by J. Rae Chip

I think everyone can relate. 

There's a fine line in life between doing what you love, and doing what you need to do in order to pay the bills. If you feel like I just revealed some secret to you, then I am envious of you.

Seven years ago I left a job I hated - a job where I endured emotional abuse, worked long hours for no extra pay, a job where I was very competitive, but never promoted for alleged sexist reasons I could never prove - a job where I made six digits of pay a year. Money only goes so far in buying happiness, and I was not happy. I left that job and decided to just do what I enjoy for a while to see how it goes. And what a ride it has been!

There are consequences to that, and I discover new ones every day.

Leaving a job with a hostile work environment caused me to make some choices about running my own business. First, I decided I would never treat my employees the way I was treated by my former employers. What my old boss didn't understand was that when your employees feel like you are loyal to them, care about them and their well being, and give them perks for working for you, then like magic, your employees are more loyal to you. Employers can't always afford perks like cafeterias, adult playground slides, or in-house medical care. But employers can at least go to the appropriate lengths to not create a hostile work environment.

With that comes the creation of a job that people actually want to do and enjoy doing. In the arts business, it's especially important to make a position for a passionate artist and hold their passion. There is nothing worse than taking a hobby and making it a job, and then having that suck all the fun out of something that was once a hobby.

There are a lot of complications to my life that come with doing the art I want to do instead of the art that could make me money, but sucks the fun out of it. The artists reading this are saying there's not a lot of money in art, but I disagree. There is a lot of money in art if you are willing to do the kind of art that everyone wants to buy... the thing is though, that artists don't work well that way. Art is an expression of the artist's soul. People don't want to buy your soul in this day and age. They want you to sell them their own soul.
Picture
An abandoned KA-Bar paper factory in Brawley, California. This place was torn down, so I can't go back, but I loved running around inside, and I loved making this piece of art.
That's why people expect so much from wedding photographers. I don't shoot a lot of weddings. I don't enjoy them. I end up making my photos look how someone else wants them to look instead of making them look how I want them to look. People are supposed to hire a wedding photographer whose style mixes with their own, but yet I get requests to shoot them. And then when I meet with the bride, she asks for something bright and pretty. I'll take a wedding on occasion if I need to or wanted to, but I don't love shooting them. It's a constant decision between the opportunity to make more money shooting events like weddings, or shooting something I love for less money. Even when you're your own boss, you sometimes need to do things you don't love. I also don't love accounting, but if I don't do it, the IRS would be knocking on my door and asking for money; not only that, but it is unethical to not file your taxes.

Marketing is a challenge for my business. I am sometimes loud about the fact that Facebook and Google Plus make it harder for me by not allowing me to post my best work on their platforms because it has nudity in it (though, for some reason, other people can get away with it, but that is the subject for another time.) That's their choice, as it is their business to make a model for, but it complicates my marketing plan and again forces me to choose between doing what I love and compromising that in order to be able to market my work on social media. It gives other artists what I consider to be an unfair advantage over me in the business world, and therefore, I consider that kind of segregation to be harmful to the consumer.

Social media isn't the only internet source pushing me to make that compromise. One would think that I can do whatever the hell I want with my own site. I can, really, but it's hard to build links to my website. People who focus on search engine optimization know why that is important. A lot of directories or linking companies put a restriction on their sites, saying that anyone under the age of 18 should be able to see what they link to. I have warning messages on my site saying that minors should not use it because I do what I love, and I love horror and macabre. I love the human body, so I do art pertaining to that. I have to find creative ways to market that don't always include the internet. 

I'm still trying to figure out how to do what I love and survive. But for now, I'm surviving.

I am currently working with an author on illustrating her book. I'm working with a cast to make the scenes come to life, and I'm travelling to faraway exotic places, hiking up mountains, and climbing down canyons for pictures. And I love it. I'm working on some horror scenes that will be used as stills for a movie. And I love it. I'm working on some personal projects right now, something I haven't had time for in a long time. And I love it.

Giving good benefits and being nice isn't the only thing that contributes to a positive working environment. When I left my previous job, I also promised myself I would always conduct business in an ethical way. I also love journalism. So in addition to my own business, I was working for a while as the photo editor for a paper here in San Diego. I loved it, but the moment I decided I didn't love it, I quit.

When the editor-in-chief and some of the other editors on the paper needed a photo and we didn't have it, didn't want to license it, and couldn't get a courtesy photo, they pressured me to steal a photograph off the internet and publish it. I decided I didn't love it anymore. I will not steal work from someone, especially someone like myself who is just trying to pay their bills doing what they love. The other editors tried to hide behind a law that is still a gray area and not intended to be used in that way. I was all of a sudden once again faced with a decision to either do something I don't love - something that compromised my moral code, and even jeopardized my reputation and possibly my wallet - or to make less money.

