Fellowship in Photography

Posted by Jerry Avenaim on November 19, 2009 – 9:25 pm

Fashion and Beauty Photography Demonstration

Fashion and Beauty Photography Demonstration

Earlier this year, I was giving a lecture and conducting a live cover photo shoot at Samy’s Camera here in Los Angeles for photographers of all levels. I began the lecture with a statement that was so simple, so earnest, you would expect to hear it from your own mother.  I asked each attendee to look at those sitting to each side of them, to see them not as their competitors but rather as their comrades. If they could see that, they would succeed. How do I know this? Because it’s how I have treated other photographers since I began my photographic journey over 20 years ago. And it was because of those comrades that I met at a cafe in Milan I began shooting for Italian Vogue and other Conde Nast publications. This simple lesson has remained with me over the years and it appears the lesson resonates still.  My friend and former assistant Jason Christopher was in the audience and I later found out that my message resonated with him as he passed it on as well in his blog.

As comrades you help each other and experience far more success than you will failure because you are brothers and sisters in arms. To support and help or guide one another is how we not only survive, but thrive in these difficult times! It is beyond me how many photographers today can’t get along with other photographers for reasons so trivial that I wonder when our mothers are going to shout at us  “Play Nice!”

The photographic industry is as competitive as ever with many trying to break in while others are simply trying to survive. I’ll say it again, change your path and perspective and not only will you survive but you shall thrive.  With the tug of war and popularity contest going on nobody will make any progress.

Explaining the Light

Explaining the Light

Over 20 years ago when I was breaking into this industry, I had access to and was able to soak in information and experience first hand the work ethic of many established photographers, none more so than the legendary Patrick Demarchelier.  From my years with him I learned everything from loading cameras with film, to how to handle my business, and above all, how to treat my clients and my peers. I once owned a book titled, “Seven in New York.”  It was about seven French photographers (of which one was Demarchelier) who went to New York and helped one another establish themselves in the photographic community. The book had a huge impact on my life and I wish I had it while I was working for Patrick.  Not only could I have had him sign it,  but can you imagine what it would be like to read a book about someone who was in the same situation you are currently going through and that person also happens to be your boss?  Think of the water cooler conversation possibilities on that one!

The time spent, and lessons learned from those days with Patrick, to this very day affect who I am as a photographer and a person. If you ask me how to do something, I will not only tell you but I’ll draw you a map!  Your body of work is not just the images you create over the years, but the images you help to create even if you are not the one pushing the shutter.  Another photographer is not your enemy, another photographer is your brother/sister in arms.  Just as you can help them grow they can help you.  As Mom says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Jerry Avenaim

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41 Responds so far- Add one»

  1. 1. Gerry Hanan Said:

    Jerry – I was quoting your very words earlier tonight to another photographer here in Austin. He was talking about how he felt weird asking other photographers for help and I told him exactly what you said years ago in your seminar and included the example of your comrades at the cafe in Milan. What you have taught on this for years brings those who hear it closer together as we become more of a community and less fearful & isolated. Part of that is, as you say, remembering its the vision in our heart and the way we see things that gives us our uniqueness as an artist. Gerry with a G 🙂

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thank you Mr. Hanan- I suppose your kind comment just re-states that I have been saying this for years. And I am pleased to see you have chosen this path. Continued success to you!

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  2. 2. Christina Storozkova Said:

    You are absolutely right. Being a freelance assistant I get a chance to work with all kinds of photographers, and what I found is the ones who are confident in their craft are more than willing to help out and share information. We’re all in this together.

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thank you Christina. Before I went to work full time for Patrick Demarchelier, I had the good fortune of freelance assisting with some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Bill King, Albert Watson and Bruce Weber to name a few. All were invaluable lessons, especially since Albert taught me how to be a master printer in the darkroom!

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  3. 3. Gina Said:

    That’s wild Jerry, I’ve just been writing something for my own blog along the same lines. I’m glad that you have found a way to pass this message on to so many, it’s important in any field, well in life really. I’ve been following a group of young photographers on Flicker, and I am blown away by their talent, their open hearts, and their community of learning and growth. I hope it makes you as happy as it does me, how this generation of 14-25 year olds are embracing the philosophy you speak of!

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    It truly is amazing Gina. But I have to say it wasn’t always like that as you know, and in many arenas it still isn’t. I hope this entry will get the attention of other larger blog sites that will Pingback the article to reach a much larger audience than I have in my readership. Thank you again for your kind comment!

