Guest Blog, told to us by Gillian Cross
I have worked as a photographer for 20 years, which is the whole of my career. That has started to seem quite unusual, when so many photographers fall into the job as a second career path.
I chose my A-level subjects because I enjoyed doing them. I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do as a career at that point. Then in the summer between my Sixth Form years, I had to think hard about what Further Education I wanted to apply for. I liked watching sports and I liked taking photographs. So I decided that I’d be a sports photographer and enrolled on a B-Tec National Diploma in Photography.
I did that course for two years and learnt everything about the technical and compositional side of photography. It was film in those days and I hadn’t had any previous experience of developing and printing photos.
After the course I could’ve gone on to do an extra year completing a Higher National Diploma but I decided that wouldn’t add to my knowledge and tried to get a job. During my course I had done some work experience in a local commercial studio and also did some after college in another studio who were looking to take on another photographer’s assistant. That was a great experience – taking photos of Christmas decorations in the middle of summer! There were a few of us from college who trialed for that job and unfortunately I didn’t get it.
The main challenge back then was finding a job with a photographer. There were no ads in the job section saying “photographer wanted”. Job Seekers Allowance had just come in so you had to write down every week what you’d done to find work that week. My options were limited. So I went through the Yellow Pages and listed all of the local photographers. I sent letters out each week explaining that I’d just finished a photography course and asking if they had need of another photographer. A couple of them wrote back to say they’d put me on their records, some didn’t write back at all.
Then one day I got a call from a photographer in Ashington who was looking for someone and had just been about to place an advert in the paper. I had saved him the trouble. So I went for a trial and got the job!
College didn’t prepare me for actually photographing people in portraits or weddings so I learnt everything from him as his assistant before I had clients of my own. He also had a mini-lab where we printed people’s holiday snaps so I mostly ended up running that as well. I didn’t mind at the time as it was working with customers and in a small business you get involved in the day to day running of the business.
After two years I was unhappy and was lucky again getting the next job. We occasionally printed other photographer’s work and there was a local schools photographer who used our services. She happened to photograph the school where my mum taught. They got chatting one day and she was looking for another photographer. I went for an interview with some portrait and wedding photos that I’d taken, and got the job.
I was there for ten years and in that time I got married and had a baby. After maternity leave I went back part time for a couple of years but things had changed. I always said I would never become self employed, but someone convinced me it was the right thing to do. Working for a small business not only gave me the photographic experience but also the insight into how to run a business.
I think for creative people, they love doing what they’re good at but don’t always have the skill for running a business. I know that the area I have to work on is marketing. Actually getting the customers through the door. But self employment gives me the flexibility to be there for our son, and to pursue the art side of my career as well as continuing to take photographs which is what I love to do.
You can get in touch with Gillian and see more of her work here. Gillian Cross Photography