Can I Get Some Assistants

marya.jpgIt seems like talking about assisting on your blog is all the rage right now. It started over on "A Photo Editor's" blog and now has continued over on "Whats the Jackanory."I never really did much assisting. A few years ago I got a late start in photography after many years in the tech field. I was 32 at the time and I felt like I was too old to be assisting and didn't really want to do it. Not because I thought it was beneath me, but rather, I felt the need to get to work on my own career having had such a late start. It surely wasn't because I felt like I had all the knowledge and skills and was ready to be a professional photographer... quite the contrary. I mean, at the time I had literally only been using a camera for little more than a year. What the hell did I know?I assisted a few San Francisco advertising and editorial photographers on a few shoots but soon discovered that I was a.) really bad at assisting and b.) really didn't like it. So, partly due to my own stubbornness and largely due to my own ignorance I stopped trying to get assisting work and decided to focus on my own photography. Another reason for my decision not to assisist (aside from nobody hiring me) came on one of my last attempts at working as an assistant. I emailed Timothy Archibald, another great blogger, to see if he needed an assistant. Thankfully, rather than hiring me, he gave me some encouraging words. I hope he doesn't mind my quoting his response (which I can only imagine having been made while highly intoxicated):

I just got a chance to visit your site, your work is wonderfull. the portraits are very human and introspective, important qualities that are hard to find together in one shot.that said, i would discourage you from trying to find work from me. you clearly should be supporting yourself being a photographer! currently i am not in need of anyone as an assistant, but i will keep you in mind. tho i'm quite sure you will be on your way as a photographer by the time i'd ever get around to giving you a ring. ha.keep up the good work and do not sell yourself short.

Now, maybe this was his way of politely blowing off someone who would clearly be a horrible assistant, but the joke was on him because I took his comments seriously and it helped my push to do my own work.There are some aspects of the photography process that I feel I missed out on by not assisting. Andrew, over at "Whats The Jackanory" pinpointed exactly what it is I feel I missed. Here is what Andrew had to say:

I learnt so much [from assisting], but in the end I was more interested in the process then the technicalities, I enjoyed watching how people worked, their relationship with their subject whether it be alive or still didn't matter. Everyone has a different approach and it always fascinated me especially my first time out with someone new, how did they tackle things differently from the others; were they calm, nervous, high energy, a talker, quiet, shy, did they like music, silence, were they a screamer, a shouter or were they in total control, was it all an act, a means to an end, or were they for real, what you saw was what you got, how did they interact with the client, the models etc etc.

Since I did little assisting I've never really worked with or watched other photographers at work. I always had this feeling in my mind that maybe I'm doing something wrong. Maybe the way I'm interacting with the subject isn't right. "How would 'so and so' do this?" Is everyone looking at me and thinking "this guy has no idea what is going on!!!!" Do I need to be more talkative, do I need to be more outgoing, do I need to shut up, do I need to be funnier, do I need to be more serious, and on and on and on.Over time this has passed, but I will admit to having the thoughts pop in my head every once in a while. I'm finally getting to the point where I realize that I just need to do what I do and go about my business. Its when you start trying to be like someone else or do things the way another shooter would, rather than the way you would do it that the results aren't as good as they could be. If you were hired to do a shoot its because they liked YOUR work, so don't try to be someone else, just do your thing and the results will be good.I'm still fascinated by how other photographers work, so any chance I get to hang out on a shoot and watch another photographer working I take it. But now I'm there as a peer rather than an assistant... which means, when they have me take in their dry cleaning after the shoot, I know no starch on the collars.