Paying my dues or something else?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Cinka, Jun 12, 2009.

  1. Cinka

    Cinka TPF Noob!

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    [sorry this is long]
    I recently took up an unpaid internship with a VERY prominent photographer. I've been freelancing for a few years, but want to know more about the business and how a large scale operation like this guy's is run. Mostly it was curiosity.

    I've been there 2 months and there is no culture of education. It's "pick up tid bits along the way" if you manage to be in the same room at the same time something amazing is happening. I'm starting to feel like Cinderella. Today at an important shoot with a Disney celebrity, when I asked if I could shadow the lighting crew, I was told, yes, but only if my tasks were done. Fair deal, right? Wrong. I spent the entire day sitting at an electronic gate letting people in an out. People would come by about once an hour to be let in. The first 3 hours, I sat on the curb until I moved to my car. I was also told all us interns would rotate out at the gate, but was later told it was MY job for the day.

    I went into the studio for about an hour, but spent most of that time cleaning up the kitchen. I was later allowed to help the crew break down the set, but was immediately traded back to the gate for a man.

    Since I had a lot of time to think today, I realized that I could do exactly what I'm doing at a restaurant, not learn anything, and at least make minimum wage! So why was I volunteering my time to clean the kitchen and sit at a gate all day? Not working on the shoots or anything else meaningful? In the 2 months I've been there, I've hardly even touched any equipment.

    This appears to be a period of hazing, but I'm the only one getting hazed. The other issue is, I don't get any face time with the photographer and because he's burnt out by the lifestyle and doesn't even live in Los Angeles, is hardly enthusiastic about his job anymore. It's not about seniority because interns with less time than me were working on set. Did I piss someone off? If so, they're not acting like it. In fact, it's all la-dee-da, everything is fine, go work the gate. A month ago, at a bigger shoot with more talent and crew, no one worked the gate.
    It felt like outright punishment, but if I could figure out why, I'd be alright.

    Are all internships this bad or this out of the ordinary? I agree it's not all fun and games, but like I said, there is no culture of education and I'm not really learning anything I couldn't learn working at a restaurant or working TFP on an indie film crew. Am I overreacting or shouldn't I expect to work the shoots in some meaninful way? I give up 30 hours a week for this internship and I'm getting nothing in return. :grumpy: What should a proper internship look like?

    Advice??
     
  2. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I am afraid that if your unpaid and not paying for the lessons its always going to be hit and miss - some are going to teach and others are going to use you for what ever they can. Since your giving up your time for free though I would suggest airing your problems with the guy in charge - chances are that either they are using you and they know it or that they have just overlooked you.
    Be polite and express your concerns about a lack of progress -if they get shirty and show you the door - take it. No point slaving away for no gains - then go out and see if you can find another who is more willing.
     
  3. Henry Peach

    Henry Peach TPF Noob!

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    I don't think your experience is very unusual. If I were in your shoes I'd stick with it for a while. It's possible they are hazing you, and when you pass the hazing you'll get more of what you want. I am a no-name, small town Kansas, wedding photog, and I've got people lined up around the block who want to be my assistant. They all think it's going to be a lot of camera work; I need them to haul my gear and hold lightstands. I don't have time to teach photography on the job. The folks you are working for have seen thousands of wanna-be, young photogs come and go. They are jaded, and are assuming you will give up like most of the rest.

    Even if you don't learn anything about photography from this internship it sounds like you are in an excellent position to network. Keep your eyes and ears open, maintain a positive attitude, and work hard without complaining. You may find a better opportunity! Good luck.
     
  4. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I think you walked in without being clear of what expectations were to be on both sides. In an internship, especially one that is unpaid, it has to be clear on both sides what is expected. When I decided to mentor, it was clear what I would do and what I would give to the photographer and in return I outlined what I expected from the transaction.

    If you are not getting what you need from this place, it may not be the right place for you to mentor at... or they may be testing your passion and say "we are not going to open the knowledge doors until they are with us at least a month". You need to find out what the expectations are. Until then, you may be possibly wasting your time or are close to getting what you want and need.

