Clothes maketh man – From the Latin, a translation of: Vestis virum facit
Whilst I don’t necessarily think that Erasmus’ original advice in 1400, or Shakespeare’s revisit to it in 1600 in Hamlet, is totally relevant to today’s photographer, it did spring to mind recently when I was a guest at a couple of weddings and noted, with some disquiet, the dress sense of some of the working photographers at these events..
At a time when professional photographers are complaining that their livelihood is being threatened by large numbers of price cutting competitors, I would have thought that an upmarket presentation would be as important as up-to-the minute equipment and a set of creative photographs promptly delivered to clients.
I understand that jeans, black t-shirt and sneakers can be seen as hip and happening for an advertising photographer wanting to fit in with a similarly clad advertising agency art director, but it seems strange that a similar wardrobe would be seen as suitable wear in front of clients who have spent thousands of dollars on a once in a lifetime wedding dress and a tuxedo by Armani.
Indeed there are good sound reasons for a commercial or industrial photographer wanting to state his skill on a hard hat or a high visibility fluorescent jacket to slow down the work site questions that come with that territory. I even know a couple of photographers who have created very large impressive nametags which they wear for that very reason.
I am not personally a fan of embroidered and named clothing, but admit that many photographers find it reassuring for their clients, and if it is done within the bureaucratic guidelines, the tax office will allow a uniform clothing allowance. My personal problem with this tagged uniform is that I would feel that I was being portrayed as a tradesman rather than an artist. Fighting words I know, and I am not meaning any disrespect to qualified trades people everywhere. I would never stray away from a highly qualified and experienced practitioner when dealing with electricity, water, sewage, or gas connections, much less car engines or construction. But equally, I don’t want to wear a hard hat cheerfully emblazoned ‘Poolie’, or worse, ‘The Poolester’
The sad irony in taking this stance is that where I live, Australia, 100% of qualified trades practitioners have completed a 3-5 year formal training program and on current available figures well under 20% of contemporary photographers have similar (or any) training.
It is the wedding area of our industry that I am most concerned about. It is an industry that can be very much on public display. Just a drive around the suburbs on a Saturday afternoon can bring visions of casually jeans clad, sneaker wearing photographers working with a bridal party who could be wearing outfits costing in excess of $20,000 and waaaaay beyond. The ironic contrast beggars belief. And its not like the clients are asking these professionals to slide under their house, or shinny up their chimney…
Not wanting to allow my rant to lack substance, I approached a few photographers with skills and credibility far greater than mine in this area, seeking a real world working perspective on the subject of dress code.
Christchurch (New Zealand) based Johannes van Kan has some firm views of what photographers should wear, although not necessarily totally in line with mine. It was instructive speaking to JvK as he immediately spoke of having polished shoes and a discussion point on his check list that spoke of what the bride wanted him to wear at her wedding. In other words his personal presentation was important to him but he wanted it to be in sync with the bride’s wishes. All of which is decided weeks in advance of the event.
Brisbane (Australia) based and current Queensland Professional Photographer of the Year Richard Muldoon was equally clear in what he and his staff would wear to cover a wedding. Even in sub-tropical Brisbane, Richard was adamant that his tailored suit was part and parcel of his wedding package. He noted that client feedback spoke of the presentation by him and his staff as much as the creative quality of his work. This possibly indicates as much about a photographer whose business approach measures such seemingly unimportant details. It follows that Cath Muldoon, wife and business partner, similarly dresses in tailored suits whilst completing assignments.
Yervant Zanazanian needs little introduction. This extroverted, flamboyant, world traveled wedding photographer is not necessarily seen wearing a suit but his sharp and tailored clothes, black, always black, are sharp, stylish and at the cutting edge. It matches the manner in which he delivers his skill in covering an event
It strikes me that dressing for success seems to bring its own rewards. Yes, it’s a personal decision, but it’s also a professional statement, so if you do nothing else, decide what your statement ought to be.
It’s a truism that applies equally to many professions, as well as our own.
This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p150, issue 46, August 2015.