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  4. 4. Rich Drinkard Said:

    Jerry,

    Having known you for more than a few years, I find that your words ring so very true. It’s the photographers that are confident in their work (such as yourself) that are more than willing to share their knowledge. If seen you do that so many times. As you say, photographers need to see themselves as a brotherhood not the enemy. There have been many times that other photographers have passed on assignments to me and I have done the same. In the end this fellowship can only help all of us collectively.

    Thanks for the reminder…

    Be well.

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Rich, thank you for your kind feedback. As I’ve been reading the responses throughout the morning, I had a thought. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if this ideology were carried over into all fields or work and not just ours?

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  5. 5. Joel Stensberg Said:

    Jerry,

    Loud Applause!

    I can honestly say you walk the talk. Without your guidance a few years back, my photo techniques and artistry would have stagnated. Instead I feel I have grown as a photographer and an artist (though, I readily confess I have a long, long way to go) mainly through the mentoring of folks like yourself, Andy Chabot and others I have grown.

    I truly appreciate when people who have ‘no business’ with taking time with someone as small time as me. It’s an honor and a privilege I cherish and repay by helping others along the way.

    Joel

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Joel, I’m flattered that you took the time to have a look. And even more importantly to me, is having the knowledge that I made an impact on your journey. Many thanks.

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  6. 6. Carlos Demond Said:

    Mr. Avenaim

    This is a great blog as always nice info

    Carlos

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  7. 7. Andrew Buxton Said:

    Chord strike two! Great entry Jerry, couldn’t have put it better myself. It’s funny, Jason Christopher is a Twitter friend of mine and his work inspires me in no small way. What’s even funnier is that I would kill to be his assistant!

    Very best, Andy.

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  8. 8. Michael Schulz Said:

    Jerry,

    A very true post and oh so many people don’t seem to get it and think they’re competing with the next guy when in fact this business is highly subjective.
    It’s also a business in which there’s more than one photographer needed.

    Maybe we as an industry should take a page or four out of the books of the
    Open Source or scientific community. Everything is shared, no secrets and people are welcome to build on top of the achievements of others while
    sharing their knowledge. And who are the stars in those worlds? Those who
    contribute and share the most.

    Maybe some people need to re-check the true meanings of professional, amateur and community.

    Keep up the great work and blog.

    Thanks,
    Michael

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Michael,

    I’m glad you were able to walk away with the core message. I would like to point out that this is not just a matter of photography but a matter of life’s chosen path. I think the world would be a better place if all of those opposing were a bit more like minded. Thank you so much for your comments.

    Jerry Avenaim

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  9. 9. Brian Said:

    Hi Jerry,

    I asked this question on Jason Christopher’s blog on the same subject, but it seems to have disappeared.

    I enjoyed your post and Jason’s. It made me really think and shift my attitude. My question was and is: what about the photographers that sell their knowledge rather than give of it freely? From what I can glean from both blog postings it’s suggested they give their knowledge freely – including monetarily. Many have I spoke to keep the conversation very short and then suggest I sign up for their course, seminar or purchase their DVD or “system”? What are your thoughts on this?

    Brian

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Brian, Thank you for your input. Ther is an old saying “shift happens.” 😉 As far as the second half of your question, I am in the process of completing my book LUMINOSITY and the companion video series. I’m not certain however if I’m going to make the video series a download or DVD. Any thoughts of readers would be appreciated.

    Best, ~Jerry Avenaim

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  10. 10. Gerry Hanan Said:

    Jerry – Since multi-region players are not that popular, you could offer the companion video as a DVD and a download to avoid having to make different copies for each global region.

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  11. 11. Deb Fujiwara Said:

    Such a beautiful blog entry, my dear friend. Well-written, heartfelt and genuine. It typifies your generosity and the way you try to live your life. Fantastic blog. Not only for photographers, but for everyone. The world would be a better place if we all embraced each other as brothers and sisters and lived cooperatively.

    Much love to you!

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  12. 12. Jerry Avenaim Said:

    Deb- Thank you for your response. I’m happy this entry resonated with you. For me this was a flow of my own consciousness relative to my journey in photography. It was not until afterward I realized the global impact this ideology would have to everyone outside of the photography world. This has been expressed to me many times over via email and other points of contact. Thank you for being such a dear and treasured friend.

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  13. 13. Jason Christopher Said:

    Great blog post brotha ! I encourage not only photographers but also anyone in the creative industry. It’s a practice that can be applied to ANYONE !

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    I’m happy it resonated with you Jason. I could tell by your own blog post on the subject 🙂

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  14. 14. Billy Sheahan Said:

    Great blog. I was just talking about this concept the other day to a friend of mine. Sharing the knowledge is good. I think some people confuse sharing with giving away, but I don’t find that to be the case. We all benefit from swapping ideas, techniques and advice.

