writing prowess (no names used because I don’t want to be hunted down by fans and turned into an over-the-fireplace-trophy)… but their value is incredibly strong and that has a lot to do with the desire of their fans to purchase what they put out.
In Scandinavia, there’s not as much value for photography or, in some regards, the fine arts in general. They value design and innovation, music and the great outdoors... but definitely not photography. Scandinavians have an incredibly strong social safety net and an ever-increasing wealth as well. Oh! and this thing called “free-time” that helps them push forward with their hobbies… hobbies like “photography” and “watercolor painting,” “sculpting” and “woodworking.” They do these things on the weekends and they have all this time to figure out how to take a decent photo and the income to buy the newest gear… best of all, a lot of them do it for their friends for free. And if you know anything about Scandinavians you know that they have a HUGE network of friends and you are probably not getting their daughter’s Confirmation gig for more than 650dkk per hour… no matter how good or skilled or experienced you are. In Denmark, if you want to work, you have to be willing to either do what a Dane cannot do or do what a Dane is not willing to do… and that is a hard reality for a person that turns emotion into images for the world to critique.
Maybe it’s just me… maybe I’m not half as talented as I originally thought, maybe I’m not half as willing as I thought… maybe I’m blind and my photos are total garbage and I’m asking too much from the world? This is totally reasonable. I am American and as an American I tend to be emotional and loud and, for as much as I hate to admit it, entitled. But I’m doing my best to learn from this place and to move outside my comfort zone, that is the entire reason for me wanting to being here. I don’t want to sit back and think to myself, “well I can’t find photography jobs because I’m not Danish” because that’s ridiculous and extremely self-serving. It’s totally fair for someone to look at my work and say “I just don’t like it.” That’s how the art world works! I think it’s crazy when someone tells me they don’t like Van Gogh, but that doesn’t change the fact that he suffered his entire life with his art and his ego.
As artists we wake up every morning willing to put ourselves out there… taking the seeds and soil of our souls and turning them into the flowers we share with the world. Not everyone will like your particular flower but someone else will see it, buy it and treasure it. The point isn’t to only further career but to further ourselves too… So what if not everyone likes what you make, be passionate anyway. It’s incredible how time, energy and effort can change the landscape of life.