Chicago-based photographer Susan Carr has been in the business for more than 20 years. (“I have not lived without a darkroom since my dad and I put one in the family home in 1979,” she says.) Her photographs are included in corporate and private collections, most notably the Pfizer Corporation and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and she is the author of the recently released book The Art and Business of Photography (Allworth Press). Carr recently talked with CBSChicago.com and shared her thoughts on the dynamic photography scene in Chicago and the new challenges photographers face.
CBSChicago.com: How would you describe the current photography scene in Chicago? Do you see a lot of emerging talent here?
Susan Carr: I think there is a lot of good work in photography here. For one thing, Chicago offers image-makers a fantastic and ever-changing backdrop to work with. Not to mention, it is still affordable to live in the city and take advantage of all it offers.
There are also lots of places here for artists to plug in. Professionals gather through trade associations like the American Society of Media Photographers — its Chicago/Midwest chapter has nearly 300 members. There are also arts groups and neighborhood art centers all over the city. The Museum of Contemporary Photography is a gem in the city. It runs the Midwest Photographers Project, which focuses on talent from the region. The Art Institute of Chicago also has galleries dedicated to photography, and showcases work from artists from here and outside the area.
CBSChicago.com: Which venues in Chicago do you recommend a photography fan visit to enjoy (or learn more about) the art of photography?
SC: The Stephen Daiter Gallery and Catherine Edelman Gallery are two well-established galleries that offer ways to stay abreast of the art photography world — and it is always nice to see a show in person rather than viewing everything online. Edelman also runs the Chicago Project, which allows photographers from the area share their work [to a wider audience].
In addition, I recommend checking out small galleries in neighborhoods around the city, and summer art fairs like Round the Coyote or Glenwood Ave. Art District. This Rogers Park Neighborhood-located group is a newer outlet, but it is growing annually.
CBSChicago.com: Do you think factors such as the Internet, digital media and even the recession have impacted photography as a profession? How has the industry adapted to these challenges?
SC: This is a main topic of my book The Art and Business of Photography. The Internet, digital media and the recession have made this a particularly difficult time for working artists. Not that it has ever been simple to be a self-employed artist, but the last two decades have been particularly wrought with change. Photographers had to learn new digital technology, which is not only expensive, but also requires a steep learning curve.
Due to all these changes, photographers must make it easy for clients to do business with them while protecting their rights to their work and receiving fair compensation. It is more important than ever to execute proper business practices like contracts that outline the arrangement of rights/pay/details of what the job entails. This applies to doing assignments, as well as selling individual works of art.
CBSChicago.com: What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to a photographer about the balance of being an artist and a business person?
SC: Acknowledge that you are a business and act professionally in every sense of the word. Build a network of other photographers and artists you can rely on for advice and guidance. Do not enter a new niche area of the industry (say, corporate work to advertising agency work) without talking to a photographer actively working in that area. This is where trade organizations can be so helpful. I offer advice to photographers all the time and if I can’t answer their particular question, I can find someone who can. And, finally, do not pursue this as a career without a real passion for the medium. It is not easy, but it is rewarding if you love the work.
To see more of Susan Carr’s work, visit www.carrcialdella.com.