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  15. 15. Jerry Avenaim Said:

    Billy, none of it matters. What many don’t realize is no matter what, we are all going to see it in our own way in the end.

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  16. 16. Zero Dean Said:

    Great post, Jerry. I feel much the same way, though in my experience, have run across many photographers who are perhaps a bit too insecure to adopt such a philosophy.

    I firmly believe that helping and befriending others leads to much more positive and rewarding experiences than simply “looking out for number one”.

    The thing I’ve found/find difficult to deal with, in southern California in particular, is determining the difference between those who feign interest and “friendship” and those who are genuinely interested & friendly.

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    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thank you for your comments Zero, I know we have all seen or felt it at one time or another, here or anywhere else for that matter. ~Jerry

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  17. 17. Duke Morse Said:

    Very good advise and a pleasant read. I have always thought the same. I will be sure to pass along your advise at my next seminar. I have learned much more from other photographer friends of mine than I had ever learned in any class. To them I am truly grateful and in their debt. It is nice to see that there are other kindred spirits out there that are not caught up in the pettiness of the small minded. Live, Love, Learn, and Laugh…life will be some much better. Would love to meet you in person one day.

    ~Duke

    [Reply]

    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Duke, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The intention of the entry was realized at Photo Plus Expo this year. Lecturing and seeing many old friends as well as making new ones, only brought this to the forefront once again for me. Thank you, and holler anytime you’re in Los Angeles.

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  18. 18. Ren Allen Said:

    Jerry,

    Once again, your words ring of truth and great wisdom. I’ve found myself (as a makeup artist) working with and drawn to those people who share the philosophy that information and expertise should be freely shared. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who don’t horde their knowledge but share it openly. I’ve grown so much as an artist by sharing what *I* know with anyone who asks and wants information. Thank you again for your insight! That’s what drew me to your blog initially….all the vast information freely shared. As a hobbyist photographer wanting-to-go-pro I really appreciate your willingness to pass along your knowledge.:)

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  19. 19. dax Said:

    That is exactly how I have always lived my life. As I tell a couple of my friends, it does not matter how many photographers there are, there will always be enough work for us all. Sadly enough, there are too many photographers who are “lil bitches” and those who all they do is try to create drama to feed their issues… oh well, I’ll keep being who and how I am.

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  20. 20. James Price Said:

    Thanks Jerry! Such simple words, but such significant affect… It would be great if those in the industry (and others) can embrace this philosophy… Many in the industry supported me as I started out, and I now do what I can for emerging photographers. Sharing contacts, introducing clients, its not about competition, we all have individual styles, and clients all have individual needs and wants… I may meet that one day, another may the next… lifes too short to sweat the small stuff, lets play together, jump in puddles, share! Thanks again Jerry 🙂

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  21. 21. Narges Naghdi Said:

    I absolutely agree with you on this and not only on a professional level, but in all aspects of life. To me competition is very childish and a product of our egos. A spirit of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation enriches our own life and career and that of all the people we come into contact through our daily personal and professional endeavors.

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  22. 22. Jerry Avenaim Said:

    Thank you Ren, Dax and James- I’m happy you connected with the message. I would love to see this entry pingbacked to other blogs. Help spread the word! Jerry

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  23. 23. Bill Henderson Said:

    Photographers like many other professions see their business as a zero sum game. This perspective infects office politics in corporations, small businesses dealings with one another, politics, and the like. Learning that cooperation works is a tough lesson and mastered only by confidence, experience, personal success.

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  24. 24. branko Said:

    Reminds me,of very cool story, one I heard from David Burnett that he was on that very road 1973 in Vietnam where that small girl appears with napalm burned body,and somebody else gets Pulitser prize,not David.and he was talking about that like any other day in life.he’s comrade was there few steps left,and he did that shot.the purpose was done. The image was taken,and went out in the world.the image is more important then ego! (for the history, Huynh Cong Ut, photographer, Associated Press did that shot).

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  25. 25. Jason Etzel Said:

    Well said Jerry,

    One can only hope your words and wisdom create a trend of dare I say it, “professional courtesy and respect”? Stranger things have happened, BRAVO Jerry!

    [Reply]

  26. 26. Adam Said:

    That was really great. I have been really encouraged by how tight all the photographers are here in Charlotte. Some of the really best photographers just take others under their wing and really help them navigate this industry. Thanks for doing that!

    [Reply]

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    [Reply]

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