My reputation as an ethical entrepreneur is very important to me, so I chose to resign from that position.

That closed another marketing door for me, so I'm branching out. I decided I also enjoy graphic design elements, and I enjoy producing and making short films. So I'm going to do a lateral branch out, and hopefully I'll be able to market those better than I can market photography because I won't have to contend with no-nudity rules as much.

I'm showing my work in galleries in other areas around my country and the world besides just places that are close to where I live. I'll let you know how that goes, too.

It's a complicated, hard thing... making your living doing what you love, but I'm determined to make it work for me. 
 


Comments

08/26/2013 4:44pm

It's not that bad ,to insist on doing your work your way and to remain ethical while doing so. I was an important attorney, way ahead of the general group but unfortunately uncool about it.I shouldn't have shown how bored I was. Only teaching new lawyers, lobbying.for laws I believed in and engaging in public speaking gave me the rationale for continuing to remain inPthe practice. The result was that I found out about a related type of work that I took to naturally and happi2ws tly, I.e. mediation. Since then, while I don't earn the money I did. I am much happier.

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J. Rae Chip Productions
08/26/2013 7:08pm

Indeed, money doesn't buy happiness! So glad you are happy now, and thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

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Aura Osorio
08/26/2013 6:48pm

Follow your instinct. Follow your dreams, your artistic drive. Perseverance will result in the success you are looking for. Each day, each little accomplishments means happiness. Don't forget how far you've come, it helps to appreciate your past and to guide your present/future.

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J. Rae Chip Productions
08/26/2013 7:07pm

Thanks for the advice :)

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Tom McGowan
08/26/2013 6:49pm

Hi Jess,
I totally agree with your words. I have worked for 25 years as a construction electrician. Due to neck injury and no insurance or my employer caring about me at all I to am trying to make a living doing what I love. I have no idea what i am doing in the business end of the Art Industry I have no marketing plan really other than a vague presence on the web. I am happy that you are able to do what you love even if you are only "just getting by". I follow you and try and emulate you but so far not much luck for me. I am determined to own my own business I had one opportunity but shady business partners and my trusting nature cost me six figures but I will persevere I must. Thank you for your inspiration :))

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J. Rae Chip Productions
08/26/2013 7:05pm

Geez Tom that's a lot of money to lose! =( holy cow!
It's important to have reliable, ethical business partners... you could wind up in jail if you pick bad partners! Hit me up if you ever want to chat. You're my friend, afterall.

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Tom McGowan
08/26/2013 8:22pm

Yes it was a financial and emotional blow but I am a survivor and will get where I want to be! Thank you for the offer I will take you up on that sometime :) I have learned not to trust anyone and listen to people that know like my Wife and Lawyer both of which i didn't listen to when I should have :)

linda stokes
08/27/2013 9:27pm

Good for you!!! I quit advertising because it was Soul-sucking:))

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J. Rae Chip Productions
08/27/2013 9:31pm

Well then good for you as well Linda! Thanks for stopping by.

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Kim R
10/28/2013 10:00pm

Hi J Rae,

I only found out about you and your blogsite today and I wanted to thank you. I have enjoyed it a lot so far. You know, I love your photos and think that you are doing great work.

Following your heart and doing what you love for a living is not easy. Especially as a lot of what I love is included in the realm of artistic endeavors that is so devalued these days. Why should music, art, photography, poetry etc be held to be of so little value?

I am forced to work so I can live as I am not really able to earn a living off what I love. For the longest time I have written poetry, much of it dark, that I have wanted to shoot photographs to illustrate. I am slowly gathering the equipment and ideas together but due to work and family I have no time. Maybe one day things will be different so until then I will dream.

So when I read that you (and others commenting here) have followed your passion, I am filled with happiness. I am so glad that people can do this. It is so important to others of us for whom the time is not yet right to know that dreams do come true.

Keep it up and thanks!

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J. Rae Chip Productions
10/28/2013 10:34pm

Hi Kim,
Thanks so much for the comment, and I'm glad you found the blog and liked it. I do try to put out content that will help other people :)

Having a day job isn't a bad thing. I know a lot of successful, talented photographers who have a day job. And photography isn't all about the equipment! :)

The important thing is to make time to make something that brings you joy.

Nice meeting you!
~~J. Rae

A message from J. Rae Chip, personally.

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