Choosing Value / by Alexander Ward

I’ve been wanting to write about this a while now but each time I’ve opened my laptop and start to form the first sentence, I find myself at a loss for words, unable to articulate what I want to get across and inevitably postpone to another day. But today, finally, I want to talk about value.

I spent 2017 progressing swiftly, working with a raft of new and incredible people on a ton of projects. I’m proud with how I’ve developed and the new challenges I took on, the new things I learned. I’m proud, too, of my relationship with my own value and changing the balance of paid versus collaborative (read: free) gigs to a point where the former overshadows the latter. But this wasn’t simply an evolution – it was a conscious choice.

When I first started out and was finding my feet, I worked collaboratively with everyone – building my portfolio and experience and helping people without budgets get some new shots. It made me feel good too – as things developed I was able to help people with something creative they could use across their blogs and social accounts, I was giving them something which helped them create content and in some cases, fulfil an agreement with brands they’d committed to promote.

Through these collaborations I found new friends, exciting networks and built awareness of my work, but also, I found myself frustrated; people would cancel last minute, forget to credit me, not bother with communicating unless they benefited or, in rare and worst instances, cast my work aside as soon as they had it.

I put a lot of thought into each of these instances and compared them against my other work, spoke to various sounding boards and got as much advice as I could from people I trusted. I never found this in my paid work, so what was so different about collaborations? They should be better, healthier relationships – right?

What I discovered in all this was both how people value my work and how I value myself. The fact of the matter is, the Manchester photography scene is busy. It’s full of new and experienced photographers and plenty are willing to work for free to do just as I did – build their portfolios and help people out – but that in itself is a problem. The value of our work is lowered, and with that loss of value comes less respect for the relationships we build and the time we invest. It’s not just about lost time for me – it’s personal. I’m really invested in this. I love doing something creative I’m really passionate about, uncovering new people and telling stories – when I’m devalued in such a way I feel truly let down, like putting your trust in someone that you’ll work together and them taking an unfair slice of the cake.

So, I shifted what I was doing. I let the paid work increase and then I took the lessons from my paid work into my collaborations, working only on truly collaborative content that you plan, invest in and create together. The change was amazing – it bestowed me the time and energy to put into collab shoots, bringing together a creative vision and realising it together. Equally invested and building one another up as you go.

If you’ve been in touch for a collaboration work over the last 6-9 months you’ll have seen this switch in mindset in action. This isn’t just an important lesson for myself, but for creatives everywhere – especially in crowded scenes like Manchester. If you’re a blogger working with a brand for free, remember the number of people they’ve already approached who turned down free-work and how, if everyone done the same, everyone would be much better off.

In Conclusion...

If you're a blogger, photographer, artist, writer or indeed any creative, you'll know what it's like to do free work to build your portfolio or get on a radar, but our creations have meaning and we must work collectively to attach a value to them together. And in those times where we do not charge, let's ensure our value remains. 

With total love and appreciation of the support I have, Alex.