    Time for you to open some dialog with key people, I would think.
     
  5. Cinka

    Cinka TPF Noob!

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    Jerry, that's true. They don't give me a lot of info and when I ask for it, they're vague. When there is nothing to do, they tell me to figure it out. Well, I've already polished the cabinets, what now?

    My honest feeling is that they're figured out that they can get all the unpaid labor they want and have no problem finding replacements. Which is really a shame, because they really have an opportunity to nurture young artists...but it's not about that, it's about making sure the kitchen is clean. Be seen and not heard.
     
  6. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    In that case, clarify things, specifically ask for and accept nothing less than clarity and if you need to, find a different place that will be able to exploit you as an asset in photography and where you learn each time you walk through those doors.

    I learn at least one thing new each session, often, a lot more than one thing and I write them down into a notebook at the end of the day or the day after the event.

    Yes, once the basics are perfected, it is a series of small hints and tips that make you unique, but it is the culmination of all those little "tricks" put together in your own unique way that make you who you are as a photographer.

    Apprenticeships, internships, metorships are all 2-way streets. If one side is not getting what it needs... time to look elsewhere, but don't be afraid to invest a nice amount before expecting returns.
     
  7. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Probably a lot of truth in this. It's certainly something that many businesses of this type employ.
    I'll second Jerry's suggestion to talk to someone...but often times, it's more about your attitude. People who are outgoing & driven (read pushy) can 'climb the ladder' faster. While simply doing what you are told, with a smile on your face, won't get you anywhere. Unfortunately, there can also be a lot of politics in stuff like this...after all, there don't seem to be any rules about how long you have been there etc. Maybe you need to kiss up to the right people. :roll:

    One the other hand, if you really don't need this...then you have some power on your side. You can 'demand' to be more involved...or you will walk out...but of course, if there is a line of people wanting your job, that's not a good play.

    At the very least, maybe you can use this as cache' for another opportunity. You can say that you worked with "so n' so" and use that to impress someone else into giving you a better opportunity.

    Either way, good luck with it.
     
  8. Lyncca

    Lyncca TPF Noob!

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    Maybe it is just me, but I personally wouldn't work cleaning kitchens for 30 hours a week and not get paid (I barely do my own!) Carrying gear, holding light equipment?Sure I'm game. You need a bottle of water? I'll fetch it. I'm there to help and I can at least watch and learn. Being completely removed from what is going on and being treated like a slave? Screw them :)

    But hey, that's just me. LOL
     
  9. CrazyCanuck

    CrazyCanuck TPF Noob!

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    I absolutely agree with Lyncca, running around as a pack mule with equipment, sure, at least then I can observe what they are using and when.
     
  10. henkelphoto

    henkelphoto TPF Noob!

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    The idea that you can network is great, but did you sign any kind of agreement not to contact anyone you have met while working for the studio. I had a friend who assisted for a studio in NYC (paid position) and he had to sign an agreement not to take any clients away from the studio for a period of 5 years.

    There is a culture in Los Angeles of unpaid internships, just ask any PA for a film. However, you should be able to at least observe the photog occasionally.
     
  11. musicaleCA

    musicaleCA TPF Noob!

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    I agree with Lyncca as well. I'm game to volunteer my time, absolutely, as long as I'm getting *something* in return. I'll take portraits of my friends and not charge them, but in return I want a model release so that I can use the photos for my own exposure. I've volunteered at many festivals, and every time I did I made sure I could use someone there (or two people) as references on my resumé, if only to say that I work my butt off when I agree to do a job (I even have the director of the Ottawa Int. Jazz Fest as a reference; I'm happy about that one). If you're working anywhere or doing anything without pay or for free, you need to be getting a little something in return. Whether it's learning, exposure, a great opportunity to network with others in your field; it's not worth putting so much effort into something and getting no return.
     
  12. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Gotta go with Lyncca on this! :thumbup:
     

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