Further Research for my novel, perhaps you can help me


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Sep 18, 2013
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I am back to post another research question for my novel-in-progress. This time I am working on the arc of my character’s career. I’d like to map out what I am thinking would be his possible career arc and see if it makes sense in real-world terms. What sounds right to me might be completely unrealistic. Hoping some of you can help me.

In the beginning, my character is making his living doing weddings and other events. He is also doing his own “art” photography. He has had one small show of this personal work, and it was well received in that he sold a number of pieces. He will continue to do personal work, but it is his paid career I am trying to work out.

His first “break” comes he does a wedding for a couple who are amenable to his doing some less conventional photos – black and whites, less formal poses, etc. A close family friend who owns three shoe stores in NYC is intrigued by the photographer and asks him if he would be willing to shoot an add for his store which would appear in New York magazine. (This is in 1982). It is a spec job, so there is no pay, but it interests the photographer and he does the shoot using a model he finds by calling an agency in NYC and asking about working with one of their “new faces” or development models. He finds makeup and hair stylists through a local beauty school. Everyone is paid in photos, so it costs him nothing. The client loves the photos and runs one in New York magazine and asks the photographer if he would like to do a series of four ads, to run every month, this time for payment. The photographer says yes. So that is his first foray in to commercial advertising photography.

Through the model, he comes to the attention of a young designer just starting out, who asks him to do her lookbook for the season. Pay is minimal if at all (don’t know which), and he uses the same student stylists and the designer acts as the general shoot stylist. This is his first experience with fashion photography. Even though a lookbook is basically catalog work, it does give him a start in working with fashion.

In the meantime, the editor of New York magazine takes note of his ad campaign for the shoe store and is impressed with his work. She asks him if he would like to shoot a four page editorial story for the magazine. No guarantees that it will actually run, and no pay, but very good exposure if it does run. Question: Could this actually happen? Would the editor of a major magazine (at least in New York) tap someone with so little experience, simply based on liking what she sees? (The editor of New York Magazine at the time was Anna Wintour, and I would like to be able to use this plotline because she soon after - - - in 1983 - leaves New York magazine to become creative director at Vogue. By 1985 she has left the US to become editor of British Vogue. But she will return in 1987 and within a year become editor in chief of Vogue here in the US.

I see my character getting more commercial/fashion work after his fashion editorial appears in New York magazine. Question: What kinds of work might he be offered? Maybe he does a few more shows of his personal work (is this reasonable?) and he is now starting to make his name. I think having him offered editorial work for Vogue at this point is unrealistic since he is still an unknown.

I want to have him gain enough exposure and success (and not sure what kind of work this would be) that eventually Anna Wintour asks him to do editorial work for US Vogue when she becomes editor. That would not happen until the late 1980’s, and at that point he and my protagonist are no longer together, and she will hear of his success from afar.

Sorry for the lengthy post. But I need to chart this character’s arc and so I have to move from the technical to the business end of thing. Any comments or suggestions or corrections or thoughts on any of the above would be very greatly appreciated.
This is less of a photography point of view and more of an editor point of view: This character is too passive.

In all of these situations, he seems to just be sitting around and gets these incredible opportunities handed to him. I doubt it. He should be hitting the pavement, shoving his portfolio in the face of every person who will listen. Then you could maybe have them realize, "Oh, yeah, I remember seeing that wedding/ad/model portfolio...I liked it. What else have you done?" But as it is, it sounds like you're just glamorizing photography more than it already has been. There are millions of talented photographers out there, but it's the ones that speak up for themselves and have some excellent networking skills that get noticed.

Also, if he's so talented that everyone who sees his photos are instantly in awe (including those who see the best of the best on a daily basis) then he's probably such a creative genius that he's a little crazy. Think along the lines of Mozart, Van Gogh, etc. He is also probably a workaholic, redoing this photos over and over until they're perfect. I don't know much about developing film, but I do know that they could do some dodging and burning in the darkroom. He would likely redo those kinds of edits on a picture a dozen times before he was satisfied. A career in the arts is not easy, and to most people, not worth it because of how much you have to sacrifice.
Cherylynne, this is a useful response. Thank you so much for taking the time to post. Very good suggestions.
Question: Could this actually happen? Would the editor of a major magazine (at least in New York) tap someone with so little experience, simply based on liking what she sees?
It could, but it sounds implausible. In my limited experience, the editors already know some photographers/artists/designers/architects, etc. and they know what skills they each bring, and how much they charge. A busy editor doesn't have the time to experiment with an unknown.
Designer, thanks for your post. It is as important for me to know what won't work as what will.
I think I need to add that it is all right for this plot line to be possible/plausible but also unusual. This photographer character does need to be kind of mythic (and I like your take, Cherylynne, of him having to be a particular artistic type), as opposed to my protagonist, who is struggling in her own field, and having difficulties. She ultimately loses all, and hears about the rising star of her ex-husband through the years as she suffers through a terrible crisis. Maybe that is helpful to add. He is not the main character, but he exerts a powerful affect on the narrative by something he does that is not related to his career as a photographer and in fact causes my protagonist's difficulties.

Now that I've muddied this further, forgive me. Hoping to find someone here willing to talk me through this. A consultant, if you will. In the meantime, all responses are welcome, no matter what they are.

Hey, and my name is Robin. So feel free to call me by it.
O.K., if you need the job to simply fall into his lap, you'll have to come up with an unusual circumstance.
Designer - Which job do you mean? The ads for the client that he gets through the wedding seems plausible to me. He doesn't just get it handed to him, he has to work for that, he just gets offered a chance to show the guy something and it works out. Do you mean the editorial job with the magazine?
Okay, an unusual circumstance. I get it. Thinking.
Literally hundreds of individuals with a lot of talent at each plot point in your storyline. You need a connection between the industry and your photographer. Perhaps a social connection with a wheel in the industry.
The one thing that would possibly make it happen is the time in which you have set this story, long before digital took over the world. Opportunities for good photographers were far greater than now. Jobs do fall into peoples laps, but it also takes a break, and a lot of luck. I've walked into a few in the past, and it was back in this time period. Getting a break, doing a great job on a shoot can snowball into more work. I know lots of photographers that all started in the early 80's that got those breaks and through hard work, making the right contacts spun their careers into very successful ones.

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