Thoughts on Crass Commercialism

            The Mt Abe PTO has asked me to take pictures at graduation, so that parents can relax and enjoy the event, and at the same time have a better quality photo of their graduate than they could get by jockeying for position in the aisle with 140 other parents and taking their chances with a cell phone camera. Having been to a few Mt Abe graduations and witnessed the carnage in the aisles, I could immediately see the wisdom of such an arrangement, and I readily agreed to do it, especially since several parents have also approached me, apart from the PTO.

            This left me with one small problem; how to compensate myself for the time and effort and equipment involved. The business model I have been using so far (giving all my photos away on Facebook) has a great many advantages: no bookkeeping, no taxes, no pesky money to collect… but it turns out Canon doesn't accept Facebook "Likes" as payment for their professional grade camera bodies! The PTO could pay me to do it, but I would much rather contribute to their coffers than drain them, and it seemed like a great opportunity to have a fundraiser that didn't involve anyone having to go door-to-door!

             I discussed with members of the PTO some different possible arrangements, one of which involved a flat fee of $10 paid to the PTO.  I understand that this was mentioned in a note sent home to parents. That idea had to be scrapped however, as we realized it would be a nightmare to keep track of who paid, for a photo of which graduate, etc. It seemed that a better approach would be to set up a website where anyone could order prints, in whatever sizes or quantities they wanted, or buy the digital files, and pay accordingly, with a portion of the proceeds from each order going to the PTO.

           Toward that end, I have established a SmugMug Pro Gallery ( where people will be able to view photos of graduation as well as other recent events, and order prints if they so choose.

           It is with some trepidation that I venture down this "commercial" path. I want very much to avoid anyone ever feeling that I'm "trying to make a buck off their kids," or that I'm just taking pictures in order to make money. It's really exactly the other way around; I need to start making some money in order to keep taking pictures. I would be afraid to even calculate the number of hours a week that I spend shooting, editing, and posting photos of school and community events, but there are many weeks when it is no exaggeration to say it is a full-time job. 

            And I would love to cover additional events; things that don't directly involve my own kids, but I can't justify spending even more time on something that contributes nothing to our family finances, and is in fact a direct drain on them. I have to have professional equipment to shoot weddings and other paying work, but of course I use that same gear to shoot all the free stuff, and as I am painfully aware recently, it does wear out. I can't really ask newlyweds to pay extra so I can keep posting school pictures to Facebook! 

           A friend recently suggested that I put a jar out when I'm shooting an event so people could make donations to support my photography, and I like the concept, but I don't think I could bring myself to do it… I'm afraid it would feel too much like panhandling. It got me thinking, though, about what my ideal arrangement would be, and whether there might be some outside-the-box way of making it a reality. Maybe something along the lines of community supported agriculture; "Community Supported Photography!"  I guess what I want is for people to think of me as their own personal roving photographer, capturing moments in their loved-ones' lives. I want to keep giving away my work,  so that money doesn't taint that relationship, while at the same time allowing people in the community to support my work in a tangible way, if they feel inspired to do so.

            In the midst of struggling with all this, it occurred to me that in my dream world, I would have a "Patron of the Arts" who supports me so I can just do my photography without worrying about money. Then I realized that is precisely what I have had for the past several years, in the form of my ever-patient and forgiving wife. And she would probably continue to be my patron for some number of years more, because that's just the way she rolls, but I don't want to continue to abuse her generosity if I can help it! 

            So I will give the SmugMug plan a try, and "crowd-source" among my Facebook community (that's you!) for other creative ideas of ways to make this venture sustainable. In the meantime, if you enjoy seeing my photos of school concerts, sports, plays, and other events on Facebook and in the Mt Abe yearbook, please consider taking the time to thank the very generous sponsor who has made it possible for all these years, my lovely wife Carroll Maxwell.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this lengthy introspection.