Name: Ed Thompson
Age: 27 (Pictured on page 14)
Degree and university: Masters Degree in photojournalism and documentary photography, London College of Communication (LCC)
Title: Freelance Photographer
What do you actually do?
I work in various fields of photography, from producing my own photo-stories aimed at magazines (George Bush’s next door neighbours and Cowboy Churches), portraiture for magazines, assignments for corporate and commercial clients, long term projects produced for galleries and print sales, and even some photographic assisting.
Were you always interested in Fine Art as a career?
I worked selling suits after secondary school, and realised I had to do something creative full-time, rather than juggle my artistic career with something else. Trying to work a 9 to 5 full-time job and commit to a creative industry just doesn’t work. There are creatives who are lucky enough not to need to work to live, and you’ll be up against them for the same jobs. Youth and ‘the hunger’ are powerful driving forces.
How did you find out about this particular career?
I first saw a camera when I was six months old. I don’t remember that, but a relative photographed it at my christening. My dad used to have old National Geographic magazines about when I was really young, so I guess I worked out you could be paid to take photographs back then.
What do you like most about what you do and are there any downsides?
I find the pressure is satisfying. A photographer is a one-man band mostly; if you succeed or fail at the assignment you’ve been set then it’s your own doing. I love to be challenged, both by the work and also by the environment I have to produce images within. Having photographed in tense or risky situations I have a very large
comfort zone. It doesn’t mean I’m insensitive, far from it, it just means when something traumatic happens I can still do my job. The downside is like any other industry where you are self-employed, it’s either famine or feast. You’ll have periods of no work, and bills are mounting etc, and then you’ll get a call and you’re back in business. I don’t recommend it to people of a weak disposition. When it comes to photography I’m fanatical. I could have led a comfortable life in some other field, but that wasn’t a choice I made. In a film I’d be beyond the point of no return.
What skills do you think you need to succeed in this business?
Most photographers who make it come from wealthy families, including Henri Cartier-Bresson and William Eggleston, and the majority of fashion photographers are from illustrious backgrounds, and now celebrities and celebrities’ children are getting into photography too. To beat them you’ll have to undertake outside commissions as well as produce your own work, and that means taking assignments you don’t want to do while saving enough money to do something you believe in. With time, people in the industry (and you) will know what you are best at and you’ll be able to complete more assignments that fit your style. It seems obvious, but generally it’s not something students seem to understand. Some colleges treat the students like they are all profound artists, which is great until they hit the real world and can’t earn a living from photographing skirting boards or dressing dead animals in tuxedos.
What would be your best piece of advice for students coming into this sector?
Try and survive. When you leave an institution that’s really all you should aim to do, because being a photographer is a marathon, not a sprint. If you truly are passionate about photography then you’ll find a way because you have no other choice.